My life is a New Yorker magazine.
When my NYer arrives in the mail, usually on Thursday, I open first to the back page. There is a cartoon, without caption. Readers are invited to submit a caption. It is always a ridiculous picture. My first inclination is to say, “There’s no way anyone could caption that.” But then I begin to think about it. If I don’t allow myself to be constrained by the obvious, captions begin to present themselves.
Also on the back page is the cartoon from the week before, with the three best captions, according to the editors, that readers have sent in. If the NYer web site will accept your password, you get to vote on those to determine the best.
Also on that back page is the cartoon from two weeks ago, with the winning caption, elected from the previous three best.
Recently, for instance, there was a cartoon of a man walking through an office carrying a huge hot dog under his arm. If you think the obvious, you come up with something not funny, like “I’m going to a picnic,” or “It’s a souvenir from the ball park.” But in the winning caption, he says to a man he is passing, “My other two wishes were also ironically misinterpreted.” That is funny at several different levels.
I used to try to send in my captions for the cartoons, but the NYer web site says I am using the wrong password. So I try to reset. The site tells me I already have a password and to use it. I say they don’t accept it. The site says, Try it again. I do. The site says, Nope, still wrong. I say, Give me a new password. The site says, Nope, you’ve already got one. It’s just as well. My captions are never as funny as the winners.
After I read the back page cartoons, I leaf through the magazine from back to front, reading only the cartoons. Then as I have time I go from front to back reading the articles that interest me, on politics or religion or medicine or science or the history of water-witching in Moldavia.
I’m old now. I start at the back page, trying to put a caption on whatever ridiculous thing is happening now. Then I leaf back through the years, seeing the scenes that bring a smile. Then, if I have time, I get serious and try to understand religion and medicine and science and… That’s the caption and the work of old age, to understand it all from the back page.
I’m sure Eugen Rosenstock-Heussey was not the first to point it out, but it was from him that I learned that we understand life from back to front, because with the Christ story, we start at the end, with resurrection. It’s only as we go from back to front that we understand that story and what it means. The Christ story begins not with Christmas but with Easter.
So, Happy Easter!
Thanks to my late friend, The Rev. George W. Loveland, for introducing me to The New Yorker. He gave me a subscription for Christmas the first year we worked together, in 1979.
I’ll be taking a few days off from Christ In Winter as we celebrate Easter with our granddaughter. The Lord is risen; the Lord is risen, indeed!