Saturday, November 27, 2010

Reality Hits Hard…Like a Rock

There’s a serious risk of contracting AIDS via blood transfusions. That’s the message of the independent film Silent Shame (site, imdb), a bilingual drama about pointing fingers. The husband, a closet homosexual who hits the bars at night instead of going home, puts his wife at risk of disease. The wife, emotionally married to a high school sweetheart, attracts suspicion about the real parentage of her son and, perhaps also, the disease. Although the movie is about innocent suffering, there’s seems to be a stronger underlying message: Cultural and religious pressures to conform – at least within the Roman Catholic Hispanic community – make for disaster as young people struggle to meet their parents’ expectations.

I didn’t like the movie (an understatement), but there was a strong element with which I could identify. Virginia, the movie’s protagonist, starts out as an “everything but” kind of virgin, intent on doing everything in the “correct” order. Her parents directly tie her marriage prospects to her virginity. Her refusal to sleep with a boyfriend who does want her results in him cheating on her to satisfy his sexual cravings. She then ends up with a new boyfriend who doesn’t pressure her for sex, not because he’s virtuous or respects her, but because she’s just a cover for his big secret. When her world begins to fall apart after she’s diagnosed with AIDS, she asks a pointed question (my paraphrase): What was the point of saving herself for marriage if life doesn’t go as her parents promised?

Well, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that things rarely go as planned. To what extent that’s the planner’s or planners’ fault varies. However, it should be no surprise when resentment surfaces from those whose lives have been prearranged and rearranged to fit the expectations of others. As James 4:13-15 teaches, we can’t predict the future, so we should be aware that expected benefits might very well never materialize. There’s no simple equation that says that a certain set of inputs (e.g., owning a small business, staying out of debt, not dating, not having sex before marriage) will guarantee a desired result (e.g., having financial success, having a godly marriage).

Unfortunately, there are many people who like to pretend, even in the face of obviously conflicting evidence. Those who dare voice opinion that the real world has a lot of variables unaccounted for are dismissed as pessimists, cop-outs, or worse. Early on, those who try preparing for Plan B are told they’re wasting their time. Later on, those who want to bail are told that they’re sabotaging themselves and that everything hoped for will happen “in God’s time.” It’s like the Great Depression. It is a great depression because that’s often how many of the faithful end up – depressed.

I’m generally an optimistic person. (That’s why I don’t think that Muslims will take over the world or that nuclear warfare is eminent.) However, part of my optimism rests on my belief that people are good at inventing practical solutions to problems at hand. Blind optimism is the sort that leads people to continuously insist to young women that their dreams will come true. Good optimism, in contrast, acknowledges real-life disappointments and encourages an ever-evolving process of updating new dreams in light of the latest information. When things don’t go as planned, it’s time to admit that there were flaws in the plan and move on. The quicker it’s done, the more time there is to put Plan B into action.