I’ve got a question for you. Since when did everyone get so god-damned virtuous? Did I miss a memo? Because I have to visit the Beatific Pantheon of the People of Extreme Virtue nearly every day: scrolling down my Facebook feed, strolling through Whole Foods, skimming blog posts about juicing and breastfeeding and devil-gluten and CrossFit.
Sometimes it seems like we’re sinking into a special, self-(and-media)-induced, circle of Hell. One where we are either congratulating ourselves for permanently eschewing anything post- Industrial Revolution: “I don’t own a TV! I only eat raw foods! My posts are 100% organic and locally-grown! My kids are so pure they may come down with polio! I’ve never even SEEN a McDonald’s! My underwear is made of recycled, recycled newspaper! I just ran 10 miles wearing my own hand-crafted HAIRSHIRT!”
….Or hating ourselves for being ordinary schmucks: “Man, I suck. My kids eat Spam–and it’s not even raw. I don’t compost. I count my steps to the bathroom as exercise. Sometimes I fall asleep watching ‘Extra’. I Heart Gluten. Please Current New Age Guru, save me from the prison of my wayward self!”
It’s not entirely our fault. We’re information-saturated, postmodern animals—it’s no wonder we’re afraid of air, food and the same white airplane wake that used to spell out innocuous stuff like “Tan Don’t Burn Use Coppertone”, but has apparently been re-purposed to simultaneously kill us and save us from burning and drowning in the Great Inundation. Aren’t we all a wee bit tired of acting like characters in Jonathan Franzen‘s next novel? What if we’re just people who move in and out of philosophical and sociological constructs on an hour-by-hour basis? Maybe we’re cool with kale, but, when push-comes-to-shove, we’re not above a McChicken every now and again. Maybe we pick up the New Yorker AND an issue OK! Magazine with Katie and Suri Holmes on the cover, down a Jack and Coke or two, then board a plane to Liberia to save orphans and build houses. As Miles D. would say, “So What?”
One of my favorite Facebook friends is Amy. I don’t think I’ve seen her since June 15, 1985, but she makes me smile at least weekly with the unbridled, unabashed joy in her posts. In one of my top ten, a plate of technicolor cupcakes sits on her kitchen counter, accompanied by the singular proclamation: “Funfetti!!” If you don’t know Funfetti, you need to get down to Safeway right now and take a gander at the cake mix aisle, Miss Marie Antoinette. Amy loves Keith Urban and I don’t, but I love how she loves her country music and her family and her God. There is no judgement or piety, just revelry and celebration. Amy from High School is MY plate of Funfetti.
A few years ago I found myself, with my kids and my parents and the Hubby, sitting on a vast ziggurat of bleachers. We were at Disney World, it was just about nightfall and we were waiting for “Fantasmic” to begin. There might have been some Disney ™ background music to pump up the gathering hoard, but I’m not sure. I don’t remember. All I remember is this: suddenly the massive crowd broke into a spontaneous (and unusually stubborn)– “wave”–like we were all at the Super Bowl or something. The family next to me had Deeply Southern drawls and had been chowing down on popcorn and drawling rather grumpily, but when it came time for our segment to “wave,” they lifted their popcorn tubs, along with the smallest of their formidable brood waaaaay up high and said “YAY!!” The Hub hoisted our own little Buttercup in the air and we all shouted “YAY!!!” A few rows in front–and a little to the right–of us sat a big Muslim family, the women in expensive-looking hijabs and the men in shiny collared shirts. When it was time for them to “wave”, they all threw their hands over their heads and the dads lifted the babies up, and the aunties and moms opened their eyes wide at their children and yelled “Yay!!”
Finally, mercifully, Mickey appeared, bursting from a floodlit cloud of smoke, all decked out in his “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” ensemble. The crowd went wild! And I, crazy lady that I am, had a bona fide, Joycean epiphany right there on the plastic bleachers. Hundreds, nay, thousands, of people from all over the globe–likely of every religious and political persuasion–were going ape shit for some dude (or woman) disguised as a pupil-less, hydrocephalic rodent. And a voice inside me said, “Look at us. Look. at. us. We are deeply, fantastically absurd. We are a ridiculous fallen lot! Every one of us.”
Maybe a week later or so, back in line at Blue Bottle, someone in that crowd might have poo-pooed the experience as yet another Hijacking of the Human Imagination, a Cultish Celebration of American Excess, but that someone would just be covering his tracks. I know. I saw that person. And he was yelling “Yay!!” the loudest of all.
What is this thing in us, exactly, I wondered then, this thing that manages to push through dogma and class and culture and self?
It’s hard to name, but it might have something to do with the way the Dalai Lama is always cracking up over everything, I think. It’s that far-too-rare lifting of the great BS veil. A collective, momentary renunciation of the Hand-Knotted Hairshirt of Ego. The spontaneous roll in the snow. The perfectly-timed fart at the funeral. The dorky boogie-board ride of the soul.
Here’s to that thing.