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.