Tuesday, April 21, 2015


When I was a kid one of the highlights of the year was the night they would show both "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas."  I would wait for it all year, and as Christmas loomed near, I looked forward to that night with almost as much anticipation as I did Santa himself.

One year I had a toothache.  That's too small of a word, actually -- it was a burning, stabbing, exploding pain in my mouth.  But I didn't say anything to my parents because I wanted to see these shows.  I was determined to see them, no matter what.  Even pretty excruciating pain.

I can't now remember which order they were in but let's say that "A Charlie Brown Christmas" came first.   The pain finally got to be too much for me and, so, during the last few minutes of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" I let out a scream.

Luckily one of our neighbors across the street was a dentist who worked out of his home.  My parents rushed me over to him and he determined that I had an exposed nerve.  He said he couldn't imagine how I had been able to bear that kind of pain; it took a whole lot of Novocaine to numb it.  (I remember five shots, but my memory might exaggerate.)  And through it all I cried and protested that I simply had to get back home or I'd miss "The Grinch ..."

I tell this story to my children and they can't really comprehend it.  They're growing up in an on-demand world where they can watch pretty new movies in full HD right in our living room.  They can go onto Netflix or Amazon and watch several seasons of some show they become interested in, one episode after another.  No waiting involved.  I tell them that you once had to wait from week to week to see what would happen next in something you were watching.  They get impatient when Netflix makes you wait something like 17 seconds for the next episode to being.

I'll admit, I've gotten pretty used to it myself.  When Netflix released the entire season of "Daredevil" on the day it premiered I rejoiced that I could watch as much of it as I was able at a time.  When I wanted to relive the pleasure of "Lie to Me" I could do it without commercials and without distraction.  

Yet I think we pay a price for this convenience.  In Robert Heinlein's classic novel Stranger in a Strange Land.  An expedition to Mars goes silent shortly after landing.  Twenty-five years later another expedition returns and finds only one survivor -- a young man who had apparently been born there and raised by Martians, Valentine Michael Smith.  When he is brought back to earth he encounters a very different culture that the one he'd known, which provide Heinlein a wonderful vehicle for cultural critiques.

One aspect of Martian philosophy that Smith shares is the importance of waiting.  He finds humans to be extremely hectic, moving way too fast for our own good.  "Waiting is fullness," he says.  Even as he is eventually greatly acculturated to our ways, even when he, himself, begins to move more at our pace, he does not entirely give up on his Martian philosophy.
"He was not in a hurry, "hurry" being one human concept he had failed to grok at all. He was sensitively aware of the key importance of correct timing in all acts — but with the Martian approach: correct timing was accomplished by waiting. He had noticed, of course, that his human brothers lacked his own fine discrimination of time and often were forced to wait a little faster than a Martian would — but he did not hold their innocent awkwardness against them; he simply learned to wait faster himself to cover their lack
The timeless wisdom of the Tao te Ching asks us, "Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?"  I worry that our on-demand, binge-watching world is making that harder than ever.

Pax tecum,


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