“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ” Matthew 25:40
If you haven’t read Salinger’s Franny and Zooey yet, you must. And I must give you a spoiler alert because I am about to give away the revelation moment of the book—and my life.
Franny and Zooey are two insufferably nuanced yet lovable siblings (Zooey a man’s nickname for Zachary, not the female name like Zooey Deschanel) who are facing the worst kind of disillusionment: spiritual. I say worst because, of course, the spiritual never sticks to its manageable compartment of the “spiritual realm,” but spills over into every cranny of our lives, spoiling the whole barrel.
In sum: both Franny and Zooey, to some extent, are in crisis, looking for something real, something authentic, something that points to love and beauty and wisdom beyond the self-serving strivings of a world obsessed with counterfeit praise and lifeless knowledge.
Which brings us to the Fat Lady.
The Fat Lady is introduced to young Franny and Zooey by their much admired and idolatrized older brother, Seymour. Seymour asks Zooey to shine his shoes before a radio broadcast, which sends sends Zooey into a tirade about how everyone was a moron – the studio audience, the announcer, the sponsors – and he isn’t going to shine his shoes for them especially since they can’t see his shoes anyway. But Seymour tells him to shine his shoes anyway; shine them for the Fat Lady.
Seymour tells the same thing to Franny, only that instead of shining her shoes, she should be funny for the Fat Lady.
Years later, Franny and Zooey are dealing with the same problems: why try when it doesn’t matter? Why take all the effort to “shine your shoes” when the audience is too moronic or not in a position to see them anyway?
Because, Zooey eventually realizes, these morons, these dense audience members, these people surrounding us, annoying us, irritating us, THEY are the Fat Lady.
In fact, “There isn’t anyone who isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady.”
Zooey says to Franny, “Don’t you know that? And don’t you know–listen to me now–don’t you know who the fat lady really is? … Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It’s Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy.”
Christ Himself. Is the Fat Lady? Is the annoying coworker whose voice is just an octave too screechy? Is the vicious professor? Is the absent-minded listener who is texting and tweeting and tamping their foot as you pour out your heart? Is the man with the “Why Lie? I need a beer” sign at the street corner? Is whatever brand of personality quirks you are obliged to condescend upon?
Christ Himself is anyone?
It’s not like we haven’t heard it before, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
The Fat Lady just so happens to be God with a non-alienating arbitrary name.
And that, I think, is enough epiphany for one blog post.