Friday, October 23, 2015

The Mets and the Messiah

The New York Mets might win this year’s World Series, which hasn’t happened since 1986. For my entire life, I’ve been surrounded by fervent believers in their ultimate redemption. But cruelly crushed in 2000, 2006, and again in 2007, the Mets have done nothing but lose, whether with a bang or a whimper, since I was born. They have been perpetual underdogs. The only thing to do was to root for them, but the lives of my friends and family were built on a sense of eternal denial.

This comment from Yeshayahu Leibowitz is apt here:

I am one of those who believe that the Messiah will come. He will come. The Messiah who has come is a false Messiah, and any Messiah who comes is false as well. The essence of the Messiah is that he is always going to come.
This is Jewish history in a paragraph. Exiled from Jerusalem, Jews have built their entire spiritual existence on a dream of future redemption. The stone which the builders rejected will become the cornerstone, and Jews have prayed that it would happen in their lifetimes for generations. The dream of a rebuilt Temple and the end of the exile shapes Jewish existence, together with a fervent insistence that redemption has not yet arrived. The cruel paradox is that the actual coming of the Messiah would ruin the character of Judaism, which is perpetual waiting. Jews long for a state of affairs that would destroy Judaism.

Ya gotta believe, say Mets fans. But just like with the Jews, the belief that they’re talking about (from my post-1993 perspective) is belief in spite of constant suffering and defeat. The great irony of rooting for the Mets is that victory would spell the end of that suffering; and with it, the team as anyone under thirty has known it.

A comparison: There’s no physical desire more powerful than love, no worse pain than its torments, no happiness sweeter than the hope for its fulfillment. But the entire poetry of infatuation is contained in expectation: as Lucretius shows so luridly, actual sexual experience is a frustratingly lowly counterpart to the fervent dreams that lead one into it. The fate of a successful lover is to pass from love into strange disquiet. How many songs have been written on flattering hope, on outrageous desire, on fervent longing? Unrequited love is perhaps the single most common theme of music and poetry, and certainly the one that gives rise to the most beauty. How many sublime poems, meanwhile, are about love fulfilled? I’m having trouble coming up with three. The essence of poetic love is that its fulfillment is not here yet.

So Leibowitz’s paradoxical statement touches a deep truth. A Mets fan has to cross his fingers for the Mets to win the World Series, or else he’s no true Mets fan. But like a bee stinging a bear, success means spiritual self-destruction. For the sake of our souls, the Messiah cannot actually arrive.

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