I am walking home from Mass and a pancake breakfast at Old St. Mary's on South Michigan Avenue on this sunny, sunny Sunday. This city has a soul. A calm, slow, warm, rich soul. This is a city that takes time to laugh. But I always knew that. (I lived here in the 80's.) Grant/Millennium Park is Chicago's Central Park running along Michigan Avenue close to Lake Michigan. No one appreciates sun like Chicagoans. Especially Chicagoans who live by the lake where there's almost always cloud cover. But we can't complain--it was an extremely mild winter.
Chicagoans are prouder of their architecture than anything else, and with good reason. They see themselves almost as accessories to their architecture. Maybe that's why everyone sits on the steps of the Art Institute. Everyone, old and young, gray-haired and green-haired--if only for a few moments--must plant their butts on the stairs and look leisurely between those grand, oft-photographed lions.
The sun transforms everything. Even the street people aren't hawking or begging. They're just reverently contemplating. This precious Midwestern Sabbath Spring sun defies work of any kind. There are "stop and go" chess and checker games set up on the sidewalk for passers-by. Young girls in bell-bottoms rollerblade for a few minutes, then rest, exhausted. A grandfather slings his tiny grandson upside-down over his shoulder. The outdoor ice rink is now a plaza for umbrella-ed tables. Dogs of every pedigree roam the grasses. Serious kite flyers unsnag a rainbow kite from a sapling. The jonquils are in full bloom: solid yellow and two-tone yellow. Lush multi-colored giant pansies overflow concrete planters. Families with gangly baseball-capped tween boys and strollers stroll. Seven paunchy old men in safety helmets take a lesson on how to ride a Segueway--at a safe distance from the rest of us. A fortysomething couple get a free lesson from a Segueway cop. Shirtless men read hardcover books at the base of a green Civil war soldier sallying forth on horseback.
I admit it: I'm a sun "worshipper." I have denied it all my life, but it was just sour grapes. I miss the quotidian L.A. sunshine. I never had to worry about bad weather Sundays--my one free day. Now I rejoice with overwhelming gratitude at the sun's fortuitous timing. No one enjoys the sun like people of the four seasons. L.A. never even smells like Spring.
People are walking nowhere. Sitting no place in particular. I reflect that these people are doing exactly what Terri Schiavo was doing: absolutely nothing. We humans will take any opportunity to do absolutely nothing. It is the goal of everything else we do: so that we'll have time to kill time alone or with loved ones.* What do we do when we hang out with friends? Absolutely nothing. What do we do when we're in love? Absolutely nothing. We are human beings, not human doings. This is precisely what we were created for--a tautology--we exist to exist. We are not means to an end. We are not functionaries. We are human beings. So why did we deny Terri that right?
Satan has lots of purposes for us. Lots of work for us. Lots of "meaning" for us. Lots of plastic perfection and efficiency for us. Satan invented labor camps, gulags and eight-day work weeks (the French Revolution), abortion, euthanasia, war, death of every kind, ugly uniformity, depopulation, despeciation. Satan wants the earth and our souls to be like his home: a scorched wasteland.
Next time you're just existing, enjoying something, toad-ing out, don't feel guilty. Remember: this is your purpose. And remember: that if you don't need to justify your existence, neither does anyone else. Human beings never have to justify their existence. Behavior? Yes. Existence? No.
*recommended reading: "Leisure--the Basis of Culture," by Pieper; "The Unseriousness of Human Affairs," by Schall