We Did Not Ask For This Room

“We did not ask for this room or this music.
We were invited in.
Therefore, because the dark surrounds us,
let us turn our faces to the light.
Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty.
We have been given pain to be astounded by joy.
We have been given life to deny death.
We did not ask for this room or this music.
But because we are here, let us dance.”
— Stephen King and Bridgett Carpenter


I finally binged-watched 11.22.63 this week. It’s got me thinking about the end of the year, the start of the next, the death of celebrities, and history in general.

(I should warn you that this blog is full of spoilers for both the novel and the show. You have been warned…)

“11.22.63” is a dramatization of the Stephen King novel of the same name; a book I read voraciously when it was released a few years back. The basic premise of the book/show is that a man in our time is given the ability to travel back through time to 1960. He live there for three years, waiting for the fateful day of “11.22.63,” where he attempts to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He surmises that, if altered, that one changed moment in history would dramatically reshaped history ever-after in a positive and life-giving way. This especially powerful fantasy for progressive people is part of the attraction of the book/show.

I really loved the show, and I was pleased with how it was relatively faithful to the book. But there was one moment I did not recall from the novel, which spoke to me with “pay attention to this” ferocity, and which forced me to pull my copy off the shelf to see if I’d missed something.

I hadn’t.

The moment was the above poem. I knew I hadn’t recalled reading it. Sure enough, Reddit tells me it was added into the on-screen version, and was cowritten by Stephen King and Screenwriter Bridgett Carpenter.

I love this little poem.

It seems so appropriate not only to the story, but for this moment in our cultural history, on this New Year’s Eve in 2016.

For many people I know, this has been a difficult year. This year, the traditional metaphors seem wrong. We face the New Year, not as if it were a shining new baby, ripe with possibilities; but as if it is a crusty, bitter old man. Specifically, a old man with orange hair, who happens to also be our President-Elect.

And in the midst of that reality, we’ve been faced with a seemingly relentless string of recent celebrity deaths. Musicians, lots of musicians, died this year. But lots of actors and actresses too. Social media has been rocked with each one in succession…all them mourned with copious wailing and gnashing of teeth.

By the way, in the midst of all of these —and they all deserve your remembrance— please forget-not the names of Guy Clark and Emilio Navaira. The gods of Texas Music compel me to remind you.

What I take from these celebrity deaths is the beginnings of a generational shift. While they have been favorites of many adults in our society,  a great many of the recently dead icons have been heroes for “late-Baby Boomers.” People born, say, from the late 1950s through the late 1960s.

You could also call this generation “Early Gen-Xers,” and you’d be right too. The generation I am speaking of is, roughly, folks around my age.

I am, technically, a “late Baby-Boomer.” But as I’ve said for years, those of us who are around my age, straddle two generations, really. We are not a part of the “big-middle” of the boomers…although we share culture and history with them. The older boomers (Jane Fonda; Bill and Hillary) are rapidly entering older age. By comparison, our part of the “Boom” is the tail-end (Jon Stewart; Barack and Michelle). And we *also* connect, generationally and culturally, with the oldest of the Gen-Xers (Will Smith, Jennifer Aniston).

While we are younger Boomers, we are feeling our own mortality, each and every day. Our parents are dying, or getting older fast. Our children are growing up and out of the house, and starting their own lives.

The point is, the kinds of celebrities dying now, have been the icons to this generation. And that’s precisely why their deaths are striking hard at so many of the folks I know. Older Boomers have been used to their icons dying for some time. The deaths of this year include those much younger than them, as yet another sign that they are really getting *much* older.

I’m suggesting that for my generation, it’s kind of a first cultural reminder of our own mortality. Said bluntly: it’s the start of a huge “Bell Curve of Death” that will continue on into our future, and accompany us for the rest of our lives. (BTW, “Bell Curve of Death” would be a fantastic Death Metal cover band name. IJS)

Every celebrity icon who died this year?

There are hundreds more who will, in years to come. It’s gonna get a LOT worse. And, if avoiding death (or its reminders) is our goal, it’s never gonna get “better” again.

As we say liturgically on Ash Wednesday: “We are dust. And to dust we shall we return.” This year reminds us of that. So will next. And the year after that. And the year after that.

And as if this wasn’t depressing enough already…

Add to that one more looming change on the horizon that we’ve already mentioned: President Obama leaving office, and Donald Trump being sworn in.

The “death” of the first president of our generation…replaced by an older White dude.

No wonder today feels like the traditional New Year’s metaphor, turned on its head.

It’s as if the world is saying:

“Out with the Young, and in with the Old. And, oh, in case y’all forgot? Your “Young” generation really isn’t so young anymore. Your heroes are dying….and so will you.”

Yep. That’s pretty much where we are today.

Perhaps, in response to this, we wish we could change simply change time. Maybe we could change the election outcome?

11-22-63That gets me back to “11.22.63.” (Last chance “spoiler” alert…). In the book/show, our hero does go back in time and stop the Kennedy assassination. Then, he travels forward in time, back to the present-day, only to find that the much hoped-for Utopia he imagined has never materialized.

Yes, Kennedy lives to serve two terms. But, as Stephen King tells the story, when our hero comes back to the new-present-day, the modern world is a hell hole.

Kennedy draws down the Vietnam War, (good news) but never pulls out completely (bad news). And, he’s never able to pass the ground-breaking Civil Right legislation that President Johnson did.

MLK is still assassinated in the late 1960s, and the nation plunges into racial chaos. This leads directly to the election of George Wallace in 1968. Wallace reacts to the victory of North Vietnam by dropping an Atom bomb on Hanoi.

Sound far-fetched? Not really.

The stuff about Kennedy not being able to pass Civil Rights is completely believable, and most historians agree with that assessment. And if Donald Trump’s election has not convinced you that eight years of progressive change can’t lead to reactionaries like George Wallace….then I don’t know what could.

The point is, in every historical era, there are vast forces at work, well beyond one single event. Even important events like the election of a president. Even if Trump had failed to win in November —even if we could go back in time and change that result— the general societal forces at work are the same. Reactionary forces are pushing hard, and would be pushing just as hard right now, if we were looking forward to a Clinton or Sanders administration.

That is not to say that it doesn’t matter who we elect. It does. That’s not to say we aren’t headed for some uncertain years. We are.

But it is to say that even if Hillary was being sworn in on January 20th, the hard work of social justice…caring for the poor, for the LGBTQ community, for immigrants, and supporting Muslims would still be challenging us. We’d still be fighting a fight for healthcare, and for policies that support the environment and the elderly. Reactionary forces would still be pushing back, and to pretend otherwise is completely naive.

So, as I’ve been saying a lot, since the election, in a real sense, “everything has changed, and nothing has changed.”

Which gets me back to this incredible poem, as a final word of hope for you all, on this New Year’s Eve.

“We did not ask for this room or this music.
We were invited in.”

So true. None of us gets to choose where we will be born or how long we will live. We did not ask to be dealt the hand of 2017. But, “It is what it is.”

And we are “invited in” to the year to come. And the deaths of icons and celebrities remind us, as Ash Wednesday reminds liturgically, that “We are dust and to dust we shall return.”

Or, as Lin Manuel-Miranda likes to say, “The future is not promised.”

But tomorrow morning is. And, for some reason —maybe even reasons that are not clear to you, and do not feel hopeful— you are being given the chance to live into 2017.

“Therefore, because the dark surrounds us,
let us turn our faces to the light.”

In these continuing dark days, both literally and figuratively, let us seek light wherever we may find it. I find “Light” through my faith in God and the community of the Church. I also find “Light” through art and music. And I’m grateful for spiritual, creative, and artistic friends who I trust will help comfort and challenge me in year that is to come.

In 2017, find people who are seeking “Light” and connect with them. Get involve in Church, the Arts, politics, your local community.

As I’ve said lately, in an era of fearmongering, find a way to be a “Hopemonger” to somebody who needs it.

“Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty.
We have been given pain to be astounded by joy.
We have been given life to deny death.”

In case you haven’t figure it out, you are going to endure a LOT more hardship in life.

Celebrities will continue to die….and the “Bell Curve of Death” that seems to have started this year will only increase. It will be so among your family and friends too. They, and you, will grow older and die.

Politically, the world may also get colder, darker and more painful too. No one can assure us that it will not. At the very least, the future is quite uncertain.

So, mourn your losses, by all means. Grieve. For as long as grief takes. But do not fail to open your heart to joy and love too. Do not allow the truth of death, decay and suffering to blind you to what joy and beauty there is in the world. Accepting beauty, being willing to step into life, does not mean denying either the past or those you have lost. You can do both at the same time.

Trust that death, decay, and suffering cannot be separated from joy, love, and happiness. At least, not in this life, it can’t.

I don’t know that our life denies death, as it says in the poem. But I do know that, at least for this moment of breath and life, it does. So, gird up your loins, and stand up for truth, beauty and justice, even when grief is still thick. Because it will always be so.

“We did not ask for this room or this music.
But because we are here, let us dance.”

Yes. Yes. Yes.

By some miracle, we are being allowed to live into 2017, so let us find our feet beneath us. And let us not just walk, or march, or stand. Let us dance into the New Year.

Foolishly, like Robert Benigni in “Life is Beautiful.” Or, as Guy Clark wrote, “You got to dance, dance, dance, like nobody’s watching…It’s got to come from the heart, if you want it to work.”

None of this is easy.

Much of this might even get harder in this year to come.

But keep reading that poem. Keep finding ways to seek  joy and love. Keep finding faith, hope, art, and community to surround yourself with in, as you move through 2017.

Happy New Year to all of you, my friends.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

2 thoughts on “We Did Not Ask For This Room

  1. Eric, I loved the book too. Read it 3 times. And I just watched the video. I, too, was very impressed by the ending poem. Very powerful. So I went looking for the author. That is how I found your analysis. Having this in common with you, I thought we might have more in common. I do sing in a Methodist church, too. But, sir, you live in a fantasy world. Your hatred of Trump and the NRA and your love for Hillary and Bernie is downright sickening. I used to think you libs were stupid. But no longer. You people are evil. Not most of you, but all of you. So my solution is that you people need to be exposed and destroyed. As a Christian, my goal is to fight you and the evil you represent, every inch. And I believe that your evil will not be completely destroyed until Jesus returns. At least we will win in the end.

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