Friday, July 25, 2008

Scotty, Gilligan, and Fife

Newsweek ran a great piece of commentary awhile back written by a rabbi, Marc Gellman:

A friend I call The Flounder reminded me of the sorrowful fact that in the last nine months three television icons dear to me have, as we say in my line of work, passed to life eternal. They are James Doohan, who played Scotty on Star Trek, Bob Denver who played Gilligan on Gilligan's Island, and Don Knotts who played Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. May God receive their souls into the world where everyone is a star and where every life is syndicated. Beyond the personal grief their passing has brought to their families and friends, I ask you to consider the characters they played as metaphors of our lives in these broken times.

Scotty represents all of us who are constantly asked to do the impossible and to meet unreasonable deadlines by bosses who just don't understand that you can't run engines at warp speed after Klingons have blasted the engine room. I think mainly of the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan now and of how every day they are asked by well-meaning bosses to go out there and do a job that everyone knows is impossibly hard but most people know must still be done if Iraq is to be stabilized, so that the Middle East can be stabilized, so that the war on terror can be won. If that example is too politically incendiary for you, then perhaps you might think of the linemen who repair power lines in the winter during a storm, or think of single mothers raising kids with not enough money or help, or think of clergy folk trying to get people out of the malls and off the golf courses on the weekends and into church or synagogue on the Sabbath. So many people I know feel like Scotty and so few like Captain Kirk. So many of us say, “I canno give ya more power captain. The engines are already overloaded!” And then…we do.

Gilligan represents all of us who are congenitally happy despite our circumstances. The Howells (and occasionally Ginger) were the first to complain, but Gilligan was always happy. Even though they were marooned on an island which nevertheless seemed to provide them with new clothes and new sets every week, Gilligan's choice was always to see things in a positive and hopeful light. He was helpful without being obsequious, brave without being foolhardy, and courteous without being slavish. He was also self-deprecating. His humor was always directed inward, and his optimism was the reason you knew that some day, when the network gods willed that it be so, they would be saved. Yes he was a buffoon (actually more a schlemiel than a buffoon) but aren't we all? There are just so many times when we can cavil against the fates, and list the reasons for our victimhood, but in the end, being a fool for hope is far preferable than being a cynic for reality. Gilligan had no desire for promotion and this makes sense to me now. A truly happy person is already at the highest rung.

Don Knotts as Deputy Fife personified the klutz who is convinced that despite everything he is destined for bigger things. Deputy Fife was all bluster with just one bullet, and that is just like many of us. The bullet is self-confidence. Do you remember when geeks were ridiculed? Now they run the world and the reason is that they are clueless about criticism and focused only on the road ahead. Many of us feel or have felt an absolute identity with Deputy Fife, who was clearly in over his head, but in time he and we have come to learn that those who are not prepared to fail and be laughed at, can never prepare to succeed (I read that in a self-help book). Anyway, when I came to my synagogue I only had one bullet in my gun. If I could not serve God through them, I would leave and maybe sell something for a nickel more than I paid for it. I never had to fire the bullet, because the Psalmist was right when he said that God protects children and fools.

Dear God, please protect the souls of James, John, and Donald, and please protect the Scottys, Gilligans and Fifes down here who are all just trying to do their best with what they have for you.

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