Sunday, April 13, 2014

Idle Thoughts --Hamlet, Oedipus, and the Order of One

So what did you learn from your literature survey especially from Oedipus and Hamlet?  You're not sure where to start or how to focus it?  Based on our conversations as you took the course, I think you should consider including the following in your response:

One thing that comes through in any study of literature, but especially when you're focusing on those tragedies, is just how hard we humans struggle. We try to find a little control in our lives, a little security, yet, whatever we can build can be swept away in a moment by forces completely beyond our control.

Living is just a game of chance. Every day we make bets and take gambles. We do the best we can, we make decisions we think will result in rewards, not damage, and when we make a mistake there's no way to go back and change it. And of course, it isn't really a game. The stakes can be life itself.

That isn't to say we have no control at all. Things aren't purely random. Good choices do tend to result in safer outcomes. But then again, sometimes they don't.

I don't know how much national coverage there has been on that bus accident recently. As far as we can tell right now, the bus driver was doing everything right and certainly the students in the bus were also following the rules. But somehow the driver of the semi truck lost control and smashed into the bus. Through no fault of their own the driver and passengers suddenly found themselves fighting for their lives.

Look at poor Oedipus. He did everything right. He left his father and mother and moved to a strange country so the evil prophecy couldn't come true. He had no way of knowing that they weren't his real mother and father and that by staying home he could have prevented the disaster he was desperately trying to avoid.

And Hamlet teaches us that we may never be able to really know the truth. Was he insane to begin with? Did his pretending to be insane lead him to actually become lose his mind? Did Ophelia kill herself or was it an accident? There are no clear and simple answers. Frankly, life is a great big mess.

However, the tragedies don't need to lead us into despair. There certainly are things that these people could have done to make things better.  Although the point of Oedipus was that you are trapped by your fate, we don't accept that in this era.  From our point of view, if Oedipus had not been such a vicious, brutal man who became a king by murdering a stranger and then forcing that man's widow to marry him, the prophecy would have been averted. Again, that's not how the Greeks felt things could have gone, but it certainly makes sense to us today.

There can be no doubt that Hamlet had many, many choices. Time after time, he made the worst possible choice. Part of this was because he believed the worst possible interpretation of the few facts he had at hand. In spite of all the long soliloquies it's clear that Hamlet was not thinking very clearly or very carefully. He let his emotions take charge and run wild with him.  Then he talked himself into doing the worst possible thing.

This is in contrast to Oedipus who tried to think things out very carefully and found that even logic failed him.

For us, for you, in your daily life, especially in the struggle you are now facing, these tragedies might make you feel ready to just give up in despair. But however rough life can be, it's not likely to be as bad as those tragedies.

The best thing we can do is to do our best. When there are good moments to enjoy, enjoy them to the fullest. When bad times come, work hard to get through them and then put them in the past and don't dwell on them.  Instead, take the time to enjoy what you have now. Whatever it is, good or bad, it will not last. Enjoy the good and stretch it out as long as you can. Endure the bad and make it as short and as rare as possible.

I'm not sure if this is helpful, but it is very important to me that I engage in a set of rituals that I have established for myself. However I feel, good or bad, I almost always do these things every day. They provide a framework for me in the midst of all the craziness that Oedipus and Hamlet and all the rest of us have to suffer.  

First, at sundown I respect the child I was and I play taps on my pan flute. On air bases around the country and in Germany, this gave me an achor point.  It still does.  It also ties me to my father, so long lost to me.  Sometimes I play it surprisingly well. Other times I can barely get it to sound properly or I get the timing way off. But I do it every day, unless I am sound asleep at sundown or too sick to get up. And however sick I am, I usually manage to at least do taps.

After that I sing the lyrics to myself and to God. To God, because all of these things I do are religious observances. Monks and friars have orders that they follow. They're different for each order (Franciscan vs Jesuit).  They are called (surprise, surprise) the Rules of the Franciscan Order or the Rules of the Jesuit Order.

I'm certainly no monk or friar but I do have rules for my order of one. Just me, but they're my rules and I follow them devoutly.

Since taps is  at sundown, it is quickly followed by the next observance, also in recognition of the child I was. The first star I see in the night sky gets the old starlight, star bright treatment except that now instead of a wish as I made when I was a child, I pray.

That's twice every day that I say a prayer. And I do pray thoughtfully and carefully. It is also part of my meditation which is so important to me. There are two other times I also make a point of always praying.  I have a prayer and a ritual I follow every time I light incense. I like incense for itself, but when I light it, it is always with prayer.

I also pray every time I hear a siren. Whether it's police or fire is not important. The point is that someone is in trouble and someone else is rushing to give aid. Considering how close we are to the hospital that happens several times a day.

To bring this back to your class, this gives me a pattern. This gives me a structure. This gives me time to pray and meditate even when I might otherwise forget.

In a difficult and unpredictable world were terrible things happen even to ordinary folk, even to those of us who are not  the King of Thebes or the Prince of Denmark, these things give me comfort and strength. They also ensure that I take time to calm myself and to clear my mind so that I CAN pray and meditate. This helps me to think clearly, which helps me to deal with the troubles of the day.

It also helps me deal with the joys of the day. To appreciate them even more and to feel the closeness of God.

I'm not sure what else to say right now. I hope this helps. Call me if you need more. I love you both.  Be well.

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