Mansion. Apartment. Shack. House. The kids who hoped for shacks are monks by now.
Back then we knew that homeless, jobless meandering wasn’t an option. Neither were celibacy or promiscuity. You either married your crush, or the creepy kid who slobbered on the water fountain. You were a janitor, or a movie star, but you were something. You might have had zero kids, but you could just as easily have been the lucky parent of one hundred precious dolls. Impressive, women! Among the lesser questions was whether you would drive a dirty jeep, a mustang, or the Death Star.
I’m still boundlessly hopeful for vagabond storyteller on an elephant, one husband Soren Kierkegaard, six kids in the Alps. Okay, fine. Kierkegaard wasn’t on my radar in the fourth grade. Okay, fine. Kierkegaard is dead.
It was a good and hopeful game. A little planning, and a little chance. You accepted your fate. You expected, however silly the particulars, that you would really have a family and a job. You also picked your spouse before you picked your job.
Last night I was tucked into a metro seat with good Soren’s The Sickness Unto Death when I overheard such an obscene perversion of our elementary school game, I had half a mind to shuffle across the aisle, loom over the punks—without toppling over or needing to catch the rail, of course—and heartily chastise or exorcise them.
You may be familiar with it. Their game went like this— pick three celebrities of the same sex as you. Now f*ck one, kill one, and marry one. The parties involved were three guys, and one girl, somewhere between 17 and 20 I’d guess. I don’t think any of them were likely to be attracted to members of the same sex to begin with.
Then, dripping from their mouths like drool in the night, they actually said, “I’d f*ck so-and-so, kill so-and-so, and marry so-and-so.” Out of respect and sorrow, I won’t repeat the celebrities mentioned.
They made a short discussion on the attributes warranting their choices, but by-and-large their delight was in making and stating their decisions.
This scene could be broken down in a myriad of ways, but what I want to do is briefly point out three dangerous means of self-definition these kids hold— in the game they make light of understanding themselves by what they hate, what they lust after, and what they can withstand or tolerate. And of course you’re onto me; it’s not what at all, but whom.
After all, they are relational.
Beneath the vicious disregard for the sanctity of life lies a yearning for meaningful, potent action. And actions that relate them to significant persons. They pick the most earth-shattering of potential deeds done to others, and create wicked fantasies out of them. Fantasies which will fail to provide them much-needed catharsis.
Further, in the highly celebritized culture, we may fail to see our neighbors as significant persons for whom and with whom to take significant actions. Choosing the far-off famous to pretend kill creates just enough emotional distance to get the deed (by words) done. Imagined domination or intimacy with these successful also falsely empowers.
The games we play matter. They provide respite from work, and recovery from ills. Story-telling and fantasy games hold a special place in play in that they vicariously dispose our wills. The murder game not only suggests despair; by irony, the game players compound their inability to take worthy action or form meaningful bonds with others.
Despair, Kierkegaard says, is the sickness unto death. It occurs when a person does not wish to be himself. The only escape from this torment is death. Or, to die to self by giving himself to God.
Kierkegaard posits that most everyone, to a degree, is in despair. Though they may not know it. My sorry punks exhibit the form of despair that is the loss of self by mindless conformity—
By getting engaged in all sorts of worldly affairs, by becoming wise about how things go in this world, such a man forgets himself, forgets what his name is (in the divine understanding of it), does not dare to believe in himself, finds it too venturesome a thing to be himself, far easier and safer to be like the others, to become an imitation, a number, a cipher in the crowd.
Pitiably, being versed in the “worldly affairs” of a wide sect of millennials (and beyond) is as simple as perfecting the apathetic sneer. An apathetic sneer that has reached such heights as to overthrow The Man’s claim, “Thou shalt not kill.”
As for many of us, cursing and laughter hide the desperation. But by deeds of words you can really divorce yourself from the Power who is existence itself. The relationship that matters most becomes naught. It’s no wonder, then, when other bonds won’t adhere. Spiritually, the kids I witnessed have no selves at all with which to hold.
Is it so embarrassing to ask questions like, “for whom would you fight a terrorist?” or “for whose happiness would you farm maggots?” How about, “whom do you love with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind?” Admitting a desire to love so much you would throw yourself on a bomb makes you vulnerable to the possibility that no one wants your love at all. Wanting to love makes fools.
By our late teens and early 20s, we should graduate from fantasy games like MASH to serious searches, preparations, and real commitments to spouses and careers. In real life. Not to vulgarized fantasies. Yes, the economic odds are against us. Keep trying.
And know in the end that the greatest action will always be participation in the Divine Liturgy. This is the action that should define us. It is the action from which other choices—whom we marry, over what field we toil, and how we address our neighbors—should flow peacefully like a river.
Here, I must beat my breast and admit my sin of omission. I could easily have engaged the group in dialogue. Their souls are worth the venture I did not take. Their souls are worth my foolishness.