The Storming Bohemian Punks The Muse: Covid Edition #26 – “Absurdly Indulgent Writing About Flushing Your Head Down The Toilet, St. Benedict, Obeying The Time, The Rise And Fall Of Civilizations, And A Call Out To Ru Paul.”
Written on July 28, 2020.
Today, I feel like I have nothing to write about.
I feel like when I was a little boy and I’d complain I had nothing to do. This was a tragedy. “Mommy, there’s nothing to do!” I’d cry.
I was always certain Mommy could fix this. Usually she figured something out. If she couldn’t figure something out she’d say, “Well, why don’t you go flush your head down the toilet?” T
This would make me giggle. But it was a really nervous giggle. Did she really want me to flush my head down the toilet? Would I even be able to flush my head down the toilet? I tried to imagine what that would be like. I wondered if the suction would tear my head off my neck or if all of me would get pulled into the toilet bowl and swirl off down the little hole in the bottom. But I was too big, wasn’t I?
These days I feel like, having nothing to do, I’ve watched COVID-19 flush my life down the toilet. Day after day, I watch it swirling around and whooshing, whooshing, whooshing, right down the drain.
And yet, alone and sheltered in place, scared of poverty, challenged by boredom, angry and uptight, occasionally delusional, I find that, after all, I am much too big for my life to go down the drain so easily. At least, not yet. The big flush waits for us all, but for the moment, I’m in the swim of things.
The paradox is well known to various vowed religious orders. For centuries monks and nuns of different traditions, East and West, have flushed ordinary life down the drain to disappear into hooded robes behind the walls of cloisters in silent monasteries to lead austere lives. And they have had the effrontery, many of them, to claim that they do this in search of happiness. Really? Well, isn’t that special.
Towards the beginning of the foundational text of Western Monasticism, the Rule of St. Benedict–a text and a practice of such exceptional impact that generations of historians have called Benedict “the Father of Western Civilization” (no less)–this question is asked: “Who is it that wishes for life, and desires to see good days?”
Well, who wouldn’t say, “Dude, that’d be me!”
But the other shoe doesn’t take long to drop. The text goes on to advise that if that’s what we’re after, we should arm ourselves with “the strong and noble weapons of obedience.”
What the fuck?
But it is worth considering the conditions under which Benedict was organizing his community. It felt like the end of the world. There was plague, and war, and violence in the streets. Almost everybody was pitiably poor. Lives were short, and sick, and oppressed. Upward mobility was a fantasy. Kind of like, well, today in the good ol’ U.S.of A.
What might it mean, in conditions like these, to “arm ourselves with the weapons of obedience?” One way to look at it, I think, is to consider the possibility that we are called upon to “obey the time.”
History, in a rare turn, is making demands on us all. This is not always the case. There are times of stability and ease when history demands very little of the common people. They need do nothing but live their lives in peaceful bliss. It happens. Never to everybody at once, but it happens.
But when cursed with “interesting” times (like now), we might have to obey the time by rising to the situation.
What might that mean to people like you and I? Well, obeying the time might mean staying home, wearing a mask, demonstrating in the street, questioning assumptions, joining together in a righteous cause, diving into the waves of history and surfing them towards an unknown shore, knowing that much of what we know (and maybe many of whom we know) will be shattered upon the rocks, but other persons and institutions will be beached on a brave new world.
Cut off, like cloistered monks, from what has been the every day, we find this paradox: with nothing to do, nowhere to go, stuck home alone like Macaulay Culkin, we can suddenly feel the heretofore undetected swelling of the time. In the silence of our suddenly simplified lives, we might feel the enormous force of history lifting us in a tumultuous wave. It breaks into our dreams and our fantasies, pops out of our computers, is discovered in our lonely masked walks along deserted streets. Suddenly seeing beneath the frothy surface that seemed so busy and interesting, we may find ourselves navigating the deep.
On the other hand, we might also find ourselves sleeping in, ordering pizza, and binge-watching reruns of Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
Today, it’s all about diving into the depths of history and the roots of the new civilization which is beginning to rise and make itself felt.
Tomorrow it’s “American Idol” and delivery from Panda Express.
Life, as they say, goes on.