“I’m angry,” I said to Tim. We were driving to the nearby movie theater.
“Why are you angry? Did I do something that you’re angry about?” was his quick reply.
“No, I’m not angry at you. I’m angry at my lack of control over where I’m at right now.”
Tim began sharing his experiences of putting his work “out” into the world with no control over how people respond or don’t respond to it. My mind wandered. No control, no power over what church I’m pastoring. The church I’ve been with discontinuing, the last service Christmas Eve. “Closing our doors” so to speak, having depleted our funds and the few remaining members after a 160-year history of being in business, transforming people’s lives. We could no longer transform the reality we found ourselves caught in.
No control over what folks in other churches looking for a pastor would think of my skills and experience. No control over changing the results of my nation’s presidential election. No control over my seeming lack of ability to write my story and my daughter’s story. I hadn’t been able to even look at my writing project for the past few months. Anger rising up, and spilling out at the seeming backward steps the world and I are making.
We made it to the movie theater, entered, purchased our tickets for the film, “Jackie,” and settled into the very front row seats of the theater since it was so full–$5.00 Tuesdays and Christmas break making it a popular destination. I hoped that I would not be sick to my stomach sitting so close to the screen. Thank goodness the seats recline in this theater.
The film began, a relentlessly close-up view of Jackie Kennedy’s face (played by the actress Natalie Portman). I leaned forward in my seat. I wanted to be even closer, wanted to touch her face as she let a reporter into the Massachusetts’ home where she found herself after her husband’s brutal assassination, her world tossed out of any control she may have had. I wanted to step inside her world, her head, her heart; feel her anger, her grief. The world of a powerful, privileged woman flung violently into the margins of widowhood and lack of control. Did we ever have the power we thought we had?
“There are two kinds of women in the world, those who have power and those who are searching for power,” Jackie tells the reporter–another man wanting to be let into her world, like the American people, her own children, family members, the new president Johnson, her closest associates. All of them wanting a piece of her.
Slowly, often reluctantly, Jackie unfolded her story–the film director threading the scenes together like a patchwork quilt, like our lives unfold, not neatly but chaotically. Never being able to lose the camera on her face, her being, the blood of her assassinated husband, his personality, his power overshadowing the decisions she must now make about creating his legacy, being a mother to their children, nothing to call her own.
“You know I wanted to be a reporter once,” Jackie tells the reporter recording her story.
You know I wanted to be a pastor once. You know I wanted to be an activist once. You know I wanted to be a teacher once, wanted to be an anchoress like Julian of Norwich. You know I wanted to be a writer once. My body trembled. Tears squeezed out of the corners of my eyes. I stiffened and cringed, alternating between grief, anger, and compassion, as I viewed her face, every crack and flicker of feeling.
“All of it…the funeral procession, my walking behind the casket, the burial in Arlington Cemetery on a steep hill, in sight of the Lincoln memorial, the re-interrment of my two dead babies next to him…all of it was not for him. It was for me,” Jackie confesses to a priest.
After the final Christmas Eve service of the church, a young mother approached me, someone I hadn’t seen very often in Sunday worship, someone whose young son I had baptized three years earlier when I still held out hope for changing the course of the church.
“You know what my son P. said to me during the service tonight?” the mom asks me. “He turned to me and said, ‘Mom, I wish I had a time machine so that we could travel back in time and change how often we came to church.'”
I looked at her with tears stinging my eyes.
“I wish we could do that too, P.” She told me was her response.
“The world, the American people will remember you for your dignity, your courage, and your beauty,” the reporter told Jackie as they wrapped up their interview.
Maybe its true. We have little control over our lives, yet I’m happy I have affected some people.
“I want the entire world to know that for one, brief moment there was a Camelot,” Jackie says to the reporter.