5:22 AM – Sometimes foul seems to have brewed . . . . .
“Remove not the ancient landmark which your fathers have set.” Proverbs 22:28
Our ten dollar coffee maker, made by the Chefmaster Company and purchased at our local Target Gigantoplex, died this morning at the ripe old age of nine weeks. I expected to get at least ten weeks for ten bucks, but, as it would appear, I’m a whimsical consumer with lofty expectations. If the dying of my Chefmaster is a result of planned obsolescence, I perceive they set there clocks a wee soon.
I wrote Friday about abstract emotions and concrete imagery, and about our need to contain language that is both worldly and personal. This thing about imagery and language is something I think about a lot as a teacher, as a writer, and as an overly emotional guy. I remember one time being in a couple’s Bible study where one guy in the group found it helpful to journal everyday about his emotions. He admitted to feeling disconnected from his wife and even his own heart. He said, “I’ve started carrying my journal around and I’ve started making little notes during the day of when I feel things. I’m trying to write down everything I know I feel.” I heard this and laughed and said, “Shit, if I tried that I’d never get anything done.” Proust would appear a practitioner of flash fiction were I to keep a journal of my every emotion.
One of my favorite “family traditions” from the Old Testament, which you see a lot in the beginning, is the Lord’s insistence that Israel build landmarks to remind themselves and their children and their children’s children of the Lord’s fulfilled promises and provisions. This the children of Israel stop and do after nearly every battle, after every parted water scenario, and after finally obtaining the Promised Land. It’s funny that God knew how feeble human devotions truly are, that even after all those clouds by day and fireballs by night and walls of ocean and crumbling Jerichos and tents full of circumcision (that last part seems fairly memorable) God knew that Israel needed concrete reminders of His covenant. They’d soon forget. They’d soon be off in the woods worshipping fairies and fauns and each other’s happy parts.
There’s even this great story in Joshua’s memoir about the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh going out to build an alter “of great size” that appeared so questionable to the rest of Israel that a fight nearly broke out – And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to war against them. (Joshua 22:12) Funny thing, it was all just a misunderstanding. Israel thought that the Reubens and the Gad and half-Mans were building altars to lower-case gods. And considering that these were people fresh off a lifestyle of mass murder and pillage, killing even the cows and the kids of an entire people, the Reubens and the Gads and the half-Mans had to quickly assure, “No, no, no! This altar is for the capital-letter God, your God! We’re making a landmark to show our kids! We call it Dadaism!” Then all of Israel had a good laugh, apologized, clapped each other on the shoulder, and went home to circumcise something.
The point here being that these people took their altars and landmarks and concrete reminders seriously. So much so that if one people group designed their reminder in a questionable, Marcel Duchamp type fashion, they were in danger of massive attack. The people from Chefmaster really should hear this story.
The need for concrete reminders seems to be hardwired in us as human race. We love to remember and we’re afraid we’ll forget. So we buy souvenirs on vacation, t-shirts at concerts, picture frames at Wal-Greens, guilty pleasure CDs on the discount rack. We tattoo our skin and decorate our home and put stickers on our vehicles and name our pets or children in tribute. We keep heirlooms and mementos and trinkets in the form of jewelry from ancestors, furniture from family, old letters from past friends and ex-lovers. And sometimes we host elaborate rituals to erect and to exchange concrete symbols of abstract intentions, many of which we soon misplace the value, such as birthday parties with cakes and graduations with diplomas and weddings with rings and funerals with deep holes in the ground. We make art and we make our art available to people, and we lie, unconvincingly, saying we make that art for ourselves and be damned if no one likes it. And in our modern age we record and photograph and sentence size everything to fit our screens because if we can’t socially share our moments they might as well have never happened.
We inherently do these silly things because we feel deeply and we forget easily and, even if we live a long life, we die sooner than we would prefer, certainly before we ever made ourselves as known as we had hoped.
I can add to my collection of concrete imagery this morning a broken coffee maker. Here’s my disappointment and my longing, my addiction made plastic and obsolete. And I can add these words scribbled out blindly on the slippery edges of a waking mind. Here’s my discipline and my hope, my language mangled locked and loaded. Be damned if no one likes it.