matt (hbergeronx) wrote,

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on existential angst

I resumed going to Ethical Culture after summer's hiatus today- it seems a wholly appropriate time to be doing so, with a new season's chill in the air and the new year upon us. Today's presentation was by Anne Klaeysen, the relatively new leader of the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island. The presentation began, as does at least one platform a month, with the children assembled to hear a story from the Leader and for group sing. Anne was quick to point out that the reason for bringing the children in was to make sure that the adults heard the story, since the stories are usually more of interest to the adults. Today's story was no exception, and I will paraphrase this supremely bizarre story:

Once upon a time, there was a town filled with people who were only happy when their problems were worse than everyone else's. You probably know some people like this: people who are always trying to outdo each other with tales of how terrible life is for them. People in the town took thes to amazing lengths- there were some who would go so far as to sneak over to their neighbor's house in the middle of the night and fix their roof: then they would be able to say how their house was in so much worse shape.

One day, a terrible storm came to town. The townspeople were sent into a flurry, ripping shingles here, tearing at wallboard there, as the storm presented an excellent opportunity to give an excuse to magnify everyone's problems. But the unthinkable happened- in the middle of town the storm was so bad that the sky fell down. It fell like a sheet to just barely touch the ground, and the townspeople gathered, amazed at this event. One child reached out to try to touch a star in the fallen sky, and was soon being sucked into it. Another townsperson tried to catch the child, and was soon sucked in as well. One by one, all the townspeople became entangled in the oddity until the last townsperson, who was just barely able to hold on and drag all the people back into the town.

Disturbed by the danger presented by such an event, the townspeople decided they must try to return the sky to normal. It appeared that the sky had fallen like wallpaper, and they soon set upon themselves to find a pole by which they could prop the sky up to its proper place. Alas, they could only find a pole that was about two feet short from accomplishing the goal. They thereby declared that each townsperson, in turn, would have to hold the pole in place for a time, and they lived happily ever after.

so, after the whole WTF reaction to such a seemingly dadaist story, Anne went on to give a talk on the purpose of gathering in a humanist context- arising from Felix Adler's Three Pains:

Felix Adler argued that there were three spiritual pains that all humans must answer; what is the meaning of life and do I have worth in that scheme, how can I address the problem of suffering, and how do I avoid the divided conscience and live a life consistent with my values?

The Adlerian response is that meaning cannot be gained from either inward searching (isolative meditation) or outward searching (attributing meaning to Divinity) but by coming together ethically as community. Indeed, one of the benefits of having been away from EC all summer is the reminder how much I need to go out and into a group of people as a stimulus to remind me that I think about things other than those things that I'm absorbed in, and to get motivated to write and think and be the person I like.

But also, interesting things were said about intentional community- for example, that community is the place where the person you least want to meet will always be.

Anyway, I'm struck by the response of the community to her discussion- there was a lot of time given during question and answers about how a lot of otherwise very good people are kept wide awake at night angsting about the election coming up in November. Anne was quick to point out that she plans two identically titled platforms entitled to the effect of "democratic government and ethical society", one before and one after the election, as the feeling and reaction are likely to be completely changed.

What struck me though, was how the story at the beginning impacted how I was perceiving the comments and impressions of other people- and, by extension, a lot of other people both here at LJ and elsewhere. How sometimes, like the townspeople, we become solipsistically obsessed with how much more miserable we would become with "four more years", when in fact this election, like all others and no more important than any other, is merely a transitional time for a nation otherwise goverened by inertia and precedent. We forget too, sometimes, how unthinkable events sometimes bring us together and refocus our lives, rather than bringing us to ruin. Now is not the time: to run away and hide nor to turn to a higher power for meaning in our lives. Now is shortly our time to come together as community, to do that seemingly frustrating task of voting which often feels as futile as trying to prop the sky up with a long pole. And, afterward: to keep living in that community we build, marginally through election but mostly through the act of creating a working example of community in our personal lives.

I'm uncertain if the intentional community of ethical culture is going to bring about the change in my life that I need, so much as remind me of all the ways that I'm already there. I know this one- I can build community in my life. Even though friends seem to come and go, more frustratingly of late the latter, the feeling that I'm always pulling together with others is always there. A long while ago, Fred said to me- "You're not fucked up- you just can't see that you've got it together." So, I guess I'm not much of an alien to the townspeople after all- maybe spending a bit too much time lately in that town, too.

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