Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Tragedian

If you haven’t read The Great Divorce, read it. It’s a story C.S. Lewis wrote about heaven and hell. In it, the protagonist takes the most unusual bus ride of his life. Heaven and hell aren’t the only ideas explored. The protagonist takes the bus trip with a mob of passengers whose frailties get exposed like naked children in the cold.

It’s one of these passengers I want to look at. He only ever gets called the Tragedian. If you don’t any spoilers, read no further.

Technically the Tragedian isn’t the actual character, not at first, anyway. He is a half of the character. The other half is a short, shriveled man, leading the other half (the Tragedian) on a chain. The dwarf holds the chain, and shakes it to make the Tragedian, a tall, black-hatted man, talk. He speaks to his wife, who died and went to Heaven, and is happy, and is trying to get her husband to join her. The dwarf nearly caves in, but keeps yanking his chain and making the Tragedian howl miserable accusations and “woe is me” quotes. Slowly the dwarf gets smaller. By the end of the conversation no one can see him.

I have never seen a better description for self-pity. Is this not exactly what we do in real life? You’ve been there. Maybe you were a child, sulking in your room, and feeling your fiery rage die down. And as your mother walked in you screamed at her, even though you didn't feel like it, because you wouldn't let go of that anger. Maybe you’re holding a grudge against someone right now, and the pain of what they did feels so good that you cling to it.

And you diminish, just like the dwarf. You know it. You feel it. And you can’t stop it. And you’re not the only one. If a man or woman tells you they’ve never felt it, either God made them pure like the Virgin Mary or they are telling one of the worst lies in our world.

Just think for a minute. The signs are everywhere of this disease. You can find the Tragedian in other literature. Fyodor Doestoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov describes a girl trying to stir herself into a love that does not exist as self-laceration. Soap opera have been feasting on wild passions for decades, and reality television has ensured it’s not going anywhere. “Emo” and “screamo” rock bands like My Chemical Romance and The Devil Wears Prada shot into fame with songs flaming with dramatic anguish and misery. I’ve never seen an opera, but I’m guessing they tap into the same thing.

It’s good to listen to that kind of music, and feel the emotions in real life. Are you really human without a little melodrama? It’s one of the few things that fits the scope of our feelings, and if that’s not a compliment for our species I can’t name one. With that said, don’t overdo it. Have you been watching Lindsay Lohan crash and burn? Learn a lesson from her and the Tragedian. Pray. Find your way to peace and control.