02 February 2014
Being Human Is Just Enough
Walking up Flatbush Avenue after an evening viewing of Spike Jonze's clever movie, "Her," I was standing in front of the Atlantic Center with my family when a geyser like spray of fecal urine water shot up from a small metal cover in the sidewalk, soaking me and one of my daughters in a totally disgusting shower of waste. People stopped and gawked in shared disgust. Someone offered a small bottle of Purell. In order to ward off a brief spell of insanity, we considered laughing. But then we just decided to head home, clean our clothes, and bathe.
Revelers crowded into Barclays for a Saturday night event; the restaurants and bars of Flatbush popped with pre-Super Bowl excitement. I thought of the scenes in "Schindler's List" and "Les Miserables," when brief journeys through sewage were life-saving risks undertaken by heroic innocents.
What a contrast this all was with the strangely beautiful, alluring and anti-septic love on-screen between Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. Though ultimately having been superseded in intelligence by their operating systems, Phoenix and Amy Adams were an inspiring sight in all their fallible humanity, atop a roof, admiring a landscape, leaning on one another with their unavoidable physicality.
"Akavyah ben Mahalalel said, 'Reflect upon three things and you will not come into the grip of sin: Know whence you came, where you are going, and before whom you will have to render account and reckoning. Whence you came--from a putrid drop. Where are you going--to a place of dust and decay and vermin. Before whom you will have to render account and reckoning--before the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He."
This evocative, rooted, centering rabbinical text from the 1st century remains one of my favorite calling cards for justice. As the Sages also may have said, "Hold fast to life; hold your mortality closer."
Of course, this is a grown-up message. My daughter I didn't inflict with the jaded wisdom of the Sages living under Epicurean and Stoic Roman systems. In fact, the luxuriousness of the Roman system came in handy. We each went our separate ways when we got home, took long hot showers, changed our clothes, and shook off this leveling event with a good warm meal.
For dessert we ate baklava from Jerusalem's Ja'afar Sweets, an Old City favorite, and read a couple stories from Shalom Auslander's Beward of God. His short story, "Bobo the Self-Hating Chimp," seemed appropriate for the occasion, especially its opening lines:
"At 9:37 in the otherwise ordinary morning of May 25, Bobo, a small male chimpanzee in the Monkey House of the Bronx Zoo, achieved total conscious self-awareness. God. Death. Shame. Guilt. Each one dropped like a boulder onto his tiny primitive skull."
Between chimps and operating systems, I guess being human is just enough.