The ’90s for me were more Lollapalooza than Nickelodeon, so I’ve never actually seen Clarissa Explains It All, but whatever. That pop-culture nostalgia reminds me of another quintessential ’90s meme: “What would Jesus do?”
The thing is, I had no idea: I was raised Jewish. Most of what I knew about him came from deflected evangelism, The Last Temptation of Christ, and my apparently inexpert reading of the New Testament. If you’d asked me, Jesus would have taken one look at suburbia, concluded that it was bullshit, and promptly moved to a Himalayan ashram.
Fortunately, being an alienated teenager meant that I felt exactly the same way. Like, if we had been contemporaries, we would have gone to the same Midwestern Jewish summer camp (like this one, except in the Ozark Mountains). We would have snuck out of our cabins in the middle of the night to steal a canoe and paddle out into the middle of the lake to look at the stars and have earnest conversations about our place in the universe.
Jesus would tell me to chill out, that none of this mattered as much as I thought it did, that life was so, so much bigger than anyone realized. He would tell me that everything was going to be OK, that he liked me just the way I was, that with him on my side I could do everything wrong and still turn out all right.
We’d promise to stay in touch after camp, but we wouldn’t. Ten years later I’d be sitting in the cubicle I’d chained myself to until I paid off my grad school loans, and there’d be a postcard from India in my mail with no message, no return address. But I’d know who it was from and what he’d done. And just for a minute, I’d wish I’d done it too.