“[T]he self sees its only recourse as an endless round of work, diversion, and consumption of goods and services. Failing this and having some inkling of its plight, it sees no way out because it has come to see itself as an organism in an environment and so can’t understand why it feels so bad in the best of all possible environments … and so finds itself secretly relishing bad news, assassinations, plane crashes, and the misfortunes of neighbors, and even comes secretly to hope for catastrophe, earthquake, hurricane, wars, apocalypse–anything to break out of the iron grip of immanence.
–Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
There’s a side to the life-bending events of last week that many of us don’t want to acknowledge–that we relished it. We felt alive. We became like those branches Thursday morning encased in icy crystal, bent tortuously close to a snapping point. But we didn’t break. I don’t want to minimize the pain that many people suffered–people who were sick, people who lost members of their families, people forced to spend money they didn’t have or hoped to save for the holidays. In fact, the hardships most of us suffered, going days without heat or electricity, made us more aware of people who live so close to us, yet whose lives are so distant from our own. We got a clearer understanding of them. And we were able to take an almost omniscient look at ourselves.
In a flash or 10 of white light, jobs became secondary. Family and friends were all-important. Fulfilling basic needs took precedence. After we took care of ourselves, we reached out to those around us. It usually wasn’t life or death; it was a tree limb that needed cutting or a branch that needed moving. For me, it was visiting an out-of-town friend’s mother in a nursing home when she couldn’t get in touch by phone. Of course, I’d been meaning to visit for months.
And it was exciting. Bundling up in front of the fireplace, the whole family (and the dog) under one blanket. There were four dinner parties in four nights, in homes made more beautiful by candlelight. We ate rich stews, homemade soups, fresh artichokes, green salads, marinated steaks, garlicky pork chops, turkey cobbler, homemade pies, birthday cake and LOTS of melted ice cream. We visited friends we hadn’t seen in a while, whooping it up while comparing horror stories. And a mantel full of Hanukkah menorahs never shone as bright.
We got outside the “endless round of work, diversion, and consumption of goods and services” that has become our lives. We did the things we knew were important. Let the lesson of this season be that we not rely on catastrophe to break out of our immanence, and to do it again sometime soon.