When I asked, my army-basic-trained son gave me bits and snippets of the two-month schedule he had recently completed. Breakfast was the best meal. Sometimes they got up a 4:30 and sleeping till 6:30 was a luxury. No phones, no TV, no video games. Religious services were offered for Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, but my son, when he did go, went with the Catholics because the service was in the early afternoon: He really didn't want to miss out on the much-needed sleep the other religious schedules cut into. By the end of each training day, he and his fellow trainees were tuckered out ... there was time to write letters or BS with buddies and then, "I would say my prayers" and go to sleep.
My son also said he wanted to get a new tattoo for his 19th birthday, which had come and gone during basic training. "Right here," he said, pointing to the inside of his left bicep. Maybe his mother and I would chip in for that, he suggested. And what would it say, I asked. He said he wasn't exactly sure, but something like "I would sacrifice for those I love." He said that eventually he wanted to have a "sleeve" -- an arm covered in tattoos -- and pointed out aptly, when I suggested he might not be happy in the long run, that "it's my body."
My son left home for basic training with a background in the bell jar of home and high school -- a world fenced off with security, a world in which uncertainties might nag, but they nagged within a quite cozy framework. He returned after having jumped into the twelve-foot end of the pool, an arena in which the world is immensely wider ... a world in which security was spelled out in a quite adult pastime among newly-found brothers and kinship, and most important, a world in which he had an assured role and capability. It was a world in which he could assert with a new, wider understanding, "it's my body." Irrespective of a profession that included guns and cussing, my son was manning up, finding his place within a wider world, a bell jar redefined.
It is the nature of bell jars to keep things fresh. To keep them safe from the air outside the bell jar -- the air that might bring on staleness and rot and an eventual uselessness. It is also the nature of bell jars to hoodwink that which is protected: What person ever wanted to or was entirely capable of recognizing his or her own bell jar? Marriage, employment, possessions, beliefs ... for better or worse, here I am and I can do it, whatever the "it" might currently be. With the capacities found from within this bell jar, I can man up and go forward and succeed and fail, don my laurels and lick my wounds.
And then too, there are prayers.
Was there ever a better indicator of a wider -- much wider -- world than prayer? If the man-up bell jar were doing its job perfectly -- as I can sometimes boldly assert it is -- what need would there be for prayer? Somehow, the wider air seems to creep in around the edges of this bell jar and my man-up persona needs more support, more safety, more assurance that things are really all right and won't go stale... that things could really be all right.
Of all the sneaky, inescapable slivers of life that seem capable of outwitting the bell jar's ramparts, sometimes I think the most compelling is simply this: Experience cannot be shared. Some may prefer the lurking understanding that death is not just something that happens to the other guy, but death, while wide and frightening, still is not something I know anything about ... at least in the bell jar sense. Death may be something to fear but the truth is I don't know what I fear when I fear death. The matter of not being able to share experience, by contrast, is something I do know quite a lot about ... empirically, emphatically ... try as I may, I cannot know in any real sense what you have experienced and neither can you know mine. Yes, we can bluster in man-up fashion that "sharing is caring," and we can add fuel to our heart's content to the man-up fires ... but at 3 a.m., the bedroom ceiling sends a different message.
The initial reaction to this revelation can be one of utter horror. But it can't be true! It's so unfair! All that man-up effort and this is the payoff?! If I am utterly alone ... it is a loneliness beyond bearing! It is so inescapably factual and ... and ... how can I escape? Please ... please ... please...!
I wonder which is worse: Fortifying the man-up social assertions or acknowledging that the bell jar has been outwitted. My own feeling is that uncertainty is a key, however rusted the lock. One of the interesting things about uncertainty is that it could not have any force or meaning without some previous certainty. However elusive that certainty might be, still, uncertainty finds no footing without some certainty to water its roots. Certainty and uncertainty are not gnashing, clashing opposites. The entire matter is not a matter of either/or. Right and wrong, stupid or smart, wise or ignorant ... slicing and dicing amount to a fool's errand.
Still, uncertainty sucks. It's scary. It's a part of the reason your bell jar and mine were created in the first place. And so, once reliably challenged from within my man-up lair -- staring at the bedroom ceiling, perhaps -- there are prayers that this deep uncertainty might be resolved; that I could come to terms with the fact that I cannot share experience with you and you are equally incapable.
How this play plays out -- if ever it actually does -- is purely personal. We may 'share' the uncertainty, but the solution lies in my own prayers or yours ... prayers and...
Once the bell jar is recognizably breached and the uncertainty becomes quite certain, then what? The answer lies somewhere beyond horror and fear, tears and fetal positions, prayers and imprecations. It lies, I think in a willingness to turn around and face the facts, however they state themselves.
Gently but firmly ... gently but firmly ... gently but firmly... gently but firmly: Welcome the stranger. Pray, if that's what it takes. Gently but firmly ... welcome the stranger. Gently but firmly, dispense with the bell jar and ... welcome the stranger. Sweat and ... welcome the stranger.
Chances are s/he's not so strange after all.
"Sharing" is a way of describing separation.
Separation informs uncertainty.
But is separation really true?
Gently but firmly ... welcome this stranger.
Man up. :)