Sunday, October 16, 2011

WWHD, the Choice, Facade

Last night, I read pages 670-694 of Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition. I have three items for today:

1. Harold Lauder left signs for people looking for other survivors of the superflu, and those signs helped Larry Underwood find other survivors. Before he met Harold, Larry admired Harold’s intelligence and resourcefulness, and he drew from Harold for inspiration when he did not know what to do. On page 677, Larry tells Fran that asking “What would Jesus do?” was “a Zen question”, a way for people to clear their minds, “like saying Om and looking at the tip of your nose.” Similarly, Larry was able to receive clarity and insight whenever he asked “What would Harold do?”

Larry’s discussion about WWJD and WWHD intrigued me, because I have long viewed WWJD as a burden. For me, WWJD amounted to “Jesus was an extrovert who went to parties, and so you should be that way, too, and, if you’re not, you should feel guilty.” I appreciated the grace-preachers who said that the important question is not “What would Jesus do?”, but “What has Jesus done?”, namely, he died for our sins so that we might receive the free gift of righteousness before God, which is apart from our works.

But perhaps there is another way to see WWJD—to view it, not as a legalistic burden, but as a way for me to gain some distance, to get my mind off of myself, and to have a sense of clarity.

2. In my last post on The Stand, I said: “I do not understand why Harold was pretending to be friendly, when deep inside he was hurt and angry. Was he trying to fit in? Did he not know how to express his anger? Did he want to give people a false sense of security as he prepared to strike? I think that there was a part of him that wanted to help people, and I know that, if I were rejected by the woman of my dreams, I would be super-nice—not because I’m preparing to strike, but rather because I do not know how to handle anger, and I’m reluctant to express it publicly.”

It turns out that Harold was pretending to be nice precisely because he wanted to strike: he hoped to ingratiate himself so as to get appointed to the committee, and eventually to leave Boulder and reveal the Free Zone’s secrets to the evil Randall Flagg. Harold was disappointed that Fran Goldsmith loved Stu instead of him, and he also carries around resentment at all of the rejection he received prior to the super-flu. In a time of clarity, he realizes that he has a choice: he can accept reality and start anew in Boulder, the way that all of the survivors of the superflu were doing. Or he could take revenge for his frustrated dreams and his hurts. Harold figured that to forgive and to move on would be to cheapen his own dignity, and so he opts for revenge. And, while writing down one’s hurts is therapeutic for many people, it is not for Harold, for Harold finds as he writes his hurts in his journal that there are deeper reservoirs of hate inside of him.

I can understand both choices that face Harold. I see value in letting go of my hurts and moving on, for resentment weighs me down. Why, after all, should I demand that the world conform to my desires, when the world will not always (or even usually) do so? But there is a part of me that wants to hold on to my own dignity, and that is a reason that I have difficulty forgiving. I can sympathize with the claim of some Christians that the only way we can forgive is to root our self-esteem in God’s love for us in Christ. For me, I may need to find my self-esteem in something other than my own sense of dignity, or how others treat or view me. And then there are days when just letting things go helps me immensely.

3. Larry gets to meet Harold and to thank him for the signs that he left along the way. Larry gives Harold a bottle of wine and some of Harold’s favorite candy bar, Payday. On page 690, we read: “Larry left around five o’clock. His parting from Harold was friendly; Harold shook his hand, grinned, told him to come back often. But Larry had somehow gotten the feeling that Harold could give a shit if he never came back.”

Unlike Harold, I am not the sort of person who is nice to others even as I plot to attack them. In many cases, I am nice to people simply because I actually want for them to like me. But I think that there are times when people may detect that, underneath my friendliness, I’m really not all that eager to hang out with them. A lot of that has to do with my own discomfort in social situations. But I appreciate the people who accept me even when I am uncomfortable. And I also appreciate those with whom I actually do enjoy being—with whom my friendliness is not a facade.

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