Sunday, May 25, 2008

Distracted to Death

I watched the Indianapolis 500 Race today - born and bred Hoosier that I am - from the wilds of Northern Virginia. For a more innocent age, the Indy 500 served as an annual attraction of great magnitude every Memorial Day weekend. But today, as commercials demanded my attention (and the race continued in a small screen, upper left), I felt bitterness and pity for the citizens of this not-so innocent age.

Modern life is one vast misdirect: rings of hypnotists each with an even more fascinating object swinging before the eyes of persons to keep us from dwelling on … on ... what? The inevitability of the end of one’s life. Prime time TV: watch the melodramas of this and that desperate soul – they are all more “real” than your, than my, puny and insignificant life. Right?

"THE ONE WHO DIES WITH THE MOST TOYS WINS!" proclaims a stupid bumper sticker. And my guess is that 95% of people reading it agree: it is stupid.

But we are still mesmerized by a vast hoard trying to convince us -- and largely succeeding -- that life THIS side of death is not meant to be spent thinking about ETERNITY. Think instead of your sex appeal, your sexual identity and/or conquests, your teeth, your fashion statement. Of, if you are combative, your enemies, their plans, your counterplans, revenge ... ANYTHING not to think about what will happen after you die.

J. R. R. Tolkien is often accused of painting the innocence of his brain-children, hobbits, as impossibly naive, agrarian, and communitarian. Actually, Tolkien knew they were suspicious, largely ignorant, and prejudiced. But he knew, too, that modern society was a sad, deplorable parody for the way human beings were meant to live. By contrast, the Shire was far preferable, humane, and not "distracted to death."

As one who has had a brush with the big C - a "transitional cell carcinoma of the renal pelvis" - I resent the time I have wasted, the priorities I have misaligned, the squandered energy, money, and love - when I could have been living, moving, and having my being more in accord with what the Catholic faith considers vital as preparation for Eternity.

In my reprieve, I am rethinking many, many matters. Why wait? Why not join me?

7 comments:

Aramis said...

Dear Ath,

Absolutely a great post... 2 side thoughts.

You wrote: "I resent the time I have wasted, the priorities I have misaligned, the squandered energy, money, and love - when I could have been living, moving, and having my being more in accord with what the Catholic faith considers vital as preparation for Eternity."


1) Hey, a word of caution my friend, this is huge, what you are talking about - particularly in your relationships with those who are the closest to you.

Prayer! If you thought that you have prayed prior to these thoughts, prayer will have to become an even larger part of our existence during and after these reflections of change.


You wrote: "THE ONE WHO DIES WITH THE MOST TOYS WINS!" proclaims a stupid bumper sticker. And my guess is that 95% of people reading it agree: it is stupid.

2) As a once marketing and advertising fan(atic) I just loved people who would turn their noises at such a bumper sticker, because these same folks would generally be the easiest to get into their pocketbooks, convincing them that they needed the next whiz-bang gadgit... the marvels of understanding mimetic contagion through the craft of advertising. And as I came to understand mimetic theory I realized that I had the disease worse than those other folks - so I have been without TV going on 7 years now. I still try to avoid or at least pray throughout most advertising intrusions, knowing how infectious and contagious the advertisers attempt to create their message. And as you have so aptly seen, all the messages (including all the filler programing done to get the viewer from one commercial to the next) all work together to keep us stupefied and distracted from what is truly important - the love of and for Christ and one another.

My prayers are with you!

Aramis said...

Hey, who won the Indy 500?

Athos said...

Me. Obviously!

Porthos said...

Count me in. (And anyway, you couldn't get me on a mongo coaster except by physical force.) I find, though, that even as I eliminate more and more external distractions, the worst distraction is the incessant internal chatter. What a load of nonsense passes through my gray matter, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second, and it's all but impossible to turn off! I suppose getting the grace to become aware of it is progress in itself, but still . . . Tell me how to start dealing with that and you'll be a true Massketeer pal.

Athos said...

Grreat question, Porthos. Elizabeth O'Connor wrote a superb little book on this topic called Our Many Selves.

Interesting to nobody but myself, I met her at the Church of the Savior in DC the first time I met and heard Gil Bailie speak.

OMS deals with the yackity "selves" including the ones who seem hell-bent on tearing us apart with negative criticism. You know? The orbiting space-platforms that lob nuclear-tipped warheads at our esteem?

She said that the ego must sit at the head of the corporate board "table" and control the meeting of these "minds" - or words to that effect, as I recall. It's been awhile. Good book, tho.

Athos said...

Sorry. I had another thought or two: when at Holy Cross Abbey our ecumenical book study began with 20 minutes of centering prayer (contemplative, image-less prayer), the monks who convened our gathering suggested the following.

When praying contemplatively, take a word or two that for you represent the fullness of God's love for you (Lord ... Jesus, I'd often choose). When distractions arise, anxious thoughts, etc., return to your phrase, usually breathing it to gently nudge away the distraction(s).

I find the imagery of the Rosary mysteries help too.

And for those 2:30 in the morning sleepless times, I use the Jesus Prayer to pray for whomever comes to mind. When I have to rise, I rarely feel that I lost sleep that night.

Porthos said...

Marvelous tips, Ath. I might print that out and tack it on the wall. If anything else pops into your head, don't hesitate to extend the thread on this.