Here’s a cross-over you won’t see too often: Times of Israel meets Supernatural (the cult TV series). For the uninitiated, Times of Israel is an online newspaper about Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world. For the other uninitiated, Supernatural is a TV series about two brothers who fight evil supernatural creatures (“hunters” in the show’s terminology) and regularly save the world.
Supernatural takes full advantage of its context and subject matter to anthropomorphise angels, demons, and even God Himself. In its world of suspended belief, anything can happen, and often does: resurrection from the dead, time travel, and parallel universes.
For their milestone 300th episode, the writers have treated fans by bringing back one of the early characters – John Winchester (father of main characters Sam & Dean). John was killed by the demon Azazel at the end of the first season as he was seeking to avenge the killing of his wife Mary some 22 years earlier, the event that set John on his path as a hunter of supernatural creatures. Mary herself was resurrected in season 11.
In this episode, Dean uses a magical artefact that grants the bearer their greatest desire, and in an instant, his father John appears. For the first time in over 30 years, the family is united and enjoys some special time together.
But alas, everything comes at a price. John’s return has altered “the timeline”, and the brothers suddenly find themselves in an alternate present world – the one in which John did not die. In this other world, Sam is a TED-talk delivering workaholic lawyer, while Dean is still a hunter, and is on the FBI’s most-wanted list for his efforts. In this world, the events leading to their mother’s resurrection do not happen so she is also absent.
This leads to an agonising choice for the brothers. If they do nothing, their world experience and altered timeline will somehow converge, and they will ‘become’ their alternate selves. On the other hand, if they undo John’s resurrection, then they lose their father (again), but retain their lives as they are now.
There is a profound message here. After we experience the loss of a loved one, we often look back and wish either that it did not happen, or that our departed relative could suddenly be returned to us (intact, or healthy). As an aside, the Jewish doctrine of t’chiyat ha’meitim – resurrection of the dead – is often cast as exactly that, although I feel it is deeply misunderstood and misconstrued. That topic is beyond the scope of this article.
But the return of someone after potentially many years away from this world can have significant side effects or unintended consequences. Quite aside from the culture shock of finding oneself instantly transplanted into a world many years in the future (imagine how someone who died 50 years ago would respond to seeing people walking the street apparently talking to themselves), the real shock to the system is for those who continued their personal timelines following the death of their relative. Their lives may have “forked” in an entirely new direction as they grieved and adjusted to life without their departed relative. With the sudden return of their relative, they are indeed different people to what they were previously. The “cost” of resurrection is potentially giving up what they have now become.
While we might wish we could turn back time, we rarely consider the full consequences. The grieving process following a loss helps us continue our personal journeys of growth, sometimes in new directions we never could have imagined.
For more in this series, see Shiva: sitting then getting up, And who before his time, ‘Hamakom’ as a Verb and Transactional Judaism, Celebrating Liberation without the one Liberated, Kaddish Club 2: chained to the amud, But Who’s Counting,The Long and Short of a Year of Mourning, Second Yahrzeit, and Sad vs Tragic.