Red, White and True
I recently got a standing desk at work. After one day, my knees ached. My lower back also hurt. And I felt a dull throbbing in a part of my body that I didn’t even know that I had. But standing all day was worth it. Web MD said that I would live longer.
I looked down at my colleagues who didn’t have standing desks the way, people who have stopped drinking view alcoholics in their midst – with a mix of contempt and concern. Poor bastards I said. Being ferried along to their early graves on the rolling wheels of their ergonomic chairs.
By the time I got home, I didn’t even recognize the sedentary me of yesterday.
That person wasn’t me.
“I think I’m living in the wrong era,” I told my wife. “I don’t belong to this sedentary world. I belong to a bygone era.”
“Like the Industrial revolution?”
“No, even before that,” I said. “Even before we starting farming and stuff. When we roamed around the forest in small tribes.”
“Like hunter gatherers?”
“Exactly,” I said.
“If you were a hunter gatherer, you would die in less than a day,” the wife said.
I thought she was being unfair.
“Give me three reasons,” I said.
“You wouldn’t be able to set up a trap.”
“I totally could.”
“The last time you tried to install a bed from IKEA, the dog jumped on it, and it came tumbling down.”
She had a point. If I were in charge of setting traps as a hunter gatherer, wooly mammoths wouldn’t be worried one bit. They would walk around completely chilled out, like white people at airports.
“Besides,” she said, “The last time we went camping, you didn’t sleep all night because you were scared that a tick would bite you and you would get Lyme disease.”
She had a point.
“Lastly,” she said. “You couldn’t belong to a group of hunter gatherers because you don’t like groups. You never go for group dinners. You cross the street when you see a bunch of people protesting something. You exit the freeway when you see two policemen in a car.”
She was right, except for the policemen. I exit the freeway even when I see one policeman in a car. Because the policeman is never alone. He and his gun – the two of them form a group and a very formidable one at that.
But her larger point was spot on. I do dislike groups. I dislike how in the midst of a group, people begin to abdicate personal responsibility. They throw tissues on the ground. They shout. They play loud music. They cross that thin line that separates a person from being a responsible member of society to becoming a nuisance.
Take the example of religion.
Left alone, a person will look at the cloud, contemplate the infinite nature of the universe, and compose a poem. But if you put that person in a group, that is to say, you put her or him with even one other person, then they will ring your doorbell and try to convert you to Christianity.
Take the example of Independence Day. In the pursuit of happiness, American citizens feel full of life and at complete liberty to burst firecrackers on the Fourth of July. In doing so, they encroach on my liberty to enjoy a peaceful holiday.
Last Independence Day, I was at Magnusson Park in Seattle. A group of people set off firecrackers with short and sharp sounds. My toddler son got startled. He ran and hugged me at the knees. I spilled perfectly good beer on my T-shirt. My dog started barking. And old man let out an expletive.
In Japan, there’s a word called wa, which describes a person’s state of harmony, his or her state of oneness with the universes. But these nuisances – I refuse to call them people—had done something terrible. They had entered the lives of the young and old, the humans and the canines, and they had fucked with their wa.
And it’s not just American citizens. Immigrants too have been guilty of forming groups, and intruding on the wa of other people.
Spend a year in New York, and you’ll know just what I mean. Immigrants from every country in the world get together what seems like nearly every weekend for a variety of parades. Mexican Day parade. Indian day parade. West Indian day parade. As they march, these immigrants are watched over by cops, who in turn make a nuisance of themselves during St. Patrick’s Day parade.
I get it.
There’s a feeling of comfort at being part of a group of people who have made that long journey from the motherland, just like yourself. For the duration of the parade, you reflect on your shared past. You reminded of the fact that you’re not alone. And surrounded by familiar sounds, smells and tastes, you forget that you’re in a strange land, where shit often goes down, and you don’t often know why. You feel, at least for the duration of the parade that you’ve tamed the unpredictable.
But all parades end. The music dies down. People go home. The cleaning crew arrives. They scrub the streets free of the traces of your motherland.
And just like that, you are reminded of the fact that you are alone.
Given that we are all alone, there has to be a better way to celebrate our holidays, a way that doesn’t deceive you into a sense of belonging only to leave you all alone.
I believe I found it, when one day, my friend told me about how her family celebrates the festival of Yom Kippur.
During Yom Kippur, people take the time to atone and to reflect. They turn to those whom they have wronged, and acknowledge the pain they might have caused. At the same time, they forgive those who might have offended and part ways with the feelings of resentment.
What a wonderful way to celebrate an occasion! This is something we all should do, our Independence Day.
On the Fourth of July, we can ask so many questions.
Should we follow the words of our founding fathers blindly – even though they were slave owners?
Is it ok that the government refuses to make any reparations towards blacks as slavery ended over 150 years ago – even though blacks were largely left out of the New Deal, the greatest wealth creator in American history?
Should we continue to celebrate Columbus Day? Should we forget that before America was a land of immigrants, it was a land of native people?
And should we continue to pay even one more minute of attention to Kim Kardashian?
We can think about all these questions. And then we can write to our senators. Our President. And E! channel. And strive to put in place measures that will help us feel connected to society.
I told my friend I was totally down with Yom Kippur.
“Count me in,” I said.
She then suggested I take up the Sabbath every week. It was a tempting thought. A day without email. Without phone calls. Without my attention being diverted by mindless stuff like Bluetooth connectivity issues.
But then I thought of my two-year-old sun looking towards the Echo and asking for Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars.
“Can you use Alexa during the Sabbath?” I asked my friend.
“I don’t think so,” she said.
I thought of the melt down my son would have. More strident than a President’s speech. Louder than an Independence Day firecracker.
“I think I’ll pass,” I said to my friend.