Human perception is a funny thing. Through our senses, the mind absorbs a great deal of information about the world we live in. Ironically, we absorb both too much and too little. One the one hand, we can be absolutely overwhelmed with the stuff of our lives: the constant noise of the media, the frenzied rush of activity, the nagging burden of paying the bills, the gnawing need for intimacy and gratification. On the other hand, we often lack the details about what makes things work, and can hardly ever get a grip on "the big picture," so we find ourselves thinking that happiness is the possession of certain objects, or that love is the result of good sex. Sorting it all out and making sense of it is a daunting but unavoidable task.
Take the natural human desire to whack things on the head, for example. It is part of our nature. Watch a baby. Sooner or later, a baby will get around to whacking something or someone on the head, be it another baby, Mom, or the pet dog -- something is going to get whacked. Any time something or someone invades our space and/or threatens our things, we are innately designed to strike out, whether we wield a Barbie held by the calves, a switch fashioned from a tree branch stripped of its leaves, or collectively, a B-52 with its 70,000 pound payload of explosives. In fact, we spend most of our lives whacking and being whacked and spending huge amounts of our resources on the process. In the US, somewhere between a quarter to a third of entire federal budget is spent on defense, defense being the assurance that we have the ability to whack anyone and everyone in the world if we need to. That doesn't include the cost of state and local law enforcement that tries to keep a lid on all the whacking that goes on in our neighborhoods, nor the billions of dollars we spend to be titillated by the simulated whack acts presented to us in the name of entertainment in the movies and on television.
So what to make of all that whacking? Is it proper? Are there consequences to it? Are there consequences in not whacking? It is hard enough to know what to do if I notice that my neighbor is throwing pots and pans at her significant other in their driveway. Maybe he deserves it, maybe she's a harpy, maybe this is foreplay. And when the President decides to send my neighbor half way around the world to put some serious whack on people we don't even know, what am I to think?
The brain needs to figure out what to do with all the things being dumped on its floor. In fact, it's a more than a bit compulsive about it. Every piece of information it gets has to be put into a box of like pieces. Shoes go in the shoe box, underwear goes in the underwear drawer. Whacking the dog with a Barbie goes into the "kids will be kids" box. B-52's, as big as they are, go into duffle bag marked "patriotism." Then we encounter an image of a young child badly battered and burned, and it's very, very difficult to fit that into any of the boxes, drawers or bags, but the mind has to do something with it. It can't just lie around on the floor. We might try to sweep the new bit out one of the ears and forget it, perhaps taking in a Tom Cruise movie to help the process along. This can work, but some bits of information won't go away. We might try to build a brand new box, but this is something that gets harder to do the older we get, and we have to actually want to do it.
What happens more often than not is that the brain takes these odd bits of stuff and crams them into existing containers even if they get mangled in the process or if the container gets damaged. This is the most expedient way of taking care of the irregular bits. So the kid gets chucked into the duffle bag because that's the way it's always been.
Being out of work since April is one of those things that has gotten thrown on the floor of my brain. It doesn't seem to fit the category of earth shattering disaster that everyone seems to think it is, but that may be because I am what is referred to in the vernacular as "a lazy bastard." My employers have always been happily co-dependent in this respect, enabling my laziness by always providing me with excessive amounts of work and lavishing heaps of money on me. In fact, if you read the media accounts of my last employer, and especially if you read the comments posted on news articles about my previous employer, the poor guys ran themselves out of business as a result of the squandering vast sums on my shoddy union workmanship.
Maybe, maybe not. What they did do was consume so much of my life that I was able use them to pretty much excuse myself from virtually every other aspect of my life. If I wasn't actually working, I was "resting" in order to be prepared to go back to work.
Now, I have lots of time on my hands, so I'm resting ... a lot. I enjoy resting. I am good at resting. It suits me. And what's more, I do not miss working. I was always employed in order to make money, and not because I liked working or was pursuing some passion. In fact, if the truth be known, I still don't know what I want to do when I grow up.
What I do know for sure, is that I am truly well aware of how fortunate I am. I am not young, which you might think is a disadvantage, and could well have been, but fortunately, with the counsel of a wise wife, at this point in our lives, we are reasonably well off. All things being relative, I'm sure there are lots of people who wouldn't think of us as well off, but I would describe our situation as one of having modest needs and modest resources. We are extremely fortunate in that the needs and the resources are pretty well balanced. Are we vulnerable? Yes. A major hiccup could cause problems, but then again I suppose that's true of every economic equation.
So I am truly lazy, and I am truly grateful. What am I to do?
What I could do is simply not worry, continue to sleep well and get up happy each morning until the money runs out or someone offers me a decent job. I bet that after about the fifth time through Eyes Wide Shut, I wouldn't even want to eat, which potentially could save me a lot of money. Or (and I am really trying to resist this) I could just shrug and try to shove the "lazy bastard" bit into the "life as usual" sack. Then again, I have the opportunity to reinvent myself. I have the time to inventory my skills, adjust my attitude, broaden my horizons, get a fresh start.
If I am to reinvent myself (and that seems the logical choice), there are stalagmites of behavior that I need to change: things that I do but I shouldn't, and things that I don't but I should. I am not dysfunctional enough to need a twelve step program, nor to the best of my knowledge is there a nearby chapter of PWJNFWDAnon (People Who Just Need to Figure out What to Do Anonymous), but I am not necessarily clever enough to figure out what to do on my own. I need some kind of DIY guide to figure this out.
In casting about looking for models I can learn from, it occurs to me that the Jews and I have a lot in common. I worked for a foreign concern building cars; they worked for a foreign concern building pyramids. I had long hard hours; they had long hard hours. I had a woman asking God to get me out of there; they had women asking God for deliverance. God smote my employer with their first ever annual operating loss; God smote their employer with plagues. My employer fired everybody; their employer fired everybody. I found myself wandering California's Central Valley desert; they found themselves going in circles in the Sinai.
Although the Jews spent forty years wandering about the desert working on resumes, and while occasionally somebody cried in his beer about missing his old pyramid-building buddies, the reason we even know about their adventures is that they established the Seder, a celebration of thanksgiving to God for getting them out of a really bad situation. For roughly the last three thousand years exactly every 15th day of the month of Nissan (Jewish calendar), Jews throughout the world remember that what happened to them was a very, very good thing.
The Mass is an extension of the Jewish celebration of Seder, the Passover meal. It began when Christ and his friends gathered for their last Seder together before his death. It is the Catholic community's way of giving thanks to God.
Since I was already wandering around in the desert anyway, I thought it would be a good idea to begin going to daily Mass, not to throw myself on the mercy of God and beg for assistance in my time of need (although that may come), but simply to be grateful for where I am and what I've been given.
It's one of those perception issues -- is the glass half empty or half full? The ancient wisdom of the desert tells me I have been given a gift, not a problem. The ritual of the Church, now an opportunity and not an obligation, provides me with a means to say thanks.
I think I'm getting a grip on the bigger picture. If, like the Jews, it takes me forty years to do that, I will be 97 when I finally find a new job.
Thanks be to God.