The Major is in unknown territory. In Five Characters in Search of an Exit, an episode of the 1960s science fiction program “The Twilight Zone”, he has just awoken in a barren room. He begins poking at the walls, trying to find a way out.
The Major soon finds himself in conversation with an annoying clown who comes complete with makeup, goofy attire and a snarky attitude. What’s worse, The Major doesn’t know who he is. Not only that, he also wonders about the identity of this nutty jester whom he discovered upon gaining consciousness..
“Wait a minute. Who are YOU? Is there a circus around here somewhere?,” The Major asks The Clown.
Laughing, The Clown responds,”Yeah. A clown. A circus. (Pointing at the major) An officer. A war. That’s logic, isn’t it? But it doesn’t figure at all.”
“Not at all?” The Major replies. “Why not?”
“Because there is no circus and there is no war. You’re just like the rest of us,” says The Clown.
“The rest of us?” The Major asks. The Clown, sitting against a wall, points his foot out and three other characters appear: a hobo, a ballerina and a bagpipe player.
As they prance by in single file to a bagpipe tune,The Major freaks out. “What’s going on here?”, he bellows. ”Where are we? Who are we? What are we?”
As the others stare at him blankly, The Ballerina replies, “None of us knows Major. We don’t know who we are. We don’t know where we are. Each of us woke up one moment, and here we were in the darkness.”
“How could that happen?” The Major says with a look of astonishment on his face.
“That’s the question we asked ourselves,” The Ballerina says. “A question with no answer, Major.”
She describes their predicament succinctly. “We’re nameless things with no memory,” The Ballerina explains.”No knowledge of what went before. No understanding of what is now. No knowledge of what will be.”
“How long will we be here?” asks The Major incredulously.
“That’s a good question,” proclaims The Clown. “That’s the best question of all. But nobody knows the answer.”
“Twilight Zone” host Rod Serling calls the five characters “a collection of question marks–improbable entities stuck together in a pit of darkness: no logic, no reason, no explanation. Just a prolonged nightmare in which fear, loneliness and the unexplainable walk hand in hand in the shadows.”
There are times when some of us wake up to find ourselves in our own pit of darkness, our own nightmare. We wonder how we got here. There is no rhyme nor reason to what has happened to us. We have lost our identity. Never in our wildest dreams would we have thought we would ever be in such a situation.
What galls is that many of us enter the Christmas season in such a state. The vexing part is that The Holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, excitement, romance and fantasy.
Instead of we are weighed down by extreme fear, terror, torment, anxiety, guilt and shame.
In the midst of our own horror story we find that all our societal, cultural and personal markers are askew. The things that had once given life meaning are gone. The bottom has dropped out. We have a tons of questions but no answers. In sum, we are lost and have no idea where or who we are.
For this happen at Christmas causes excruciating pain, for others seem to be faring so wonderfully.
People all react differently when their world turns upside down like this. This is exemplified In Five Characters in Search of an Exit.
The episode shows how some pour themselves into coming up with practical solutions to their problems, while others laze about in resignation. For instance, The Major is keen on finding a way out of the pit he is in.
However, his companions in the pit have been in this dreadful environment so long that they have given up. The Clown is so bereft of hope that he just wants to wallow in any amusement he can come up with. As he seeks to frolic he mocks the Major, whom He thinks is wasting time. He calls him an idiot for even trying to find a method to escape .
When caught in our personal hell, many of us also try to explain our circumstances away. The “Twilight Zone” characters are no different.
For instance, some of us turn to theology or fantasy to make sense of our environment. In Five Characters in Search of an Exit, The Major determines that they are in Hell. On the other hand, the Ballerina muses that perhaps that they on a spaceship or on another planet. “Or maybe we are all insane or this is a mirage or an illusion,” she adds.
The Hobo chimes in, too. “We’re dead. This is Limbo.”
We sympathize with these characters in this dungeon. They are just trying to cope.
The Major reiterates that whatever the explanation, their situation is indeed a nightmare. It is he that tries to find a silver lining in their horror, suggesting that someone must be aware of their existence and cares for them.
In a statement that brings to mind the existential angst of modern Millennials, who have recently been pictured in the media as people screaming at the heavens, The Major asks the others if they have shouted or pounded on the walls.
The Hobo responds by saying that they have tried The Major’s ideas but that they came to the conclusion that for all intents and purposes the little room was their universe. His inference is that they have determined that they are stuck in their bad dream and there is no way out.
Those in severe depression, especially during The Holidays, may also have given up, resigning themselves to spending Christmas in pain or dulling their emotions with addictions.
But a clanging noise, which The Ballerina suggests is a bell, provides evidence that the Major may be right. There in fact may be someone outside their “universe” in charge of things. He begins to shout at this “being”.
The Major screams, “LET US OUT OF HERE!”
When we are suffering, we not only get mocked or subjected to the ignorant suppositions of our acquaintances , but we also meet up with kind, sincere souls who will try to assuage our pain. In Five Characters The Ballerina tries to comfort The Major. “Don’t be afraid Major. It gets easier.”
She attempts the “misery loves company” approach. The Ballerina suggests that they aren’t alone in their nightmare. There has to be other “dungeons” for the unloved where their kind also have to suffer.
The Major responds emotionally to the Ballerina’s ideas. “We must have names,” he exclaims. “Someone must care for us,” he yells. This hope motivates him to press on.
“Somewhere, somehow, we have a life that has been cut away from us. We’ve got to get it back!,” says The Major.
He then begins to try to dig a tunnel into the impervious floor.
The Major finally convinces his fellow inmates to try to help him escape. He emphasizes that if he can do so, he will come back to rescue them.
The four other characters follow The Major’s instructions. They stand on each others’ shoulders, forming a human tower so that one of them can reach the cusp of the pit. They all writhe in pain as the weight bears down on their shoulders. The Ballerina is injured when they collapse on the floor, but they try again, and the Major is able to climb out of the room.
After he does so, he screams and falls into what appears to be snow. Is he dead?
No. The viewer learns that he is in fact an inanimate doll. A woman is shown minding a Christmas donation barrel on a city street on a winter night, collecting donated dolls for an orphanage. She is clanging a bell to draw attention, a common Yuletide scene.
Meanwhile, in the pit, hearing the Major’s scream, The Clown tells the others that The Major may have been correct. They are in Hell. He predicts that The Major may indeed return, but not as a savior.
A child finds The Major in the snow. She shows him to the woman, who tells her to toss him back in the barrel. We then see all the characters all as lifeless dolls lying in their pit, staring into space.
Rod Serling concludes the episode with what he calls “one hopeful note.” As the camera shows the dolls in the barrel he says, “Perhaps they are unloved only for the moment. In the arms of children their can be nothing but love.”
Serling is on to something. There is hope for those of us who are suffering.
We can indeed experience love that will give us life. Someone does love us. This love could come from children, or friends, or family. But we can’t count on it.
Humans are frail, fickle creatures. Like these dolls, we are made of plaster. We can just as easily break and turn on each other as we can provide assistance and love.
There is One, however, who is not a brittle doll or a weak facsimile of the human race. Jesus is as human as you and I, but also the all-powerful and omniscient God, and He loves us.
How do I know? Jesus took our form and actually entered our pit to save the human race. He suffered like we do, and even more so.
Jesus died for our sins. The term “sin” is a foreign concept today. Yet, our sins are as real as the morning sun.
In biblical terms, “sin” is defined as rebellion against God. This rebellion deserves judgement from Him.
Yet, God Himself took our punishment.
The Good News is that He didn’t stay dead. He didn’t lay buried in the metaphorical snow life a lifeless doll. Jesus rose from the dead and returned to heaven.
Unlike The Major, He will not return to participate in our ongoing Hell. He one day is coming back to our pit to reclaim both it and us. Then, Jesus will make all things new.
Five Characters in Search of an Exit reveals the futility of our own attempts at salvation. We can’t release ourselves from the pain.
Our intellect won’t save us. Theology, fantasy, philosophy or technology aren’t the answers to our personal nightmares. Our fellow humans, even friends and loved ones, aren’t the way out of our suffering. In fact, they may even become adversaries.
Charles Weigl learned this in his own horrific experience.
He was an effective 19th century Christian evangelist and hymn writer. Thousands came to faith in Jesus from his work.
But his loved ones turned on him.
“Adversaries are typical,” says Cox, “but the kind that Weigl would endure are the kind that try men’s souls.”
His wife came under the influence of family members who rejected Weigl’s ministry. He was accused of abandoning his family for it. Eventually his wife left him to seek after the pleasures of the world.
Weigl was devastated. Cox tells how his ministry apparently suffered because church’s were not too fond of a divorced preacher. Even so, God did not give up on Weigl. He began to heal him.
One day in Florida Weigl was so sorrowful that he was considering taking his life. But he recalled his own experience of putting his faith in Jesus when he was in his late teens. He heard a voice say, “Charlie. I care about you. I haven’t forgotten you. Let not your heart be troubled.”
He remembered that there is indeed Someone who cared about Him.
Weigl clearly heard the voice of Jesus. It may not have been audible, but the form of His voice doesn’t matter. Out of this experience he wrote a well known hymn: “No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus.”
J. Vernon McGee notes how the Scriptures describe Jesus’s voice as similar to running water, the kind one hears from a stream or waterfall.
McGee was once hiking in Yosemite Park in California when he heard his own name being spoken from a waterfall there. He said that people might think him crazy, but he believes the water was calling his name. “Try it some time,” he said.
McGee told this tale in the context of explaining how those who belong to Jesus recognize His voice. In his message the pastor said that believers in Jesus are described in the Bible as “sheep.” As this animal knows the voice of its shepherd, so those who belong to Jesus know His voice.
The Psalmist writes of the importance of listening to God’s voice in the midst of suffering. He spoke to the people of ancient Israel, whom God had just delivered from awful slavery in Egypt:
Hear me, my people, and I will warn you—
if you would only listen to me, Israel!
You shall have no foreign god among you;
you shall not worship any god other than me.
I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it
God WANTS to give us abundance in this life. It may or may not be of the material kind, but we can count on Him to define this abundance, and sculpt it just to fit us.
In the same passage the Psalmist writes of how God had removed the burden from His people’s shoulders. It was not necessary for them to bear a crushing weight anymore. Yet, Israel did indeed continue to rebel against God.
The Psalmist’s warnings rings just as true as the bell of the woman collecting dolls. It’s ringing for us now.
We may be doing everything we can to cope with our personal pit, just as The Major did. In some ways, he is an admirable figure.
He figured that the horror he and his colleagues were experiencing was not reality. The truth lay outside of their own heads and beyond their own efforts.
Their pit was not their final destination. These dolls were meant for loving arms to hold during the Christmas season.
My prayer is that those who belong to Jesus as I do will hear His voice while immersed in the cultural noise around them during this season and be comforted.
For those who do not hear His voice, I would relay the teaching of McGee. He told his listeners that that a person who was deaf to the voice of Jesus did not belong to Him.
The way out of YOUR pit begins with putting your trust in Him to deliver you from it. I There’s no need to stay there.
This week a friend sent me an unsolicited Email. I had not heard from him for a while.
In this Email he warned me to not succumb to “Christmas-induced depression.” This kind of message from my pal was not typical of him, so my ears perked up.
I believe his exhortation was God speaking. I was in bed at the time, feeling miserable. Right then and there I determined to fight my malaise.
Merry Christmas to all in the pit. May Jesus enter your realm and comfort and deliver you during this difficult time.