i like simplicity.religion, on the other hand, loves complication. take sukkahs. obviously meant to be a reenactment of temporary, hastily-constructed wilderness shelters on the way to a more permanent location, they have evolved into huge, elaborate luxury condo-sukkahs with all the amenities. by now they may have a toilet option. not that most people actually live in them, as prescribed, but it’s important to impress family, friends, and fellow-congregants. they’ve come so far that their sukkah is almost as comfy and convenient as their house! (not to mention a zillion times more substantial than actual housing arrangements for many people throughout the world, including in our own country. meanwhile, my very humble sukkah is being battered and blown away by typical october weather, bearing no resemblance to the dry, desert conditions the original shelters were built for. we can barely afford to repair our house plumbing, which is aging along with the house and its inmates, never mind adding on a sukkah extension with its own conveniences. but that’s religion in the modern world. not content with mere whole libraries of accumulated manmade (contradictory) rules, regs, and cubit-measurements, religious observance must be increasingly ostentatious and comfortable. we’re so advanced here in the 21st century. i’m like a reverse-snob. i imagine the respectable young family next door, with their big, prefab, kosher sukkah, looking down their noses at my laughable caricature as it tries to self-destruct, while getting ready to entertain guests in theirs. there’s no point inviting them to my poor imitation, when they have such a nice one. and vice versa. not a big deal, just sayin… i should clarify that i don’t do religion anymore. these vestigial traces are mostly out of respect for the dying generation. i know firsthand that once you start down that road, where does it end? it ends at some arbitrary line that each person draws when they don’t want to get ‘too fanatical’ —or too inconvenienced. because, face it, many people forget the whole original point, or why they’re doing it in the first place, but it’s a habit, or it satisfies a craving for traditions and rituals, or someone else expected it of them, or whatever the case may be. the driving premise is long gone, but the forms are still in place. they’re going through the motions. the forms and motions have become frozen into a complex edifice, devoid of any spirit. (cynical? me?) meanwhile, back at the lowly hobbit-sukkah, i am not without my sense of humor. it makes a great hangout to drink beer in, and at night my solar light string winks mischievously at the neighbors. the varmint guests are partaking of the decorations, and i am enjoying one of my few remaining creative outlets. it’s not quite basket-weaving, although not that far from it! it keeps me humored. the few half-demented oldsters who have hobbled into it don’t seem to mind its lack of sophistication. it’s crude and simple, as it should be.
on a lighter note, to balance the weightiness of yom kippur, meet my new cat friend, mr. tom waits. i call him that, because he’s a big, black, scruffy, half-feral tom who waits, skulking warily in the shadows, for this cat-sucker to feed him. he loves milk and fresh fish, so far. he always retreats down the path until i go away, then he pounces on the food. afterwards, he sits there staring at me with his big yellow eyeballs, willing me to serve the next course. of course he always gets his way, i’m so cat-deprived. now i’ve got him to where he’ll actually curl up on the back steps, waiting… but he always runs his safe distance away until i go in. so far, he hasn’t said a word, but i imagine if he opened his mouth, he’d come out with some tom waits-like deep gravelly growl.
steve jobs left me a lot to think about, and not just world-shaking inventions. that whole death thing… his words are hard to lay to rest. is it even possible to live as if you know you’re about to die relatively young of cancer, until you know? it almost seems like he did that his whole abbreviated life. he grabbed that unique vision of his, focussed on it with laser precision, and didn’t waste any time living other people’s decisions or expectations. he had no time for killing time, even before the fatal prognosis. he kept his chosen priorities straight, even ruthlessly at times. these priorities seem to have included his immediate family to some extent, especially toward the end, to the exclusion of other urgent demands on his time by the outside world. he loved what he did, and did it ferociously until the last moments. he knew there was nothing to lose by living intensely and uncompromisingly according to his own gut instincts.along with much of the world, my own life has been greatly changed and affected by steve jobs’ vision. i realize there were many unknown people behind the scenes making his creations a reality, but without him, would the world’s technology even look like it does today? i doubt it. one takes people like that for granted, until they suddenly exit. he was a human, not a god, but we were still in the presence of greatness. yes, i’d put him up in that pantheon of great inventors. but what i’m really left with is those now-famous words, the stanford commencement death-speech about living every moment like it matters, not as someone dictates. because we’re all gonna die! and death clears out the old to make way for the new. i wonder if only certain gifted, endowed people can live like that. or could we all do that if we were hit head-on with the reality of personally ceasing to exist, and stopped giving in to pressure to conform and sell out? can even a nobody like me wake up this late in life and change? how would a person who is compelled by necessity to bend to others’ previous decisions, good or otherwise, having spent most of a lifetime living someone else’s life and expectations, go about overhauling and rebuilding to entirely new specs? not wasting one more single precious moment on meaningless, pointless busy-ness. making every minute count toward something that improves lives, starting with your own and those of the people close to you, and rippling out toward the future. not compelled by guilt or pretension, but by genuine passion and vision. how does one go about that? you notice someone like that, because it seems so rare and unattainable. you heed their words, because they seemed to live them. you know they’re speaking truth, but you can’t grasp the secret to implementing it. you’re caught in the inexorable, unrelenting rush toward whatever, or the circumstances that you were dealt, and can’t get off. and then you’re gone, and forgotten. i guess i think about this a lot of the time, because i’m surrounded and confronted by it. i’m not off somewhere busy living my life, distracted by normal, everyday pursuits. i have way too much enforced empty time staring at the relentless dying process, unrelieved by actual living. so these words of steve jobs on his way out, really struck a chord. i just do not have a clue how someone like me can implement that truth. turn around 180 degrees, live like it matters, and make a positive difference in lives. i’m not just out of practice, i’ve never learned in the first place. is it possible to start over? (just doing a little soul-searching, appropriately on this yom kippur eve.)