Would you be surprised to know a recent episode of Marvel’s “What If…” series helped me understand the idea of blessing?
To be honest, I’ve struggled with it. The entire idea of “blessing” is fraught, in my opinion. How, exactly, does something become “blessed”? How could a person possibly hope to bestow “blessing” on another person or thing that was functionally meaningful? Moreover, how do we take a season where we’ve been considering our faults and failings, and convert those negative experiences into something that could conceivably be called “blessings”?
It turns out, it’s not so hard after all. In fact, lots of us do it (either on our own or in therapy) when we re-frame past events. It comes down to the idea that “without (this bad thing that happened in the past) I wouldn’t have (done this other stuff) and come to this point in time where I can (do this super good thing).”
The point is illustrated in a far more heroic (and entertaining) way in the episode “What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?”
Warning, SPOILERS AHEAD!!
In it, the titular Doctor Strange decides to use the magic of the time stone to travel back to the moment before he crashed his car and Christina Palmer died, hoping to change the outcome. In a sequence that mirrors the original time travel story, H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine”, no matter what Strange tries, Christina’s death always comes to pass. The reason, it appears, is that her death is a “fixed point in time”. Put less mystically, her death is what drives Strange on his quest to learn the mystic arts. Without that tragic – but seminal – moment, the rest of the events would never follow.
The real-world lesson for us, especially in these waning moments of Elul, is that we can use our past missteps to inform our future choices. If the pain of our mistakes motivates us to become better people, then the mistake itself is retroactively transformed from a “sin” (whatever that means) into a blessing. Without it, we wouldn’t have been driven to improve.
If we can internalize this idea, it changes the very nature of what a “sin” and a “blessing” is. Far from being a transactional, zero-sum type of game, it becomes a transformational experience, where – unlike the poor misguided Doctor Strange of the “What If…” episode, can travel back through time to change the nature (if not the outcome) of the past.