by Father Mark Goldasich
We’re down to the Final Four in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Fans of those teams are rejoicing — for now — while thousands and thousands of fans of the other 64 teams are tearful (me included).
Being a sports fan, especially here in the Heartland, is almost always frustrating. My favorite teams regularly leave me disappointed. And it’s not just sports. Rather than having the Midas touch where everything turns to gold, I seem to have the Midas touch where everything turns into a muffler! Whether buying lottery tickets or raffle tickets, my luck ends the moment I hand the money over.
Wouldn’t it be great, I find myself occasionally thinking, to win every time? Then I remember “The Twilight Zone.” As a kid, the show scared me silly with its haunting, repeating four notes and then that creepy, floating eyeball. Only years later did I come to appreciate the deeper life lessons that many of the episodes contained.
A memorable one originally aired on April 15, 1960. It was called “A Nice Place to Visit,” and starred Larry Blyden and Sebastian Cabot. Here’s Rod Serling to introduce it:
“Portrait of a man at work, the only work he’s ever done, the only work he knows. His name is Henry Francis Valentine, but he calls himself “Rocky,” because that’s the way his life has been — rocky and perilous and uphill at a dead run all the way. He’s tired now, tired of running or wanting, of waiting for the breaks that come to others but never to him, never to Rocky Valentine. A scared, angry little man. He thinks it’s all over now, but he’s wrong. For Rocky Valentine, it’s just the beginning.”
The show opens with Rocky robbing a pawn shop, then being gunned down by a policeman as he attempts to escape and shoots at him. A few moments later as he’s sprawled on the ground, he hears his name being called by a portly gentleman dressed all in white, named Mr. Pip. Pip is a friendly, elderly man who tells Rocky that he’s been instructed to guide Rocky and give him anything he desires.
As the story unfolds, Rocky is given a lavish apartment, delectable food and the company of beautiful women. Eventually, he realizes that he was actually killed by the policeman but now, because of all the perks he’s enjoying, figures he’s made it to heaven with Pip as his guardian angel.
Rocky heads off to a casino and wins — every time — at the roulette wheel and the slot machine. He’s over the moon with glee. But because Rocky can’t figure out what he’s done to be so lucky to enjoy heaven, Pip takes him to the Hall of Records to see his file. Rocky is amazed that the file shows only his sins. But he figures if God isn’t bothered by them, then neither is he.
After a month, though, it’s a whole different story. Rocky has had it with all of the winning and with having everything that he wants. He tells Mr. Pip, “If I gotta stay here another day, I’m gonna go nuts! Look, look. I don’t belong in heaven, see? I wanna go to the other place.”
“Heaven?” says Mr. Pip. “Whatever gave you the idea you were in heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!” He then breaks into a sinister laugh as Rocky unsuccessfully tries to get out the door.
Serling closes with: “A scared, angry little man who never got a break. Now he has everything he’s ever wanted — and he’s going to have to live with it for eternity — in ‘The Twilight Zone.’”
This powerful episode puts things into perspective. It would honestly be hell to win every time or to have whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted. Initially, it might seem ideal, but over time, it would become deadly boring.
In Christian terms, there’s no Resurrection without the cross. In fact, it’s the absence of something that often makes us appreciate it more. Think back to the Royals winning the World Series in 2015, for example. Do you think that it would have been as sweet or as appreciated if they won it every year without fail? When a sense of mystery is removed — will we win or lose? — so, too, goes a sense of excitement.
I’m not saying that we should go out and look for sadness and crosses in our lives in order to better appreciate our lives without them. But, when the crosses inevitably do come into our lives, they can be an opportunity to grow into an awareness of how much we depend upon God every moment of our lives and how much we often take for granted. Our Lenten disciplines want to teach us this lesson.
You know, I’m not so bummed anymore that my favorite team lost. Just wait till next year! While a world of constant winning might be a nice place to visit, I sure wouldn’t want to live there.