"It's good to see you again this morning, Job. I am really happy to see you because I think we were right in the middle of our talk when we had to quit for the day. You know, in American culture in the 1990s there was this tremendously popular book called Tuesdays with Morrie. Well, it might have been Wednesday or Thursday, but I think it was Tuesday. In any case, it told the story of a guy who went back to visit one of his retired (and dying) professors from Brandeis Univ. in Massachusetts [Oh, you don't know much about the states of the US, I assume, Job. Just to fix the concept of Massachusetts in your mind, when we invented the phrase 'lean left' in American English, I bet someone was thinking of Massachusetts]. They had a weekly conversation about life. You know, I confess I never read the book, Job. There are so many books I have never had the chance to read. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about it, Job, but what can you say? All of us are poorly read, if you know what I mean. All of us, if taken out of the area of our "expertise" become bumbling idiots rather quickly.
So, I call upon that Tuesdays reference because that is how I see our conversations, Job. You have the wisdom, I admit, and I just want to listen and, of course, ask questions. You know, I don't admire a lot of people, Job, but the ones I do admire are those who have faced significant obstacles in their life. You notice, Job, that I didn't say that I admire those who have faced significant obstacles in their life and come out optimistic. Maybe I am strange in not adding that little phrase "come out optimistic." Because I think that what draws me to a person (rather than repels me from them) is the fact that distress has come their way. As I think about it, Job, I am not hoping that they come out with a brimming confidence in God or a new love for people or even an appreciation of life; I am just amazed that people who have suffered so much still go on breathing. I want to ask them so many things. I want to ask them if they ever considered ending it all. I want to ask them to limn their emotional state as their world collapsed and as they tried to put back the shattered potsherds of their life. I am not really that interested in ringing endorsements of faith as I am in insights about the way that they see life from this side of the great divide--the side after suffering or during suffering.
That's why I come to you, Job. I do not come to you to hear you tell me about God or about how your belief was strengthened (or weakened) for that matter by your ordeal. I see you as a living primary text, a kind of intact papyrus that pulsates and throbs with life even as you give us wisdom. You know, Job, that those who have visited an archive and actually handled papers from another century and tried to decipher handwriting from another era get an incredibly greater store of knowledge than those who read the same words that are on the original text when it is nicely translated and edited and put in an anthology or even in an edited version of the person's work. By handling the primary text you not only get the "feel" of the paper, and see the style of the writing, but you get the sense that a real person lives (or lived) here. And then, when you root around in the archive more fully, you find scraps and papers that you weren't looking for that absolutely arrest your attention.
You know, Job, that is a little bit of the feeling I have with talking to you. I feel I am speaking with a living text, a person whose heart throbs beneath the thick and image-rich poetry of your book. And it is a good and strong heart, but one that has been terribly hurt and damaged. And my big question, Job, as we continue to talk, is whether it is possible really for that heart to be healed. You know, I once had a professor myself, a person who took a great deal of interest in me and shaped some of my early thinking about religion. In my graduate work he developed cancer and other allied ailments. After the therapy, he seemed to be OK at times, but another student told me, "His heart is damaged. He will never be the same." And, so he really wasn't. Despite the graciousness of his manner, the thoroughness of his discipline, and the elevation of his scholarship, he simply was not the same.
Is that the way it was for you, Job? Was it the case that after your great distress that nothing, not even God, could repair that heart of yours? Was it damaged or just temporarily weakened? [I don't even know the right medical terminology for it, Job] You see, Job, as I enter the second half of my life, I see this question as the crucial one for us all. Have our hearts been only temporarily weakened by the distresses that have come our way or are they permanently damaged? Have we made a kind of truce with life--life, you don't bring me too many more emotional roller coasters and I will not make great demands of you-- or are we still able to receive and savor the full range of human feeling?
That is why, Job, I am trying to understand what effect God's speech in 38-41 had on you. I want to know if it further destroyed you; if it rejuvenated you; if it temporarily nonplussed you; if it gave you the means by which you could be restored. I need to know what the word restoration even means, if it means anything, to a person who has lost so much and so much of so much significance.
I have to say, Job, that I love you for listening to me. We didn't "make any progress" today, if progress is measured by more "insights" developed from the "text." But you let me explain why I am so interested in understanding this explosive last section of your book. I will leave you now, because now I am the one who needs some rest. Thanks, Job, and I really can't wait until we talk again.