Love, Death and a DPT Shot

Because of three back to back bouts of bronchitis a year or so ago, my primary care physician decided this year that in addition to my annual flu shot, I should get a DPT booster. I am guessing it was more about the pertussis part than the diphtheria or tetanus.

Anyway, the pharmacist told me last night I might not feel well today as a result. He wasn’t guessing.

So, it seemed as good a time as any when I grew tired this afternoon to lay down and finishing watching my “A Star Is Born” marathon on TCM. As big a movie buff as I am, it is not a movie I recall ever seeing in any of its incarnations.  (And now, I have just learned, there will be a fourth U.S. version in 2018 with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga starring under her given name.  A Bollywood version was filmed in 2013.)

I watched them in “historical” order – first with Frederic March and Janet Gaynor; then with James Mason and Judy Garland and, finally, with Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand.

As anyone who has seen them knows, they are movies of slight variation on the same theme – an ingénue named Esther is “discovered” by an infamously famous, “hitting the skids” entertainer with “Norman” somewhere in his name. Her star rises as his recedes.  For a while the flame of their love burns hot enough to melt away his self-destructive nature.  But in the end, he dies while she continues to ascend.

I came away from all three movies asking the same question – why can’t love just ever be enough?

It should be. I can’t think of a soul I know who was truly miserable when they were loved and being loved in return.  It’s only when it becomes lopsided somehow that love starts a gentle nose dive that ends in a crashing death.

So how does it come to be that one person ends up coming to love one more than the other? And is killing yourself to be “kind” to the one you love really love at all?

In the original version, we are supposed to believe that March’s Norman Maine’s suicide is an act of nobility as he chooses to swim into the Pacific and not look back again. Mason’s seems a little more pathetic, as if his despair has as much to do with it as his wanting to not hold back Esther’s career.  Krisofferson’s just seems like an act of pure rock and roll self-immolation.  Whether it was deliberate or not is a little more of an open question to me.  Did his John Norman leave Esther Hoffman covered with his jacket because he intended to drive off the road, or was the recklessness that always lay within him the real cause?

But who drives 160 mph while drinking a beer driving a winding road if they have a love in their life for which they want to live?

In any event, no matter how much each of the Esthers each loved their husbands, it wasn’t enough to save any of the men from themselves or their mistaken belief their careers alone defined them.

Yet it should have been. Who is foolish enough to choose death over love?

And the answer is – all of us.

We do it every day in a thousand different ways. In careless or deliberate rudeness.  In unkindness and mistreatment. In unfaithfulness and abandonment. Sometimes in a hailstorm of bullets.

According to some Catholic writers I have read, God wondered why Adam and Eve didn’t love Him enough to run toward Him instead of away from Him in the Garden of Eden. He would have forgiven them had they simply asked.  Mercy comes with sincere repentance.

I am sure He is wondering still after becoming Man and loving us enough to die for us. Wondering why that – for many – His love is still not enough.

But somehow the three Esthers drew strength from the deaths of their husbands and carried on with dignity in remembrance of the men whom they loved.

Maybe one person’s love is enough. Maybe’s it’s all there is. I am quite certain it is better than no love at all.


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