Twelve Rhetoricals and One Declarative.
1. If your parents are dead and your only sibling, who is approaching 250 pounds and lives alone with 5 cats, invites you over for Thanksgiving Dinner, are you required to attend? Can you pretend that you didn’t get the invite? Should you respond with 7 things they should change before you will come to visit? Do you increase the amount of time you spend praying for this person? Should you bring a pie? Does this make you sad and wish it was different? How many times have you wished like this? Did it help? Do you realize how happy it would make your sibling should you show up? Can you hear your parents yelling, “Damn you, we’re family”? Would you bring a friend?
2. If you have a large garden with 30 tomato plants, 10 cucumber plants, and 8 bush bean plants and you have a bountiful harvest, should you take the excess to the local food bank? Can you just toss it in the compost pile? Is it a sin to leave it rot on the ground? What is your responsibility to the 1 in 6 children in the United Sates who go to bed hungry every night? Should you invite them all over for dinner? Maybe invite 2 or 3 and their families? Can you cook? Do you freeze the excess for the lean years that are most assuredly coming? What if your tired and don’t feel like collecting the food and driving to the food bank? How much guilt is bearable?
3. If you are a 45-year-old man and meet a 22-year-old woman on line and invite her to your house for sex and she dies in your bathroom from a cocaine overdose, is it partially your fault? Should you call her parents? Should you take back the money you paid her? Are you more ashamed than sad or the other way around? What does this do to how people think about you? Should you move? Will you go to confession? What sort of penance might be appropriate?
4. If a friend or family member posts something on social media, is it your responsibility to comment on it or correct them? What if it’s a grievous misunderstanding and you know the correct answer? If you don’t correct them, who will? Isn’t this just being helpful? Should you just live your life and accept that they are terribly misguided but you can’t help them? Is it acceptable to call them ‘stupid’ or ‘what a jerk’ under your breath? What if someone hears you? What kind of comments do you post? Do you sometimes wish you hadn’t?
5. If you have a friend who has smoked for 30 years and calls you one day to let you know they have cancer is it acceptable to say, ‘sorry to hear that’ and then ask if you can have their Troy-Built Rototiller? If they laugh at this, is that good? Should you wait at least a week or two before making jokes or asking for anything? Should you ask for anything? Should you make jokes? Can you say, ‘that’s what you get for smoking’ and how might that be helpful? Does that thought enter your mind? Should you say what you think? Ever? Always? Sometimes? When? Do you offer to come over and visit? What if, a week later, you find that you have cancer and you then think the Gods are punishing you for being insensitive? How many Gods are there? Do they punish people? Are you really insensitive?
6. If every day, some people are sending you a song or video that they think you “must” listen to or watch, do you have to? Can you just delete the text immediately? Do you thank them even if you didn’t listen or watch the video? Should you tell them to please stop sending you stuff? Is it acceptable to respond to such messages with 11 videos or songs that you like? What if there is a gem in there and you missed it? You don’t really care for music, do you? What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you simply accept what comes uninvited as a gift?
7. If you find a picture of an old flame on Facebook, should you toy with the idea of rekindling the romance? What if one of you or both are married? Is there any real harm in exchanging a few innocent text messages? Should you talk to your partner about this? What if you’re unhappy in your current relationship? Is this the universe showing you a way out? Does the universe actually work like that?
8. If, when meditating, you have a particularly bad morning and thoughts keep pounding you, should you just get up and make breakfast instead? Should you look for an easier way to hear the “still small voice within”? Should you talk to someone about your difficulty with meditation? Why talk about your troubles to anyone at all? Can’t you keep a secret? Do you buy another book? Sign up for another seminar? Should you go online and purchase a Tibetan singing bowl? How might that help? How might that hurt? Wouldn’t a pint of ice cream be better? Why are you even trying to hear that voice?
9. If you are back in NYC, post COVID, and you are extremely happy to be walking the streets again and you pass a dirty beggar on the street, should you give them money and how much? Do you empty your pockets? How do you know they won’t spend it on drugs? What if they have a dog with them or a small child, does this make a difference? Should you touch them or keep your distance? Are you capable of just walking past, pretending they don’t exist? Does that make them disappear? What if they look like your cousin? What if it is your cousin? Have you ever really been hungry? Would you miss your morning coffee for anything?
10. If you’re getting old and you live alone and you like this but well-meaning people worry that you are lonely, shall you once again tell them you are fine? Is this a lie and you are just unwilling to recognize how really miserable you are? Do you accept the invite and have dinner with the suggested friend? Do you tell them to never contact you again? Do you electrify the fence around your property and install cameras? Do you cry at night because you don’t know the answers to these questions? What about on-line dating? Do you have an interesting profile? Is that a current picture?
11. If the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are at 412 ppm and the red line that shouldn’t have been crossed is at 400 ppm, what does this mean for your children’s children? Why should you worry if you are older and close to dying? Is it okay to turn on the air-conditioning when you know that there are 412 ppm but you are hot and sweaty? Do you know your carbon footprint? Should you sell your car? Isn’t this climate stuff just a joke? What if it isn’t? What if it is a joke but not really funny anymore. Why should you care? Is this a laughing matter?
12. If you were wounded/ traumatized in early childhood and you have found a way to live with the pain, should you continue to seek ways to improve your life and get past the pain? How much pain is acceptable to live with? How much is too much? What if it still adversely affects your life? In what specific ways? Are you being honest? Should you forever try to change? Should you go back to therapy? Join a support group? How much digging in the subconscious is too much? How much is too little? What real difference has any of this made in the quality of your life? Why are you sad? Why does everyone else seem happy?
1. There are 128 questions in this bit of balderdash. At the end of every life, few questions remain to be answered other than the ones posed by Private Ryan at the end of the movie. Did I live a good life? Am I a good man? But the answer to these two questions, or really one question asked in two different ways, is just the sum of the answers to every question we have ever asked ourselves. Every moment of every day we write answers on our heart. Walking in NYC, conversations, social media, attempts at stillness, responding to illness (our own or others), and a million other events compose our “little” story. It’s what can be called a life. One life in a big book of lives.
I don’t think there is a judgment day. Every day is a judgment day. I imagine a scenario at the end wherein the heart’s script, written carefully or carelessly, is projected onto a big screen and read aloud so that everyone who has ever lived gets to hear your story. Each of us has to read our own story out loud. It won’t matter if we whisper at the sad/bad parts or sing about our shining moments because nobody will be hard of hearing. Billions of people, eating their favorite food out of box lunches supplied by some heavenly chef, will nod in agreement, hang their head in shared regret, or sit, hung jaw in amazement, at their story being told again. It will seem like an eternity to the speaker but is over in the blink of an eye.
When we finish, after telling how we made our final exit and how we said our goodbyes, we will know, and everyone else will know, if we lived a good life. There’s no reward or punishment. There’s just recognition which is both reward and punishment. It’s both comforting and troubling. It gets very quiet and you just sit there and marvel at your story. You learn to love the whole shebang. You have finally rowed all the way to the place where you “know yourself”. Best of all, you know that you are known completely and loved anyway. And, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, you are informed that you could have known this all along the road. I suppose they call this being “awake”.
The story is over and the big screen projects the blue screen of death. A beautiful blue. Like a blue you have never seen. A piece of the jigsaw puzzle of creation has been put into place. A billion voices cheer. You smile and bow. You know your shape and your place, finally. Perhaps we begin again with new hearts and a new pen. It doesn’t matter really. What matters is the writing business. I am enjoying it. Working on my penmanship, to be sure.