I have been a longtime fan of Stephen Colbert. He’s helped me to laugh through many of the most difficult and frustrating times of our nation’s history over the past 15 years or so (first on the Daily Show, and later in his own political comedy satire). Now Colbert is about to take the reins of the Late Show. I think he’ll do a great job.
As the new show’s launch approaches Colbert was profiled this week by GQ. The profile touches on a lot of Colbert own journey to where he is today. It’s a candid and personal portrait and one that revealed Colbert’s intelligence, sensitivity, and values. Part of the interview talks about his faith. Colbert is a Catholic and has been open about his faith in the past. He’s given John McCain a bible lesson. He’s welcomed the Pope. He’s defended Catholic theology on hell against it’s detractors, as well as the real presence in the Eucharist , and the divinity of Christ. He has stood before congress and challenged them to take protection of our immigrants seriously on the basis of the scriptures (and basic human decency). He’s talked about the challenges of raising his children with faith on NPR. He’s shown that he believes his faith is a source of life and heroism.
In this latest GQ profile Colbert takes up his faith again, as he recounts how he has managed to stave off bitterness in spite of tragic loss in his own life (his father and 2 of his brothers died in a plane crash when he was 10). Colbert credit’s the example of his mother, the beauty of the world itself, and his faith:
[My gratitude for this world], that impulse to be grateful, wants an object. That object I call God. Now, that could be many things. I was raised in a Catholic tradition. I’ll start there. That’s my context for my existence, is that I am here to know God, love God, serve God, that we might be happy with each other in this world and with Him in the next—the catechism. That makes a lot of sense to me. I got that from my mom. And my dad. And my siblings…
I was left alone a lot after Dad and the boys died…. And it was just me and Mom for a long time, and by her example am I not bitter. By her example. She was not. Broken, yes. Bitter, no…
it was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering, which does not mean being defeated by suffering. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is just awareness. ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that’s why. Maybe, I don’t know. That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.
When the author of the GQ piece struggle to make sense of it all Colbert turns to Tolkein:
“Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”
He was 35, he said, before he could really feel the truth of that. He was walking down the street, and it “stopped me dead. I went, ‘Oh, I’m grateful. Oh, I feel terrible.’ I felt so guilty to be grateful. But I knew it was true.
“It’s not the same thing as wanting it to have happened,” he said. “But you can’t change everything about the world. You certainly can’t change things that have already happened.”
Consider that this is coming from a man who millions of people will soon watch on their televisions every night—if only there were a way to measure the virality of this, which he’ll never say on TV, I imagine, but which, as far as I can tell, he practices every waking minute of his life.
The next thing he said I wrote on a slip of paper in his office and have carried it around with me since. It’s our choice, whether to hate something in our lives or to love every moment of them, even the parts that bring us pain. “At every moment, we are volunteers.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.