Daniel Berrigan once suggested, half-jokingly, that if Jesus came back today he would go into every psychologist’s office in the Western World and, using the whips and cords he used on the money-changers in the temple, drive out both the doctors and their clients with the words: “Take up your couch and walk! I’ve given you skin, you don’t need to be that sensitive!” That may be over-stated, but he has a point. Human beings are built to be resilient and resiliency is a moral obligation. We owe our resurrections to each other. Hence, I recommend a book to you.
Sometimes I hesitate to recommend a book or movie because, though overall its thrust may be moral and uplifting, individual parts of it might upset those who see parts rather than essences.
Such is the case with Carrie Fisher’s new book, Wishful Drinking. I recommend it with that cautionary note. Overall it is a moral book, uplifting and hope-filled, even if it sometimes plays fast and loose with certain things. Normally I shun books written by celebrities, particularly Hollywood celebrities, but I make some exceptions and Carrie Fisher is one of those. She has a moral intelligence and a wit that set her apart and she flashes both in this book.
The book is in essence an autobiography, the story of someone who grows up in Hollywood as the child of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, with an absent womanizing father and a fairly-absent though loving mother. She achieves worldwide celebrity and becomes an icon by playing Princess Leia in Star Wars, has a failed marriage with Paul Simon, journeys through alcohol and drugs and mental illness, and lands on her feet with enough resilience, empathy, and humor to make us envious.
And she chronicles this with a color and wit that can blind you to her deeper insights into life and its meaning. Like Christina Crawford’s books, Mommy Dearest and Survivor, this too is a story of surviving a Hollywood upbringing, though in Carrie Fisher’s case there is more sympathy for Hollywood than in Crawford’s. Fisher never leaves Hollywood; she just gains enough perspective so that she doesn’t need to leave it.
I say the book is both moral and uplifting despite the fact that, at first glance, her treatment of religion, drugs, and sex can appear to be careless, casual, and amoral. (Note, I say amoral, not immoral, there’s a difference.) So what is moral about the book?
Well, I’m not recommending the amoral parts and, I suspect, Carrie Fisher (who is incapable of writing a line on anything without inserting something witty and light-hearted) wouldn’t recommend those parts either as a moral ideal. She simply tells her story, without suggesting that her views on anything should be a moral compass. But there is something inside of her story that, I submit, should be morally normative, namely, her willingness to take up her couch and walk.
She suffered her share of hard-knocks, as her story makes clear: an absent father, little religious or moral guidance as a child, a dangerous early iconic fame, relational failure, and a bi-polar disorder. Yet where there might be self-pity there is empathy. Where there might be bitterness there is a mellow heart. Where there might be anger there is forgiveness. Where there might be resignation there is resilience. Where there might be despair there is a healthy zest. And where the lights might have gone out there is wonderful buoyancy. That’s morality too, not exactly the way classical moral manuals always explain it, but in a way that Jesus would recognize.
I was struck by the book and recommend it because what you see in her story is the opposite of so much of what we see in the world and in the church today, where everyone too easily takes permission to be bitter and angry and then blames someone else for his or her unhappiness. There is something refreshing and morally challenging in seeing someone with problems who doesn’t need to blame those problems on God, on the church, on her family, on liberals, on conservatives, or on anyone else. It is healthy and moral too to see someone who can keep a sense of humor against all odds because sometimes it is humor, and humor alone, that can deflate our pompous, over-serious egos.
The second question in our old Catechisms was: Why did God make you? The answer: To know, love, and serve Him in this world and to be happy with him in the next. There’s real wisdom in that, but existentially something might be added: Why did God make you? Because he thought you might enjoy it! Carrie Fisher gives us that answer, and it is a moral one.
Jesus once challenged the church-people of his time by saying that it seems that the children of this world are sometimes more astute than are the children of light. Wishful Drinking would suggest that sometimes too they have a better sense of humor!