25 April 2011

Death is dead: Resurgam

Easter came and went yesterday.
It was, when I woke up, looking like the first Easter in a long time (ever?) that I would not be attending church, but Yoko decided that she wanted to go, so we piled into the car and headed to the church down by where we used to live. I've gone back and forth on attending church with Yoko and the girls, but when I don't go, I feel as though I am letting Yoko down and so, despite the frustration, it is better for me to go than not, provided I can keep a good attitude about it.

Yesterday, I had a poor attitude and couldn't stop watching everything as though I were in some sort of bubble. Easter, when I was as child, meant a lot of things, but I think I experienced it more as the marking of an anniversary, in the same way that we marked the Fourth of July. This was the day that Jesus rose from the grave, a historic fact. As I began to see religion more and more as a social phenomenon, the meaning of Easter, of course, changed. Now, I understand Easter (and the story of Jesus rising from the dead) is the antidote to the experience of dead which looms over us all. Jesus died, but lived; you will die, but live. Seen through this lens, the Easter service is a different experience: it is a rejection of the most inevitable thing in life, really. Everyone rejoices, raises their hands in the air: death is dead, they sing.

In college, I got one simple tattoo. It is the word 'Resurgam', right between my shoulder blades in Times New Roman 18. Resurgam: I will rise again (or I will be raised again). It is a reference to Jane Eyre, and I got it at a time my life had fallen apart, to borrow the metaphor. My attempts to keep my high school relationship going through college had not been successful, and in the Spring of 2001, it was over.  I was listless and miserable all summer at home, painting houses for work: I grew my hair out and went to bed as early as I could. I was supposed to spend the Autumn of 2001 in Chicago, doing research at the Newberry Library, but I didn't end up going as it had all been a clever (albeit painfully transparent) foil to be closer to my girlfriend. There was no future there; I just wanted to get away, as far away as I could. The summer wore on and on and finally school restarted and I was able to escape.

I remember the other dominant desire from the summer, the one that kept me going. I thought the whole time that everything would be put back into the box eventually, that things would work out if I just tried harder, was a better person, prayed more about it. I would have taken either: a completely new life or my old life back, but the in between, the moving from one to another, one day after another after another for three months, was not something I felt I could stand.

I got the tattoo in one of my first weekends back. Jules drove me up to Rock Island and they did it quickly, commenting that it was so small. Resurgam meant everything to me at the time--it touched on my religious faith, my love of literature and a great book, my hope for the future despite being miserable. Resurgam: yes, there was a future; yes, things were going to be okay; yes, I believed.

Resurgam: I will rise again. I did, thankfully, rise again and the tattoo--although I am not always happy to have it, I have never regretted getting it. I did rise again: the tattoo reminds me of this when I catch a glimpse of it in the mirror or when Naomi notices it. I will rise again and again and again in my life.

But death... no, unfortunately, death is not dead. Death looms and will continue to loom despite the song, despite the story, despite the assurances of the faithful who are convinced they know and have experienced something that I have not. The pastor at the church did her best to cast the Easter story in a new light (as I'm sure millions of people did yesterday), but I realised listening to her that preaching is like a colouring book: the text provides the dark lines that you must stay inside of and the preacher just fills in the rest with commentary and narrative about what the people 'must' have been feeling. How would you feel. Imagine how they would feel. Have you ever experienced an earthquake (I was suddenly thinking of the tsunamis rolling in). The angel, the rolled away stone, Jesus appearing in shining light.... Death is conquered, alleluia. Who wouldn't want to believe that.