History’s best comebacks, from Jesus to John Travolta

Matthew Sweet in 1843 Magazine:

It’s not an age thing. Jesus was in his 30s when he rolled aside the stone from his tomb for Western culture’s foundational did-you-miss-me? moment. Gloria Swanson was 51 when she inhabited the forgotten body of silent-film star Norma Desmond and vogued down the staircase in “Sunset Boulevard”. That’s younger than Naomi Campbell is now. Why do some comebacks inspire and others appal? The best don’t erase the absence that made them possible or ignore its attendant trauma. When Elvis returned to live touring in 1968, audiences went wild for his exertions as much as his voice, and snatched the sweat-damp towels he tossed in their direction. When Monica Seles returned to tennis two years after a man had stabbed her with a nine-inch knife during a game, the crowd cheered her physical and mental victory over her attacker.

The Son of God fits this pattern too. Scourged, crucified, murdered, He returns in a shape fit for ascent to heaven. No more fieldwork, no more lecturing, no more miraculous catering, only the hereafter. And, we’re assured, it’s not just about Him. If we live the right kind of life, we get to do this too. When the band you loved as a teenager proves it can still fill a stadium, or an actor with whom you shared your youth comes back for a second act, it inspires and consoles. Comebacks suggest that the world is not, as some medieval scholars thought, a body in decay; that life isn’t a process of loss or dilution governed by the second law of thermodynamics. We look at the flowers rising in the parks and gardens, and think ourselves green again.

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