Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Smallness of My World

When I was about seven or eight years old, I found most breads to be bland, useless filler in otherwise good meals. Bread was just the stuff that kept your fingers from being covered in peanut butter and jelly, not to be desired in itself with the notable exception of garlic bread. Whenever my family went to KFC for dinner, I was given a biscuit. It was different from most bread, it was doughy and crumbly and had a slightly different taste and texture. I did not really like it, but I always ate it. It had such a difference compared to other breads I knew, that it took on a spiritual significance to my little seven year old self. Every time I ate it, it made me think of the Last Supper; when I thought of that biscuit and the connection my childish mind made between the crumbling bread and the bread that Jesus broke, eating that biscuit was like taking part in a ritual that no one else knew was going on.

When I was a little bit older, I, like a lot of my generation, was hooked on anime due to Cartoon Network's Toonami. I don't know what other kids were like, but I know that I was mostly a dipshit who's little obesity-fighting heart would just start a-fluttering whenever I saw Goku blast someone away with a Kamehameha. And that's what a lot of the anime they showed (or at least the anime I liked) was about, either Dragonball Z fighting, giant robots, spaceships, or some combination thereof. There was one moment in all this that could capture my attention and give me a spiritual moment. One anime played its credits over a series of pencil drawings that were unrelated to the show itself. The drawings were beautiful to me, featuring young women in various fantasy or sci-fi settings with no explanation beyond what was in the drawing itself. Over the drawings, a soft song sung in Japanese played. The whole credits sequence was outside of my teenage American male existence; and it had an otherworldly quality to me. The images could not be fit into any narrative, and the song was nonsense-albeit lovely nonsense-and it made me feel like it was a glimpse into another world.

The most recent example I can think of occurred for a week or two back in college. I had just lost my faith in Christianity and was trying to figure out what was now available to base a worldview upon; I tentatively investigated Judaism. Early in the morning, when it was usually cold, I would be in prayer and anxiety with my Tanakh open. I would go into the kitchen and make myself a mug of peppermint tea. I never really drank tea prior to this, and my soda-ruined palate needed two large spoonfuls of sugar before the stuff was sweet enough for me to drink. But I would sit at the table and sip this peppermint tea, and once again I felt like I was sampling something from another world. The tea was not that great, mind you, but I had never before drank something with a mint flavor. Mint was for candy and toothpaste, but here I was sipping hot, sweet mint water. Before I let the pressures of school occupy my mind too much for me to make time for the little ritual, drinking that mint tea with my Tanakh open gave me a spiritual experience that made me feel like I was sampling the kind of drink a shaman or a medicine man would brew.

And yet, when I became I teenager I realized that KFC is just a fast food place that adds a cheaply made biscuit to their meals so that you get 180 bonus calories. And when I became a high schooler I realized that, yes, there are other languages in the world and their pop music happens to sound exotic to my American ears. And even as I was having the experience in college, I knew that there was nothing special about my tea, it was a mass-produced product purchased in a brightly lit grocery store alongside a wide assortment of alternative options. With a little time I no longer felt as if any of these products actually contained anything otherworldly: they were all a part of my world, no stranger than French fries, Britney Spears, or milk.

In those times, in those places, they gave me a sense of the mysterious and the mystical because they seemed alien to the mundane workings and objects of my world. Not because of the products themselves, but because of the smallness of my world. Once my world broadened a little, they lost that mystical flavor. We do not feel anything mystical about those things that are a part of our world - only about the otherworldly.

1 comment:

  1. Initially, when I started writing these, there was a larger point I wanted to make. I think that I will make it later, though. I actually rather like leaving this as a simple reminiscing.

    Besides, how can you make a serious point after you say eating KFC and watching Outlaw Star are spiritual experiences?