“What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
Kate Atkinson, ‘Life After Life’
‘Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden’
From T.S. Eliot’s ‘Burnt Norton’
This week I have been watching ‘Life after Life’. Though, for me, it is was a flawed drama with a less than entirely satisfactory ending, the BBC series based on Kate Atkinson’s original novel does, nonetheless, present an interesting idea, one perhaps we have all at some time or another wished was true. What if, when we die, we had the chance to live our lives all over again, what if we were able to behave differently at key moments of our existence such that, as a result of acting better, the days that followed would run more smoothly for us and enable us to therefore avoid the pitfalls that in previous lifetimes we were made to endure?
Would we, I wonder, fare any better? Second time round, would we live a happier, more fulfilled, life? Or would we just find yet another of the infinite number of ways that are available to us to mess things up and so be forced to live an alternative but equally flawed existence complete with another, equally unsatisfactory, ending? And would we then be compelled to spend all eternity constantly working out our lives in an endlessly futile cycle, one in which we were always striving to do better, always hoping to somehow make everything all right?
Also this week I listened to the distress of a young woman. Not having benefited from the best efforts of those who have sought to help her with treatments of both the talking and pharmaceutical kind, she told me of her loneliness, her anxiety and her despair. She told me how she was tired and how she wanted it all to stop. And, without any sense of the melodramatic, she told me how she longed to die – more than that she told me how she needed to die if things were ever to get better. Because, for her, without any hope for the future, death seemed the only way to end the pain, the anguish that was hers as a result of existing in a world in which she felt she did not fit.
But, of course, were she to die, there would be no second chance for her. As for countless others before her, there would be no opportunity to live life differently. And though perhaps her distress would be over, that of those left behind, that of those who love her and already know what it is to sorrow over her sadness, would surely only increase.
So what is the answer? Is there an answer at all? Is my young woman right when she says it’s all just pointless?
I for one am not that nihilistic. And whilst I don’t have all the answers that I would like to have for those who struggle as this young woman does, I nonetheless refuse to believe that her struggle is without meaning, I refuse to believe that it has no purpose. And so, believing that suffering can be redemptive, believing it can even be the means by which suffering itself is ultimately brought to an end, I will, at least, continue to care and, in so doing, endeavour, as best I can, to know something of her distress, share a little of her sadness and bear with her the burden of her sorrow.
And though she may have given up hope, I will not. I will hope for her, continuing to believe what she cannot – that a better tomorrow is on its way. And this, not merely in some imagined parallel universe conjured up by the imaginations of those who cannot face the genuine awfulness that is all too often apparent in the one we already know. On the contrary, I will continue to hope for a better tomorrow for this beautiful yet broken world, a better tomorrow when, not only hers but all our tears will have been wiped away, suffering will be no more and each and every one of us will have found a place that we can call our home.
Because when that ‘life after life’ finally comes, all this ‘death before death’ can be forgotten.
And won’t that be wonderful?
To read ‘General Practice – A Sweet Sorrow’, click here
To read ‘Eleanor Rigby is not at all fine’, click here
To read ‘Do you hear the people sing?’, click here
To read ‘An Audience with Grief’, click here
The following are explicitly Christian blogs:
To read ‘T.S. Eliot, Jesus and the Paradox of the Christian Life’, click here
To read “Suffering- A Personal View”, click here.
To read “Why do bad things happen to good people – a tentative suggestion”, click here
To read “Luther and the global pandemic – on becoming a theologian of the cross”, click here
To read ‘Real Power’, click here
To read, ‘But this I know’, click here
To read ‘Good Friday 2022’, click here
To read “Easter Sunday – 2021”, click here
To read ‘The World is not Enough’, click here
To read “Hope comes from believing the promises of God”, click here
To read “Waiting patiently for the Lord”, click here