I’m thinking about what to do when we’re afraid to think about whatever it is before us or we just don’t want to. It involves story telling. Let me start with one.
All of a sudden, in the last few days, I’ve been reading up on the great alternative computer operating system that competes with Windows and Apple called Linux.
I’ve never been curious about Apple or Mac computers and never used one. I had my first serious introductions to PC’s in the early 1990’s, the days of Windows 3.0 and 3.1, with some limited exposure to DOS 6. I stayed on the Windows wagon for Windows 95 and, finally, XP. In my church work I eventually got moved along to Windows 7 (and wasn’t completely happy about it).
At home, I kept my computer running XP even after Microsoft announced they were abandoning support for the system in 2014. And I began holding my breath against the day some hardware failure on my home system would force me (crying and screaming) to finally pay for an upgrade.
My body failed me before XP has. A stroke in the fall of 2014 made it nearly impossible for me to scrabble around with floor cables and connectors under my desk as I had happily done in years past. The stroke left me with double vision. I was grateful I could still see the monitor at all, or read from it. My retirement from work had come early. I fretted about the cost of newer Windows versions. I fretted silently about trying to read instructions for the learning curve waiting for me in what seemed like the major changes in the way Microsoft techs were “improving” their product every year.
I don’t know what prompted me to go searching for how-to videos about Linux on You Tube. But I found a lot of them. I have been seeing demos of the various Linux desktops and discovering the burgeoning list of Windows-alternatives that Linux will run for writing, for graphics creation, for video editing. Programs that Microsoft and others sell to do those things don’t work on Linux. But Linux alternatives are mostly available for free.
So is the basic Linux OS software itself. And it apparently works just fine on computers that started life with Windows on them. Except Linux is faster, even on older machines. The growing Linux family of fans enjoys helping others discover what they have.
I haven’t jumped yet. XP isn’t broken for me, yet. But I know I should jump before I am forced to. I’m looking carefully, holding my breath again.
You hold your breath, too, because it will look like I’m about to completely change the subject. I’m not.
Last week I stumbled on a short video review of Steven Spielberg’s early blockbuster movie, Jaws. In his comments, the reviewer voiced the same thought that crossed my mind when I first saw the movie in 1975. I realized Spielberg had grasped the same techniques that Alfred Hitchcock had mastered in his career of suspense-filled thrillers.
On this video review, the narrator included a clip from an interview with Hitchcock where he discussed the principle. Imagine a table in a restaurant with a group having dinner, Hitchcock said. For five minutes, as they enjoy the meal, they all talk about baseball.
Suddenly, a bomb under the table explodes. Hitchcock predicted the audience reaction. “They have ten seconds of shock and surprise.”
Then he did a rewind. “Now, lets say you start the scene by showing the audience that there is a bomb under the table that will go off in five minutes. The scene proceeds as before. The people are eating and laughing, talking about baseball. But now the audience is on the edge of their seats. They’ll be wanting to shout, ‘Forget about baseball! There’s a bomb under the table!’ ”
That is the difference between surprise and suspense. And Hitchcock had one more thing he had learned the hard way. [Spoiler alert] In his 1936 film Sabotage, a young boy is given a package to deliver. The package contains a bomb. He takes it on a bus and soon the bomb explodes, killing the boy.
The scene drew angry criticism at the time. “You must never let the bomb go off,” Hitchcock concluded. It forces people think about things they don’t want to think about.
Spielberg made a similar mistake in Jaws. There is a scene where another small boy is swimming in the ocean… well, Steven admitted later he was stupid for doing the scene! But it is a masterpiece of suspense, because you know something scary is going to happen soon. And it was still awhile before Steven learned the lesson.
I always thought Spielberg repeated the error in the final scenes of his film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Richard Dreyfuss has followed an inexplicable urge to go to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, where scientists have gathered to greet aliens arriving in a space ship. The aliens pick Dreyfuss out of the crowd, inviting him to come aboard and fly back to their home with them.
When this movie first came out in 1977, it showed Dreyfuss walking up the gangplank into the spacecraft, but did not follow him inside. It was a bit frustrating. But the film was so successful Spielberg was allowed to shoot some additional scenes for a re-release in 1980. One scene he added showed Dreyfuss looking around inside the spaceship at the end.
What did we get to see then? That it was big. But what could we have expected to see? What could Spielberg show us that would be satisfactory?? No bomb going off would be big enough. There was no way to satisfy us successfully no matter what we were shown.
(By the time he made Jurassic Park in 1993, Spielberg had learned to avoid the problem. In this movie, young children are chased by giant dinosaurs, but they get away safely!)
When I watched the reviewer’s video, Melanie and I had just seen the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011), and the sequel, Second Best Marigold Hotel. (I do love the sequel’s title!) The movies are about a group of elderly British retirees who seek out a retirement center in India, because it is much less expensive for them on their pensions than staying in England.
There are several amusing moments when the eager young Indian manager awkwardly admits there is an “elephant in the room,” (an apt metaphor in these films) the fact that his guests have come to live there until they die.
“This elevator takes you up, until the time for you … to go up.” Everyone tries to ignore the gauche moments, with British good manners. It’s funny, but I became aware that the subject created an unresolved melancholy that hung over both films.
The second film ends with a close up of Maggie Smith, sitting in a stone fence, staring at the others riding off together down a busy city street on Vespa scooters. She is facing the only trip left for her, alone. The camera lingers on her expressionless face. The the screen goes black. The film makers have nothing more to show, nothing more they can say. Yet there will be something more, obviously. The world just can’t stand to think about it.
And we Christians have difficulty knowing what to say about it that can possibly relieve the pain.
All of a sudden, I realized why one of the first gifts offered to us by the Holy Spirit is the gift of tongues. God invites us to speak to Him, and when we don’t know what to say, The Counselor and Guide helps us. God wants to hear our voice even if our human understanding is too limited to give shape to any worthwhile words. God has made it possible to pray to Him even when we don’t know what to say.
In the same way, the Lord guides and enables me to go forward a day at a time, even when I am uncertain what that day will hold. Whether it’s a day for the learning curve of a new computer program, instructions to be read through blurry eyes, or prayers offered for those suffering with pain and loss. My mouth can still offer words of praise and intercession, whether I understand them at the moment or not.
I don’t have to know ahead of time exactly what will happen next, or even what is happening now. God knows. I’m not in charge. So I don’t have to be.