Don't You Forget About Me
Near the close of John Hughes’ 1985 classic The Breakfast Club, “a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal” sit in a semicircle.
During one Saturday’s detention, this ragtag band of high-schoolers works through avoidance to acceptance and genuine affection. Formerly stereotypes in each other’s eyes, they spend their sentence disproving their differences, staging minor acts of civil disobedience, making each other over and making out. With enough time and revelation, they see each other as people.
Now they face a collective moment of truth. Anthony Michael Hall’s Brian (the brain) voices the question hanging in the air: “What happens on Monday?” Does this newfound alliance hold—or does high school’s ever-present caste system steal what they found? Molly Ringwald’s Claire (the princess) earns the group’s ire when she stares into Monday’s harsh light and projects the worst. Intimacy will give way to others’ influence, she says.
Hughes never ushers us toward Monday, preferring to leave us with Saturday’s memories. Real life, he suggests, rests somewhere between Claire’s confession and her friends’ indignation.
This scene flooded my brain Sunday night, as my wife and I discussed near-future days, the ones just past this pandemic’s end. We traded forecasts, each marked by an accounting of national follies and personal indifference. How long will it take, she wondered aloud, before we all start distracting ourselves again?
In these days of distance, we pool our anxieties and anecdotes, our moments of levity and our breaking points. We draw curtains that should never be closed again. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear force themselves to keep looking at all we reveal.
Social distance shrinks as singles peek behind the too-often locked doors of family life, witnessing all the chaos and comfort. This particular moment of isolation softens those living alone together, creating sensitivity for their peers without a constant companion.
Common concern for our elders binds us together. Scales fall from eyes as so many of us take our bodies—and the bodies of our neighbors—serious for the first time. Missing touch and presence and even the most awkward small talk, people like me start to understand the existence of others, for whom none of those are sure things.
We celebrate once-minor triumphs on any given day, and take to our balconies and social-media feeds to express solidarity. We tip without calculating, share the art and music which give us life, and lean in to listen as doctors prove they are human too.
White, relatively privileged Americans like myself—Americans who deserve no further reminder—face the music of crisis yet again, learning for the thousandth time that catastrophe targets the elderly, the immunocompromised, workers dancing along the edge of a living wage, and people of color first and most often.
With little to do but make declarations, we talk a big game about what comes next. We commit to being better, more attentive neighbors, profess our love for simple gifts and slower paces, discuss the sort of leadership we will and won’t accept.
When this is over, we swear we’ll be proactive. We will step into a softer, more thoughtful way of living. When we come face-to-face, we’ll connect across every dividing line. When the threat subsides, we pledge to disassemble structures that turn the most vulnerable into human shields. We won’t allow normal to return the same way.
So why do I keep asking myself, with teeth clenched, “What happens Monday?” Fear courses through me as I consider whether we’ll stop to acknowledge each other in the halls—or pass by, heads down, eyes darting anywhere and everywhere else?
If this pandemic proves anything, it’s the distance between talk and action. Our stories count the cost of status-quo living and last-minute planning. But will we invest in disruption before the circle closes again? History says probably not; I hold out just enough hope to believe otherwise.
Some never see the real holes in their own lives or the world around them. They turn others into inconveniences and protest remedies even as they’re applied to their own wounds. Jesus met these people at every mile marker along the road to redemption.
But for those who gesture toward righteous anger and repentance, who scream for something different, a question lingers: How much does it take to jar a soul loose?
The real syntax of what’s ahead remains unrecorded. The future—thanks be to God—looms closer than we think today. But if we cannot or will not see the writing on the wall right here, right now, our blindness will never end. Shame on those of us who hold the power of possibility, who possess enough social capital to make change, and return to our lesser loves.
Let the stories we hear lodge beneath the skin, irritating us until we act. Oh Lord, grant us enough trust to lay down the cross of busyness and take up Sabbath rhythms, the patience to read more poetry and sing more hymns, the will to scatter blessings around our neighborhoods, the generosity to divest ourselves of all we hoard under normal circumstances.
Oh that we would live with more joy and more anger. I pray that, someday soon, we leave our homes to observe little miracles like Mary Oliver, turn over the right tables, rebuild the very world our fingers rip into. It seems like too much to ask, but I hear that with God all things are possible.