Saturday, December 25, 2010

Duplex Me

I drive south on Route 9 toward my goal. Ever since I crossed the Mid-Hudson Bridge, the vista has offered nothing but the works of man, spreading vastly to either side: one enormous monument to middlebrow consumption. Store after store after store; and lo and behold, they are exactly--down to the blueprint, up to the items' placement on the shelves--identical to stores in Akron, Ohio, and Your Town, Your State, too. Soon I will sit still by traveling all over.

I remember this road, north-south through Poughkeepsie, the place that schooled me, as a country road through farmland. But that was in ancient times.

Today I was on a secret mission, as Santa's elf, to H&M at Poughkeepsie Galleria Mall. As I turned in to the lot, it struck me right between the eyes: Jeez, is man complicated! To have made all this--and there was a heck of a lot of "this."

I should have felt slightly sick, slightly guilty. I should have boycotted the relentless commerce, the destructive commerce, the blinding, empty commerce. But I did not. Or at least, part of me did not; another part, counterposed, did. In other words, I am a stone hypocrite. I like my little luxuries, aka unnecessary stuff. I like buying presents for people who also like luxuries. I like shopping at the fancy-foods store (hey, all you really need to live perfectly fine is oatmeal), the one that grew from the seed of the primitive vegetable stand that we used to visit in college. Now it is our area's only source for triple-creme cheeses and European cookies. And instead of bemoaning the loss of an impossibly humble, genuine and real bit of history, I am pleased as punch it's here.

Last night, I went to church for Christmas Eve service. I loved seeing the candles glittering in the windows with dark night beyond, the scent of the undecorated firs flanking the altar, the choir singing and the organ vibrating the floor beneath my feet. I loved the message from the pulpit as well the place in which it was delivered--love; compassion; empathy; look past the stuff, into the heart--even though to do so was another manifestation of my hypocrisy, for I am an atheist.

For the human animal, maybe hypocrisy is a font of richness. For this particular human animal, it is the beginning of a happy dissonance, one that resonates like bells, with their sound that goes on after the metal is struck. Their sound that says, This is joy.


Mark McGlone said...

I'm a hypocrite too.

As to the relentless consumption, I don't think there's much we can do besides refuse to participate, which doesn't have much impact. It just goes on without us.

I'm also an atheist. I no longer have a desire to go to church, but I do have fond memories of growing up Catholic.

Charles said...

if it stops raining, i will try to consume a little gas, a little motorcycle tire, and a little oil. happy happy

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

It's hard to be a conservationist and justify motorcycle riding.

So I don't. I just do it.

Happy, happy. True, that.

ronald said...

Winter solstice rituals are much more than acknowledgment of divinity - they come as much from a deep longing to affirm our survival for another year, past the darkness of the deep winter into a lustrous spring. The Mithraic festival appropriated by Christianity in the fourth century celebrated December 25th both as the birthday of Mithra and the victory of Sol Invinctus over the bull of darkness. It was a festival of lights, evergreens, and the hope for illumination. A model in many ways for civic rites that affirm positive values that seem so paseƩ in our frenetic media-driven world.

Our use of resources should give us less pause, for we are a species on the planet as well. The problem is simply the tempo of their use, and that is beyond the ability of anyone person to adjust.

Let us all wish each other vitality and blessedness in the coming year.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Ronald, thank you for the illumination--in all senses.

This time of year does feel driven by deep, ancient impulses. I am glad I survived another year, and am planting the psychic seeds of hope that I will make it through the dark and cold season.

I echo your wishes, and send them out to all.