Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Row, row, row your boat Gently down the stream When will this current find the ocean? Where will this river meet the sea? And I don't know why we float But I like this buoyancy Each moment lent, I already spent now My favorite currency Turn the hourglass over Turn the hourglass over again --Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers, “Hourglass” I still have a bit more to do on my Four Days in July series. I want to look at the aftermath of those momentous events and spend some time on the Gettysburg Address. But writing ten of those entries and tossing in a couple After the Flood entries over the course of two weeks was kind of tiring. I didn’t necessarily approach them like research papers, but I did a lot of background work. I actually understand Day 2 at Gettysburg and the Vicksburg campaign quite a bit better than I ever did before. But I’ll probably go in to that at length later, too. Anyway, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the Sabbath the last couple days. I had one over the weekend. I spent three days in a place where the internet and phone calls couldn’t reach me. On Friday we had to go out and cut our own firewood and on Sunday we had to help clear a couple paths through the woods, but even that wasn’t really like work. The break wasn’t from work as a whole so much as it was from the life I usually lead. I spend 40+ hours a week in an office having to deal with emails, then I come home and check my personal email. I carry around a smart phone that allows me to check email, Facebook, ESPN, and anything else at pretty much any time I want. My apartment is never fully clean. There are dishes to wash, a bathroom to scrub, floors to vacuum and mop, and crap to put away. It’s never ending. And if I just throw up my hands and say, “I’m not doing anything today,” I’ll feel guilty tomorrow. I had a bit of a mini break down last week. My switch from Christianity to atheism has brought with it something of a default personal nihilism. It’s not that I say the life is meaningless, but I realize that if I die tomorrow I won’t know the difference and the world will go on without me just fine. That does bring in the question of meaning, though. I tried to figure out what I was living for last week and came to the disturbing conclusion that I was living for my next paycheck in order to make sure my creditors get the money I owe them. This is not a compelling reason to go on living. It’s not that I’m suicidal. I used to think I was, or wanted to be. That seems a weird thing to desire, I guess, but there are times when life seems like nothing more than a slog from one thing to the next with no plot, no purpose, no climax, nothing. The thing that always kept me from deciding to act out that permanent response to life’s temporary difficulties when all else failed was, oddly enough, religion. I was under the impression that god didn’t much like the idea of killing myself. Sometimes I even believed that god had some sort of larger plan that would make the whole self-destruction thing a bad idea. Of course that was probably all an attempt to rationalize, anyway. I think I wanted to think I could go through with it but I knew I couldn’t. I think I just wanted to wallow in the moment and think there was nothing worth doing, no reason to go on. Invariably I’d pull out of it after a while. So when I had my random break down last week I knew not to take it too seriously. I’m working on a new story about the true root of wisdom. I started it before last week, but it has developed a certain level of poignancy for me. True wisdom, according to my new story, begins with the words, “This too shall pass.” When things are bad it’s a reminder that there are better days to come. When things are good it’s a reminder to put a little something aside for the storms that are sure to come. I don’t know that the universe ultimately curves towards justice, but I do know that it does tend towards randomness in both gifts and punishments. I think, though, that’s why we need the Sabbath. It’s weird. Sundays were often the busiest days of my week back in the day. There was church, there were often meetings when I was volunteering since everyone was available on Sunday afternoons. There were also sometimes service projects and events. For the actual pastors it usually wasn’t that big of a deal. They had Monday off. But for me, especially during those years when I was in school and working, being as heavily involved in church as I was meant that I never really got a Sabbath. I had no idea what it meant to “remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy.” I think I thought about god the least on Sundays. Which is weird, too, since every once in a while the passage would come up about the Pharisees getting pissed at the Disciples for picking the heads off grains while walking through a field on a Sabbath day and Jesus responding with, “The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” I like that. I lived in a world of rules and it seemed that everyone else did, too. There are all the bizarre stories about the attempts by Orthodox Jews to get around doing any work by getting using technology, but then freaking out about that same technology. Apparently for a Jewish couple in England walking past a motion sensitive light on the Sabbath is a violation of the Law so they’re suing. That’s stupid. But that’s what religion so often becomes. Some holy book or person said not to do something, so this huge collection of rules built up around not doing that thing. But there’s often so little self-reflection in all of those rules. Why is there a Sabbath? Because without a break we lose our minds and forget why we’re working in the first place. That’s it. There’s no real mystery to the whole thing. All cultures have come up with some version of the Sabbath and some excuse for it. There were temple days, festivals, and market days among others. I think the problem is that, given the opportunity, humans will work themselves to death. Some won’t, but I think most people tend to fall in love with being busy. Once we start being busy we start to think that not being busy is somehow wrong. We might not work for our employers seven days a week, but we’ll get home from work and start right in on this project or that task. I mean, I got a little crazy over trying to make sure that I had all my Four Days in July entries plotted out, written up and posted at the right times. I was up until 2 o’clock on Friday morning because I got home from work on Thursday with the Gettysburg Day 3 and the Vicksburg posts unwritten and I was planning on heading out of town as early as possible on Friday. It’s what happens, I guess. It’s why we need a Sabbath, but one without stupid rules and restrictions. I don’t know that taking a break adds meaning to life. I really don’t think it does. But I think that taking those few moments to sit and appreciate the world reminds us of where to look to find meaning. Sometimes it’s friends, beer, bad jokes, and sitting in a place where there’s nothing to do but watch the sunset over a lake. What could be more holy than that? And perhaps as much as it sucks to leave, that little voice in the back of your head that reminds you that Monday is coming and this, too, shall pass serves to make a good Sabbath that much more special. Either way, I’ve decided I need to add a Sabbath back to my schedule. But this time it will be filled with things that I do because I want to. Or, I suppose, it will be filled with me not doing things because I don’t want to. Or something. All I know is that it won't be filled with a bunch of rules, it may not always be at the same time, and I'll probably do different things each time. I'm also thinking that sitting around watching TV probably won't count. One of the things that was great about last weekend was that I couldn't watch TV. I started to wonder how the White Sox were doing on Saturday. When I realized I had no easy way of finding out I just kind of shrugged and realized it didn't matter too much and the Sox would win or lose without me and I'd be able to check the standings on Monday. One thing’s for sure, though. It will be a hell of a lot more relaxing than those Sundays at church… As darkness whispers in our ear Let we loiter in the light a little longer here Turn the hourglass over --RCPM, "Hourglass"