Looking Back, Ahead

It’s not like I’m unaware that the club is shrinking. The entertainers of my childhood, meaning the entertainers of my parents and, by osmosis and lack of options, me, are almost all gone.

The ones that came up via radio, carrying with them the aroma of vaudeville and a hint of the 19th century, Jack Benny and George Burns and Bob Hope and Henny Youngman and so on, are long gone. So are Sinatra and Crosby and Dino and Sammy; the entire Rat Pack, Danny Ocean and all. By whatever grace seems to fall on certain celebrities, the big screen icons of my era are in large part still around: Eastwood, Redford, Nicholson, Hoffman, Hackman. And that weird longevity that seems to bless brilliant comic minds, or even just good comic ones, is still in effect with Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart, and Dick Van Dyke engaged and in some cases busy, well into their 80s and 90s.

And so we come to Don Rickles, may he rest in peace. He had a good, long run, a career that was taking off before I was born and never seemed to crest, just persist. For a bona fide headliner, he was a show biz second banana and seemed pretty comfortable with that, his friendships with Sinatra and Newhart understood as hierarchal and his spot nailed down. He was the court jester of famous people, and he seemed to relish the role.

I just never got Rickles, and it puzzles me. Even dumping the hagiography that happens whenever someone of his stature passes, people whose opinions I trust on these things have always had glowing things to say about Don Rickles.

Me? Never saw it, and I saw everything. I was fascinated by comedians, particularly the ones whose timing had that preternatural feel, like watching Ken Griffey, Jr. swing the bat. From W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers through Pryor and David Brenner and on, I knew their stuff. And I didn’t get Rickles’ stuff. I understood it. I just didn’t get it, and he never made me laugh.

So what’s up with that? Dunno. I have my share of odd tastes and strange things make me laugh; I just couldn’t get onboard with this guy. And it has to be me, not him.

***

I was brought up in a cultural Christian environment, by which I mean we celebrated Christmas in the usual way. I went to Sunday school for a year or so, and had a few other church experiences, but negligible.
Easter Sunday was another that we marked, and now it just baffles me. Objectively, I get it, absolutely. There’s nothing like an Easter egg hunt, or the candy, or spring taking off and pushing hope like a door-to-door salesman.

I just can’t relate to that these days, for good reasons. I’ve been married to a church musician and now minister for a long time, and this is Super Bowl week. Four services to be prepared, sermons to be written, music to be arranged. Holy Week for us is just hanging on and immersing ourselves at the same time.

On my side of the aisle, I just have to bake, learn a pretty simple song on the guitar to help out a couple of our musicians, and write a take on the creation story to deliver on Saturday at our Vigil.
Lots of churches do this. Lots don’t. Especially with the schism that’s always existed in the Presbyterian church, the Calvin wing and the Knox wing, you might find nothing particularly liturgical happening in one church and our crazy week in another. Ours, that is, anyway.

These are The Three Nights: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil. Easter Vigil is an ancient tradition that only was rediscovered with the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it can take different forms, but the way we do it has to be the most fun. Theologically, the deed is done; the rock has already been moved away in our minds. We tell our oldest stories: Creation, Noah, Jonah, Isaiah, etc., and give ourselves free rein to explore creative ways to tell them. It can last a couple of hours, sometimes longer, and always ends with the Lord’s Supper and then a feast of Easter goodness, with a big focus on chocolate. You gotta have chocolate at the Vigil.

All of these nights are infused with joy at some point, gently on Maundy Thursday, muted on Good Friday but still there, awakening at the Vigil and erupting the next morning. If you do it, and approach it in the right way, or at least this has been my experience, it can carry you a long way.

As can chocolate. You really need it to make all this work. I don’t quite understand this, either, but you do.

(My wife talking about The Three Nights and her journey)

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