Art, sport and life

Faust is the protagonist of a classic German legend. Like all legends, there are many different versions of Faust. In all of them, there are some basic elements to the story which are consistent. At the beginning of the story Faust is a scholar, sometimes he is a student of theology. He becomes bored with his studies, or at least becomes interested in other things. In several tellings he is contemplating suicide. At any rate he calls upon the devil to assist him with his plans. The devil contacts him through a messenger who succeeds in making a deal with Faust. He will receive magical powers for a period of time in this life in exchange for his eternal soul. At the end of his life he will be condemned to eternal punishment because of the deal he has struck. In some versos there are other victims. An innocent girl is seduced and the child is a monster whom she finally drowns to protect the world. She is convicted of murder and executed, but her soul is received into heaven because of her innocence. There are many other variations on the tale. In at least one version, Faust himself is reprieved from eternal punishment because of his constant striving for good following the bad deal that he has made. In most versions, the deal sticks once struck and Faust is condemned.

In the mid 1950s a musical play, based on the Faust legend made it to Broadway. In the musical, the deal struck with the devil involved the Washington Senators baseball team. The team, turning in lackluster performances year after year in a time when the New York Yankees were dominating the league, is propelled into the playoffs by a deal struck. A real estate agent who is a huge fan of the Senators is given the opportunity to become the much-needed long ball hitter for the team. In his new persona he brings success to the team and misery to his long-suffering wife. Many songs and much confusion follows. At the end of the musical, the deal is struck and the real estate agent reverts to himself, only to hit the winning ball out of the park not as the magical figure, but as his real self.

Being a bit of a fan of musical theatre, the musical came to my mind this year when the Washington Nationals became the National League campions and advance to the World Series. For a while it looked possible that their opponents in the World Series might be the New York Yankees, offering a real-world replay of the classic musical. In the end, the Houston Astros defeated the Yankees in the American League series and the World Series this year will be between the Nationals and the Astros.

As far as I know no deal with the devil has been for the team’s success.

We are entertained by thoughts of the world’s evil being personified in particular individuals and their actions. We like a clear delineation between good and evil. Thinking about the world as a simple place where there is a constant battle between good and evil gives us a structure and some explanations for the way that things work out. A story about someone “switching sides” and going to work for evil entertains us.

But in this world, and in my experience, life is not that simple. We can see the pain and suffering that certain diseases bring to families. We can see the power of grief and loss that mark the lives of those we know and love. But bad things are not the result of punishment for bad behavior. A cancer diagnosis doesn’t choose certain people because of the lives they have lived. Real world suffering comes to those who have made no deals with evil forces. Very good people suffer without any apparent cause.

We have family friends who have been in our prayers a lot over the past couple of years because of a tragic accident that nearly claimed the life of their daughter. As she has struggled to achieve recovery and learned to live with permanent disability, the hope and love and courage demonstrated by the family has been an inspiration to us. Yesterday we received news of a devastating diagnosis of another family member and a new medical crisis for family members who already are far too familiar with hospital corridors and medical treatments.

It is enough to make one question the justice of this life. It seems to incredibly unfair. We want to cry out in anguish. Unlike the drama of baseball or the fiction of musical theatre, however, this is a story with no dramatic victory or magical conclusion. It will play out in the real world. And each of the actors will live a life as best as they are able. In the end we all die. Life is a gift, but it is only ours for a little while. And when you reach the age that I am, you become intensely aware of how short that “little while” is.

What I do know is that the family facing yet another tragic set of circumstances is a family who have constantly and consistently contributed to the lives of others. They have lived lives of great generosity and sharing. They have made a mark on this community that will not soon be forgotten. For many of us who have had the privilege of knowing them, they are heroes and inspiration for us to serve others and to work for the good of our community.

Perhaps it is the case that some people, rather than making a deal with the devil for personal gain, give their lives away freely in service to others. It is that latter story - the one about giving up one’s life for others - to which I aspire. We each have only one life to live and as far as I know giving that life to others seems like the best way to live it.

Life is not a musical drama. It is a real, lived experience. The song on the stage doesn’t hold a candle to the song in our hearts.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!