Beckett nailed it in Waiting for Godot. But I also want to point to "The Song of the Messiah," John G. Neihardt's epic poem about Wovoka, a shaman who at the close of the Indian wars persuaded the subjugated Lakota Sioux that if they performed a circular dance known as the Ghost Dance, the white man would soon go away and the buffalo reappear. The Lakota were desperate enough to take this self-styled messiah at his word; the Ghost Dance soon spread from tribe to tribe. U.S. soldiers who didn't know what to make of the strange and ominous dancing became apprehensive, and tensions built. The outcome to the high expectations of the Lakota was the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890.
And then there are the best-selling Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. They've been on my mind since I talked to Jenkins in connection with another of his projects, the Gil Thorp comic strip. Jenkins and LaHaye have sold tens of millions of their books imagining the End of Days, the prophesied time when Christ returns to send the godly to heaven (the Rapture) while everyone else dies in ways worse than anything you can imagine. As the Rapturists read Scripture, the restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land is a crucial harbinger of Christ's return.
This belief adds one more religious wrinkle to a part of the world that had more than enough to begin with. The Israeli Gershom Gorenberg, whose book The End of Days examines the conflict between Christians, Jews, and Muslims over Jerusalem's Temple Mount, told Vanity Fair a few years ago, "This is incredibly dangerous to Israel. They're not interested in the survival of the State of Israel. They are interested in the Rapture, in bringing to fruition a cosmic myth of the End Times, proving that they are right with one big bang. We are merely actors in their dreams."
Derrick Rose went down with a torn ACL last April 28. The surgeon who operated on the knee said afterward that he supposed it would take eight to 12 months for the knee to heel: "While he will be at hopefully a very high level at 12 months, it still may take slightly longer for him to be at his pre-injury level. That's not uncommon for athletes of this caliber."
Twelve months is still another month and a half away, and Rose as his old self would be further in the future than that. Heeding the surgeon, Bulls fans and scriveners wisely curbed their expectations. The Tribune's David Haughey wrote sensibly last May, "Sure, Rose might play again in eight to 12 months but, because of NBA realities, his injury made three to five years a new, reasonable estimation when the Bulls legitimately will challenge again for a championship."
During the first part of the present season, with Rose out of sight and out of mind and expectations sensibly tempered, the Bulls did surprisingly well. Later, thanks largely to other injuries, they did less well. But what of it? We'd written off this season anyway—hadn't we? Yet instead of maintaining what I might call the sober Lutheran position that it'll be nice to have the Messiah back if and when we see him but life goes on regardless, the press launched a frenzied Rose watch. It's as if his return will be the millennial Return That Changes Everything.
Some headlines have been worthy of Godot. Tribune, Tuesday: "Bulls' Rose: 'I don't have a return date.'" Sun-Times, Wednesday: "Rose will be back when he feels like it."
(My source, who's no better than yours, tells me he'll feel like it on March 23 against the Pacers at the United Center.)
Other messiahs have been even less communicative than Rose. Our savior has never responded to queries about when he intends to return. What might he say? Perhaps: "I don't know. Last time on earth, it couldn't have turned out worse, and I'm still not sure I'm ready to go through that again. Physically, I'm fine, but it comes down to a matter of confidence."