For Everything You Once Were
And living your life through vice has left you slow and with out stride.
For everything you once were is now a memory seen through a sloths eye. – Allawy Mian, “Where No Virtue Lies”, ending
“At some point, you have to get up and do something.” Perhaps. Perhaps not, though. If there is a way to avoid doing anything unpleasant, or even anything at all, I might well be the champion of finding that way. Avoidance is more an art than science, is a skill rather than a talent, and it takes a whole lot of work to be a successfully lazy person. All the same, it is far preferable to the alternative: doing that which I would rather not. Even when doing whatever it might be is necessary. I sometimes think the world would be so much better if more people preferred to do less, find ways to just sit and enjoy some songs, the play of light through windows, reading a good book, a third cup of coffee, and take in the experience of living. Of this marvelous gift of existence. Of the way the times and days and seasons move along, and yet this eternal return is never the same, and each moment is filled with wonder.
That’s what I tell myself. That I am appreciating the simplicity of all that is, without distractions, with a soundtrack I have chosen. Except, really, what I’m doing is an active passivity. I’m trying desperately not to do . . . well, whatever might need or wanted to be done.
When I worked at WalMart, it was nearly impossible to remain either idle or find shortcuts around necessary things. Funny thing, at least to me, was how much I enjoyed the work and the people. It was camaraderie, it was hard, physical labor – I was well-known for how I sweated out shirts, especially when I worked stocking the juice aisle – and for a man entering middle age, I found myself in surprisingly good shape. Yet, if only I had the opportunity to steer clear of all that, I would have taken it. Let someone else lift all those heavy cartons of juice, pull those pallets filled with those heavy cartons, move fast because there was more than 8 hours work to do, and there was so much extra to take up time, from discarding cardboard to setting up endcaps to making the aisle look pretty and stocked. Despite the benefits I found, when I finally left I wasn’t heartbroken. I wasn’t as young as I used to be, I said. All that lifting and toting and pulling and moving faster than anyone had a right to expect of me was too much. I was tired of it.
Except, what I really was, was looking for an end to something that took me away from my preference for doing nothing. I had moved away; the trip was expensive; the work environment had not remained friendly; I had more excuses than a centipede has legs. Excuses, however, is all they were.
It wasn’t just WalMart, however. Laziness is not just an art form or habit. It is a way of life. Of course, I also know it isn’t living at all. It’s barely existing. The comforting lies the slothful tell ourselves are just that. I may believe I’m appreciating life more, but how is that possible when I’m not really living? Taking the easy road always takes longer, and there’s no sense of having achieved anything once you reach the end. All the same, it’s what I do. Whether it’s that disagreeable housework that needs to get done, spending hours away from home with strangers doing something to make money, or making the yard pretty, clean, and presentable – this is part of living. No one said it all had to be enjoyable. Like the old line says, they wouldn’t call it work if it were fun.
And, with not a little bit of irony, I’m imagining a long walk, filled with challenges, and danger, and horror, and sadness. Along this road I’ve picked up more than a few things that slow my trip, but are necessary to bring along. To be rid of them would certainly be far better. To not have to make this journey at all would be even better. Just to sit at the side of the road, feel the breeze, my arms and back resting from the labor demanded from them; oh, God, how wonderful that would be.
Sloth is a deadly sin not least because it creates conditions in which we human beings can avoid answering the call from God to live out the calling to work in the world for the world. It is a deadly sin because those who are its best adherents and practitioners are not, in fact, that much alive at all. We are, sad to say, little better than the rarely-walking dead. This journey I’ve set myself upon, it is taxing not least because it requires I actually do stuff. Disagreeable stuff. Not just sit and imagine things. I have actually to engage with my life, the awful things that make up so much of it, and not just own them all, but pick them up and carry them. No carton has been so heavy, no manager’s demands so onerous, no job so difficult and unwanted as this. It is one thing to wrestle with the angel, as Jacob did, all night long; it is another to wrestle with oneself, one’s life, one’s heart and find so much that it would be preferable never to see. Then, once I’ve come to something akin to terms, I have to claim all this crap. I have to say to God and the world – this is the real me. Then, because there’s a next step that’s necessary, having claimed it I have to pick it up, no matter how heavy, how horrible, how much I would prefer to leave it all behind, and bring it along with me. I cannot set it down until I have climbed that final place, the Hill of the Skull, and stand before the bloody, beaten, tortured body of Jesus of Nazareth. Only then, seeing what all this has cost the Father of this Son who is dying before my eyes, will I be allowed to set it all down. Only then will it be taken up in to that death, my one hope being that, Sunday morning, it will be fully redeemed through something new, something predicted yet still unexpected, something that makes that dawning more than just another morning.
I know that if I look around, I will see multitudes gathered around me, carrying their own loads, setting them on the ground. This is the Church – we who gather around the cross, who understand this moment to be both end and beginning, who hope that with this death the real Love and Light will shine in the midst of so much darkness, mourning, and death. This journey is necessary not least because, as St. Paul reminds us, we are to be imitators of Christ, who emptied himself, becoming a servant to the point of death on a cross. This journey is necessary, bringing this horrid load along – until I’m ready to empty myself of it, which requires first that I confess it is my own, and through this confession own it, how is it possible to have that mind which was and is and will be in Christ? Until and unless I’m willing to call myself the least of those who follow Christ, as St. Paul did; unless I’m willing to do that and mean it because I understand just how miserable a sinner I truly am, my declarations of faith and hope and love are just so much noise.
Yes, it would be far better not to do any of this. Just sit back and watch the world and think I am actually doing something is so much better. Comforting myself with lies of my own virtue, my own faith, my own holiness; that would be easier, and far more enjoyable. We are called, however, to new life and that only comes when we first die. And dying, well, that may well be the hardest thing in the world. Few people just give up their lives without fighting like hell to keep breathing, keep that heart beating, so the brain will continue functioning. Too many people consider this a metaphor, this dying. It isn’t. It’s death.
So, while all of us have a choice – and Lord knows I would so much prefer to be compelled – here I am, on this road, all this awful crap that is me and so much of my life bearing down upon me, and I just wish each step were my last, that someone else would take it all away so I could just sit and close my eyes and be. No such luck. I want to call myself a believer, a follower, all this has to be done.