Archive for November, 2012
We are at the end of an interregnum. Halloween is over. The election is over. Thanksgiving is over. Christmas hasn’t yet begun. Not until tomorrow, December 1. It’s the most wonderful time of the year
My husband and daughter both expressed annoyance last weekend, independently of one another, of the hurry of some of our neighbors to put up Christmas decorations. Oh sure, businesses have been doing it for months. My husband called to complain about that months ago when he went to a nearby mall. But regular people? How is anyone in the frame of mind to put up Christmas decorations before they’ve rested up from dealing with Thanksgiving?
During the month of November I heard a few people say that Thanksgiving was their favorite holiday. But I’m not so sure it’s Thanksgiving itself that they like. A couple days ago, the client in the next chair at the hair salon was talking about how she and her husband celebrate Thanksgiving day. In the morning, she picks up a turkey breast and their favorite side dishes from Marie Callenders, which she takes home and pops in the refrigerator. Her husband and she then meet friends at a local hotel restaurant, where they have dinner, and hang out with friends and family for three or four hours. The next day, they open the refrigerator and voila! They have their leftovers.
We have reached the point in our civilization where everyone does pretty much what they want. Many gather in large family groups for big meals, many travel long distances, and many cook big, elaborate meals. Many, however, do not. Some go to restaurants. Some serve at soup kitchens or shelters. Increasingly, more have to work.
Many merely take what they like of the holiday, and leave the rest behind. Yes to leftovers, football, and shopping. No to cooking, cleaning, and dealing with family members.
I can’t help but wonder what Thanksgiving will look like another fifty years in the future. I’m not one hundred percent certain it will survive, sandwiched as it is between the more exciting holidays of Halloween and Christmas. (Perhaps it is turkey-sandwiched? Ha Ha.) And if it does, I believe it will be for those lovely days after Thanksgiving, more than for the holiday itself.
Holidays are meant to be a distraction, a break. They are time off from our mundane routines to be happy, thankful, and contemplate what is holy. “Holy,” not only in the sense of a particular religious tradition, but holy in the sense of what we feel to be most central to our existence.
But any celebration in itself, repeated over time, tends to mutate until it eventually sabotages its original intent. The celebration of the holiday meant to honor the sacred actually becomes harmful to what we care about most. The long weekend tempts retailers–whose bread-on-the-table depends almost entirely on how they do at Christmas–to turn the entire Thanksgiving weekend into a shop-frenzy. Being thankful for the feast turns into just plain old eating. Being with family turns into alcohol-fueled disputes, or football induced sloth. We lose connection with the original meaning, but somehow make new connections, establish new rituals, to find that meaning all over again.
Take this shopping thing: Some families gather together late Thursday or early Friday morning to hit the stores. These are group excursions, strategized like a military operation, hunting for deals with a level of cooperation that would put a pack of wolves to shame. It is, in fact, a family sporting event, no different in its spiritual meaning than those touch football events the Kennedys have at their holiday gatherings. I can easily imagine a future Thanksgiving in which malls will offer all-day events where you can compete in competitive shopping while also getting fed at mall eateries. Maybe it could be a reality show. Are you kidding? It could totally be a reality show. Oh no, now that I’ve said it, someone will steal the idea. No doubt I’ll see it on T.V. for Thanksgiving 2013.
I know that’s where you’ll find my family next year, watching Thanksgiving Wars, or whatever they decide to call it, turkey sandwiches clutched in our paws, mayonnaise dripping from our mouths, renewing the bonds between us by doing nothing at all, and doing it together.
Next year, we’re inviting these people.
A few weeks ago, I posted on Blueprints of the Afterlife, not once, but twice. In the second of the two posts, I suggested Cat’s Cradle as the best book of this type I’d read. It was a book I dearly loved, but then, I was in love with anything Kurt Vonnegut did. I thought he might be the reincarnation of Mark Twain, whom I also was in love with.
I have now reread Cat’s Cradle. Oh my goodness, my reaction to it now is so different than it was several decades ago. I find I can’t take it anymore.
I did not get, in my early twenties, how truly angry the book was. That Vonnegut does not appear to be joking. That the characters are despicable or stupid. That all the “harmless lies” of Bokononism amount to an odorous pile of foul cynicism. That the flat tone of the affectless narrator would someday sound in my mind’s ear like fingernails on a blackboard. I thought it was all just brash and funny, that Vonnegut was only being smart and subversive.
I don’t mind the dark, but I can’t take the hopelessness, cluelessness, and uselessness of the characters, Bokonon included. We are, in this book, frogmarched to our collective doom.
What makes the book effective is that the stupid, shortsighted, bigoted, willfully ignorant characters do have real-life counterparts. (Perhaps I shouldn’t have begun rereading this in an election season. Yes, that’s you I’m looking at, Donald Trump.) What drew me in, what made me fall in love, was Bokononism. It is a made-up religion, established for political reasons. The principals involved began by pretending to be enemies, but went on to become enmeshed in their adversarial roles.
The outlawed religion of Bokononism is false and made-up. Nonetheless, everyone believes in it. So what is not true has become, from the characters’ perspectives, true. Bokononism won’t save anyone though, and it’s all a lie anyway.
But I loved that stuff when I was twenty-something, partially by denying what the book was saying, and thinking yes, yes, but Bokononism really is true!
And here’s the thing: it is. We all know a dupress or two. We all can identify members of our karass. None of us have the least bit of trouble identifying a granfalloon. Every bit of that is true. So how can’t all of it be true? We’re better and smarter than the Hoenikkers and the other characters, so surely we can avoid killing ourselves with ice-nine, can’t we?
Not in the universe of Cat’s Cradle. We aren’t good enough, or smart enough, to pull that off. Frank Hoenikker, too willfully stupid to realize he is destroying the world, unleashes ice-nine into dying “Papa’s” body, from whence it will go and infect the entire world. But had Frank not done this, his brother, or sister, or the U.S. government, or the Soviets would most certainly have done so.
In other words, we’re doomed.
The book is brilliant. It is a masterpiece. I’m afraid don’t like it anymore.
I can’t take the futility.
Oddly, the fictional work I found myself flashing upon while rereading Cat’s Cradle was the musical, The Book of Mormon, another work that speaks of the importance of belief. The big difference is that the beliefs of our equally clueless and naive Mormon missionaries in the play allow them to win over evil–regardless of the truth or untruth of their theology–and to actually do some good, to save a few people.
I have come to a time in life when I prefer the somewhat twisted hope of The Book of Mormon musical to the cool, black despair of Cat’s Cradle.
And I’ll claim that as my spiritual journey.