The problem with life as a river metaphors is that they usually fall into one of two categories:
1. You are a lazy son of a gun who just floats wherever the current of circumstance washes you.
2. YOU ARE MADE TO SWIM UPSTREAM EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY DAY! LET'S GO! BE A SALMON!
While I've known a handful of people in each category, neither is realistic for most people. Actively battling against the "current" of everyday life all the time is neither sustainable nor healthy on the one hand, and on the other, almost everybody finds themselves in that battle to some degree. Something as simple as a morning routine is a fine example. Even if you don't make fake morning routine videos for YouTube fame, you most likely get up at a certain time, and then follow some pattern of hygiene, coffee, breakfast, getting dressed, and getting ready for whatever your day typically delivers. This means you swim upstream.
You have to find the level of effort, idealism, and sustainability that works for you. But this post is about a different river than the one that consists of brushing your teeth and getting your workouts in. There's a river that washes our brains, and this river is often overlooked by the motivational speakers.
The current pressures us everywhere we go, and it's this river that we really ought to try to be more aware of at all times. You wake up and you check your phone, you watch the news while you get breakfast, you listen to music while you get your workout in, you turn on the radio on your commute to work, you are attacked by marketing with every billboard you pass and every store front you see. Each of these adds to the force of the river. You open your browser, and the rivers forces you to think about people dying from Covid. You log into Amazon to buy a spatula, and the river forces you to think about people hating Asians. You get lunch at a restaurant with a tv, and the river forces you to think about murder. You are constantly forced to think about climate emergencies, economic emergencies, health emergencies, politics, and terrorism. This is the river that sweeps our minds.
The silver lining is that you're not forced to think a certain way about any of these things. That is, unless you're not keenly aware of them. And herein lies the danger of the current: for the most part we consider these harmless or just mildly irritating. It's almost impossible to be unaffected by the river, but unless we consciously fight the current, it will wash us where it wills.
And here is the eddy into which the thoughtless will be washed (just take a discriminatory glance at your browser's home page, or open Amazon or Netflix.): The world is coming to an end due to gas engines, white people are killing blacks and Asians, a dutiful citizen chooses where to do business based on skin color, people you disagree with politically can't be trusted, if you breathe without a mask you will kill someone, being a male or a female is a matter of choice, and Captain Jack Sparrow can successfully be played by anyone other than Johnny Depp.
When I wear my tin foil hat, I think this is an intentional and coordinated attempt to change the fabric of our culture from one based on Christian morals and trust to one based on moral relativism and fear, but then I take my hat off, and I realized that is indeed the case. It's no coincidence that the same social concerns are propagated by all the major corporations and go in and out of vogue at the same time. If Amazon has a social concern on their home page, you can bet that same issue will be found in suggested movies on Netflix, on headlines in the major news outlets, argued over in congress, and used for a censorship basis on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
But all of this is probably just me being paranoid. After all, if it were really true, there would be some central agency coordinating all these efforts. But any fool knows nobody runs a river.
When I was a kid one of my favorite movies was Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. That's the one where Kevin Costner totally nails the British accent. I watched it often, but not as often as the Bryan Adams music video that came on during the closing credits. Often upon awaking, I'd stumble into the living room to find my 6 year old brother playing air guitar to the music video. He used to wake up, pop the tape into the VCR, fast-forward to the end, listen to the song, and then repeat interminably. This is entirely normal behavior. All six year olds love "Everything I Do, I Do it for You." But I digress.
Robin Hood has been made and remade probably a billion times. If you remake a movie a billion times you're going to have at least a few really smash hits. That might be why Robin Hood, in some form or other, is a perennial favorite. If you grew up with fox Robin Hood, you know what I mean. Also, if you've shared the gut busting joy of watching Robin Hood: Men in Tights (Mel Brooks), you know what I mean. Robin Hood is the greatest super hero that has neither super powers nor incredible wealth. He's just a normal guy with a murderous aim and a penchant for thievery. And we all love him for it. He's like Bernie Sanders, but without the crippling servitude to a political party or the several luxury properties or that undefinable quality that begs one to make fun of him. Also, on testosterone therapy. Robin Hood is one of us.
Except not. What if Prince John--or in the case of the Costner version, the Sherriff of Nottingham-- issued an edict that we must all remain indoors or else be taxed? What if those nasty, chain-mail clad soldiers went roaming about the forest looking for day hikers? What if Robin Hood found some of them carrying a boy named Wolf (Wolf???) off to the dungeons for trying feed his family, but in so doing had to violate the edict? We all know what Robin Hood would do. "Let him go," he'd say with American authority. And they would.
Every week more evidence suggests that covid-19 isn't nearly as bad as was first thought. Antibodies are proving that far more people have had it than it was possible to know, and with every person that lived through the virus, the virus itself becomes less deadly. It's nearing the mortality rate of the flu.
The CDC reported on April 4 of this year that the death toll of the 2019-2020 flu season is between 34,000 and 62,000. The current death toll of Covid-19 is right around 45,000. Dr. Fauci said two weeks ago that he expects it top out at around 60,000. 60,000 deaths from a virus is certainly a tragedy, whether they be from an old virus or a new one. It's a shame that these deaths happened, and maybe restrictions on our freedoms will save lives, but at what cost?
The real problem with this quarantine, whether or not the virus is as bad as we think, is not one of physical health at all. It's one of humanity. There are intangible things that make us human, and we're destroying them. Why do we love Robin Hood? Is it because he takes money from the rich? Is it because he gives that money to the poor? No. Our political system does the same to a degree, but we don't love our political system. If you had a friend that robbed your wealthy neighbor and gave you half of what he stole, you would likely be too concerned about ethics and justice and the police to love him for it.
It's cool that Robin Hood can split one arrow with another arrow, but that's not why we love him either. Although I do love him a little more because he can hit several targets with one shot. But I digress.
We love Robin Hood because he makes possible human triumph. He enters a world of inhumanity and default quarantine, and restores it.
On one hand you have the ruling class. People who are defined by excess wealth, greed, and power, and this inhuman action destroys their humanity. They oppress their fellows and sacrifice their sense of justice. On the other hand you have the common folk. These people are pushed down into the dirt, forced into an effective quarantine, made to slave and labor, and poach for their food, and they are allowed to keep nothing of what they earn. Their humanity has been stolen and they are separated from civilization. They are angry but powerless.
But Robin Hood. He is the one that comes into that world and provides justice. He balances the scales of human greed and human oppression. He refuses to let his soul die. There's a scene in Prince of Thieves when Costner first arrives at the Sherwood village. He suggests they fight the enemy but is met by one objection after another. Finally, one man says, "but what about our kin? They've taken all they got too!"
Robin Hood levels his gaze at the man and replies, "Then by God we take it back."
But Robin Hood doesn't come frolicking down and hand them their humanity on a platter, oh no. That's not how humanity is given. He raises them to a position where they can participate in action that is human, and this participation is what restores their humanity. They become industrious. They begin making bows and arrows. They eat good food and drink good beer. They gather with one another and hone their crafts and skills. They learn in community.
They work collectively towards a common goal, and they become true men, women, and children.
And here is the point of this post: Quarantine dehumanizes. Quarantine turns humans into what the Sherwood villagers were before Robin Hood: scared and weak non humans. We eat alone. We drink alone. We become idle. With every week that we are forced to lived outside of common human experience, we become less human, for we are prohibited from participating in humanity.
This is not healthy. In quarantine, our souls die. And so we must make a difficult decision.
When the sheriff's men chased Robin Hood, Azeem, and Duncan right against the edge of the forest, they were forced to choose between hiding in the haunted forest or fighting a fight they could never win. About the forest, Duncan warned, "it's filled with ghosts!"
Robin Hood replied, with all the American conviction Kevin Costner could muster, "Either we take our chances with the ghosts, or we become ghosts ourselves," and disappeared into the haunted forest.
And that difficult decision is what determines whether we are human, or whether we are quarantined.
It's the Lenten season, and you or some of your friends are probably planning on fasting from something until Easter. This is well and good, but be careful to put serious thought into what you're fasting from. I've heard of people fasting from soda (good), cigarettes (good), meat (good), dairy (good), social media (good), alcohol (mmm...okay.), coffee (...seriously?). Be reasonable about what you can live without for forty days. You don't want to get a week into your fast and then drop dead, because that's no way to reach your goals. Below, find a list of things you shouldn't fast from, and reasons why.
Sometimes I hear people piously claiming they're going to fast from coffee for forty days. I always chuckle, and then realizing they're serious, I intervene. Remember, you're only human. Studies show that going more than a week without coffee results in agonizing death 100% of the time. Are you sure you're ready to die, and if so, is this really the way you want to go? If you insist on giving up your life this Lenten season, please consider choosing a less tortuous way. Consider fasting from water, sleep, food, or air. These are all viable options that will accomplish the same end as a strict coffee fast, but with far less pain to you and your loved ones.
"But there's a first time for everything," I can already hear you protesting. "I heard of a Buddhist monk, a zen master, who fasted from coffee for forty days once," you argue. To these objections I reply simply: Look at yourself. Are you a history maker? Do you wear an orange robe? Are you even bald? Case closed.
Or maybe you're the history buff who plans to counter with the nobody-had-coffee-two-thousand-years-ago-and-they-were-ok argument. Please. They also didn't have instagram or twitter back then probably. Is that really the life you want to go back to? That would be like saying you can live strictly on whole foods without McDonald's or Taco Bell. Don't be daft.
"But Mormons don't drink coffee and they're doing fine." Are they though? Is living in a desert with a huge support group, strong family values, a world class choir, and a clean lifestyle your idea of "doing fine?" Just stop.
"But I read on the internet about somebody who quit drinking coffee and their gut health improved, they had more energy throughout the day, and they slept better." Listen closely, because I'm only going to say this once: Guts are gross. Stop talking about yours, and definitely stop talking about some stranger's on the internet. Also, sleep is boring.
That's all I have to say about a coffee fast. I'm sure you can agree that it's one of the worst ideas you've had in 2020. If you still insist on trying it, don't come running to me when you drop from severe coffee depletion in a week or two.
2. Nothing. Feel free to fast from anything else.
Have a blessed fast.
It's no secret that our current world is rife with division and chaos. Everybody is either choosing a side, condemning a side, or trying desperately not to be on a side.. Even those who try to remain neutral will be shoved to one side or another by the masses, especially right now as the presidential election approaches and the candidate field is slowly slimming down. Simultaneously, the frenzy is ramping up. It reminds me of the 2-minutes hate from George Orwell's novel, 1984.
The 2-minutes hate was a daily 2-minute period where all the citizens of Oceania were required to watch a video of whomever might be the great enemy of the state at the time, in this case one Emmanuel Goldstein. For two minutes they watched a video of Goldstein speaking, and his words were mean and dirty lies in Oceania. As they watched, their hatred burned unbearably. Here's a quote from the book:
"Before the hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room. The self-satisfied, sheep-like face on the screen and the terrifying power of the Eurasian army behind it were too much to be borne. Besides, the sight, or even the thought of Goldstein produced fear and anger automatically. He was an object of hatred more constant than either Eurasia or East Asia, since when Oceania was at war with one of these powers it was generally at peace with the other...
In its second minute, the hate rose to a frenzy. People were leaping up and down in their places and shouting at the tops of their voices in an effort to drown the maddening, bleating voice that came from the screen. The little sandy haired woman had turned bright pink, and her mouth was opening and shutting like that of a landed fish. Even O'Brien's heavy face was flushed. He was sitting very straight in his chair, his powerful chest swelling and quivering as though he were standing up to the assault of a wave. The dark haired girl behind Winston had begun crying out, "Swine! Swine! Swine!" and suddenly she picked up a heavy Newspeak dictionary and flung it at the screen. It struck Goldstein's nose and bounced off. The voice continued inexorably.
In a lucid moment, Winston found that he was shouting with the others, and kicking his heel violently against the rung of his chair. The horrible thing about the two-minutes hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in."
I know what you're thinking: "this isn't from a novel, this is real life." But you're wrong. It was written in 1948. Uncanny, isn't it?
I don't share this to attack President Trump, or Vladimir Putin, or CNN, or Fox news. In fact, that's the opposite of my intention. I share this in hopes that we can get a glimpse of that last paragraph in our lives. In the frenzy of social media, election cycles, foreign scuffles with nuclear powers and the like, it's sometimes impossible to avoid joining in. Sleep is nature's way of helping us settle the day's inputs: things we read, interactions with people, ideas we've had, etc. We need sleep so our little brains don't get overloaded. But with the extreme amount of news, opinions, interactions, and ideas we encounter each day in this technologically advanced world, sleep isn't enough. That's why so many people are unsettled. Like Winston, we need as many lucid moments as we can get.
So when the foment has got you riled, put your phone down. Our phones have too much information for our minds to process and remain lucid, not to mention all that scientific blue light stuff which I don't understand enough to explain. Facebook and twitter comments can wait. Even texts and emails can wait. Instagram fire and thumbs up emojis can sure as hell wait. Don't make the moment of lucidity wait.
Read a book. Information input from reading a book tends to come at a much better rate for our minds to process and retain sanity. Further, books generally aren't written by people vying for your attention against a hundred other headlines and clickbaits. It doesn't have to be heavy reading. In fact, for most people struggling with phone frenzy I'd think light reading would be more sustainable and therefore the better option. Find a war novel or a mystery thriller and read the thing. It doesn't matter what it is, just make sure your phone is in another room.
Get your lawn chair out on a nice day and sit in it.
Do a workout with nothing in your ears. I recently ran a half marathon and it seemed there were lots more ear buds on that course than the last one I did about three years ago. Nearly everybody had something in their ears and a phone on a strap somewhere. And this was no dull training run, mind you. This was in Gruene, TX, right along the Guadalupe River. Among the prettiest spots in the state, and in my humble opinion, the South. But all that to the side, do a workout with nothing in your ears except your thoughts.
Jump in a cold lake. I'm serious. There is nothing so easy, so quick, and so effective for resetting the mind and flooding the body with endorphins. If everyone in the 2-minutes hate had been dunked in a cold lake for twenty seconds there's a one-hundred percent chance they would've forgotten about Goldstein. But if you don't have a cold lake nearby, take a cold shower. It's not like it's bad for you or anything.
You have ten more months until the election, and the 2 minutes hate will be playing somewhere the whole time. Now is a good time to start training for lucidity. By the time you finish January, maybe you will be ready for February. And if you stay consistent you might even stay sane through November. Good luck.
Today I ran across a meme that shocked me at first. It said, "2050 is just as close as 1990." I actually had to stop and do the math. Listen folks, it's true.
I don't know if I'm alone in this, but to me, 1990 is a time of warm memories and simple living. I was 8 years old and living my best life. My best friend in the world lived three doors down. I always had food on my plate and coffee in my cup. My family made frequent trips to the beach. My mongoose bike hadn't been stolen yet. My head, which had until recently been loaded with golden curls my whole life, was freshly buzzed. 1990 was good, and I still think about it often. Life couldn't have been better.
On the other hand, at least in my head, 2050 will probably never exist. Anything could happen between now and then. Some middle eastern oil conflict will get out of hand and the whole world will nuke itself and Year One will begin again with a few left over cave dwellers scratching pictures of what happened on the rock walls of their homes.
Computers programmed to destroy racists and hate will detect racism and hatred in all of us and Elon Musk will accidentally be the only person left alive, hiding away in his trapezoidal truck behind shatter proof glass.
Rainbow headed feminists will finally destroy the patriarchy and all the social constructs only to discover social constructs and patriarchy are necessary for society to exist and will slowly melt into an angry puddle of impotent misery, berating the soy boys they created for being powerless to help.
Artificial chemical induced testosterone levels will finally equalize between men and women and procreation will cease.
Anything could happen. This is 2050 we're talking about. I'm pretty sure there's a law somewhere requiring all science fiction books and TV to include references to the year 2050. With the current rate of development of technology, corporate greed, military expansion, and social decay, literally anything could happen.
It seems so far away, but the uncomfortable truth is that it's not. In 2050 I will be my dad's age. My son will be my age. It's right at one generation away, and time ain't slowing. I often hear people talk about the insanity of the world and how they couldn't bring a child into this place. But this is how the world ends, with the people who recognize the insanity diminishing and the people who don't increasing. The world desperately needs sane people.
Learn what good things are and teach the 2050 generation. Show them beauty. Let them hear music that penetrates to something deeper than their skin. Instead of a pound of sugar candy, give them an ounce of good chocolate. Do something fast and scary -- and dangerous -- with them so they can know that thrills don't only come in screens. Show them the difference between a McDonald's happy meal burger and an actual burger you grilled at home. Let them taste good beer. Teach them about debt. Teach them about sacrificing for someone in need. Help them experience the reward of persevering on a difficult project. Let them struggle.
The parts of the world that are falling apart are the parts that have rejected all those things. These are the things from which life is made, and these things are the reasons we exist. These things link us to God and keep the earth spinning.
Choose something good in life this year and focus on enjoying it. Make sure it's something that makes your blood flow and your heart rejoice. Learn how to smoke a brisket, grow a garden, or create a dovetail joint with a handsaw and a chisel. Make a point to avoid McDonald's and Netflix. Make life feel like it did when you were 8.
Make the future great again.
Happy new year.