I am now officially starting to worry about my humanity. Really! It has reached the stage where I hope I am an aberration; a emotional mutant; a throwback from the common herd. For if I am not, I think it bodes ill for the cultural welfare of industrialized nations.
If I represent the norm for our culture; then the Church needs to reorganize its discipleship programs pronto! We have failed in our mission to represent the new humanity in Christ. We have pretty much failed to even represent the old humanity in Adam.
Let me digress. As those who read this blog know, my father died in May of this year (2006), just a few weeks following his 75th birthday. My dad, when he was alive, was my hero; a man I could always count on to handle my frantic phone calls in the night. Though not perfect, he was certainly the best dad a man could have in childhood as well as in life.
While he was dying, I was pretty much torn up watching him go from a man larger than life to a husk of his former self. The crying and grief were overwhelming.
But now that he is gone it is like he never existed at all. It is not that I am "over" his death. It is something much stranger: I am numb to it. I don't feel angry, depressed, accepting or any of the other stages of grief. I feel nothing at all.
My brain knows that dad is gone but my heart and emotions just don't accept it as real. It is as if my father were a fictional character in a television series or soap opera who refused to renegotiate his contract and was killed off midseason. I just expect to see the actor in another series later on.
What is weird is that I don't treat the fictional characters on television that way. I actually have become emotionally invested in them instead. For example, this week on the limping, disintegrating 11th season of 7th Heaven, Eric Camden found out that he has a fatal heart condition.
And I am depressed about it. Oh, I am so, so depressed.
My brain shoots out the information, "For God's sake, this is a fictional character! Get a grip!" It doesn't matter. My emotions respond differently. They grieve for the impending loss of this person who never existed.
Even if the writers come up with some way to "rescue" Eric (and they probably will), that is not the point. The issue is that I am responding with more emotion to a threat to this fictional character than I can now muster for the loss of my very real, flesh and blood father.
As I said, I am a sorry excuse for a human being.
There are some possible reasons that may pull me out of the mire of lost humanity. It may be that my spirit is using the "medium" of the fictional character to channel the emotions I am feeling but cannot recognize for the loss of my father. I could not handle the full scale depression that would come from my recognition of Dad's loss; so I release them on a controlled, weekly basis when watching Eric and his impending death. Eric is the release valve on the pressure cooker of my emotions.
Maybe, but the numbness of my feelings makes me doubt it. Maybe before Dad died, but not now.
Nor have I overcome my grief by picturing Dad in a better place; be it heaven, nirvana, Hades, or Shangri-La. I simply don't know where Dad is, and am not even certain anymore that there is a "where" for Dad to be. To that possibility, I am numb as well.
Yet for Eric Camden, I care.
I think in reality I am kinked. I am not much of a television watcher; but to this series I have pretty much been faithful for 10 years. I have invested 10 years of hourly increments to these characters and their troubles, foibles, and successes. I have rejoiced in their triumphs; I have tried to emulate some of their good points, and have been angry at their stupidity, and have even shed a tear at their losses.
Again, I have done this with characters who are fictional and do not exist. They are played by actors who also have successes, losses, and fears; but I care not a hoot about those! I am concerned about the people they play; I don't feel anything for the actors themselves, or at least very little.
And now that he is gone, I treat my father like a fictional character and I treat fictional characters as if they are real. Nor does it take the death of a television character to effect me so profoundly. When M*A*S*H finally went off the air, I had recurring dreams about the show and Hawkeye for several years thereafter.
I have not dreamt about my father once.
If I am kinked, then fine. I must live with that or find a way to overcome it. What concerns me is that I am not unusual. I am becoming lined up with the vast majority of the population in our "civilized" countries who know the characters on television shows but cannot name their neighbors across the street or in the adjoining apartment.
It is not by accident that the front porch has been replaced by the back-yard deck. In times past, we talked with neighbors as they walked on errands and otherwise went by. Now we hide from them out back where we can "have our privacy."
Our homes have televisions in almost every room. Great big screens now exist in such digital clarity that it is hard to distinguish the picture from reality. Not that we were so good at that anyway.
Yet the real factor that distorts our very souls is time investment. I give Eric one hour a week (not counting re-runs on other stations). For the other characters of the five or so series I watch also get that much attention. So fictional characters received six or more hours of my attention each week. Once I was married, I certainly did not give my father that much time. Even now, I do not invest that much with my neighbors; my wife may argue that I do not even give that much time to her.
If national averages are correct; working parents, especially fathers, barely give that much attention to their children. Mothers are better, but still average less than an hour a day once their children are in their teens in terms of actual personal attention.
I am guessing the television (or as Harlan Ellison named it, "the glass teat") gets more of our time. Because of that time; it also gets more of our emotional investment. We have exchanged the fictional for the real; we have made our bonds with electrons rather than flesh and blood. In this, like Edom, we have given over our birthright for a "mess of pottage."
In this, we may have become insane. It will take drastic action on our part to recover our sanity and humanity. We will need to consciously invest time and love and attention in actual, real, living people. We need to again become the church; the interdependent, living, breathing, interacting community of living, breathing, caring people.
I intend to start just as soon as 7th Heaven goes off the air.