GO DOWN, ARCHETYPAL MOSES
WHO AM I?
Recently I flew from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., leaving SFO at 5 p.m. and arriving IAD at 1 a.m. I had to catch another flight at 8 a.m. I was too cheap to spend the money for a few hours in a hotel room. “Not enough time,” I thought. So I spent the night in the airport sleeping on the vinyl benches.
The whole surreal experience reminded me of Dante’s description of one of the rings in Purgatorio. With the dim fluorescent lighting, I couldn’t even cast a shadow like a Shade. It put me in touch with homelessness. I realized that a great deal of our lives are lived in these in-between places where we have to spend time, the waiting rooms of life.
That’s why I admire my wife. She’s a knitter and a resourceful, practical person. She keeps herself occupied. Apparently knitters do not suffer the agony of waiting. She just kept click-clicking away. Knitters were not mentioned by Dante. (But knitters should not get a big head; they weren’t mentioned in Paradisio, either.) Eventually the clicking of her needles only added to my misery.
If I feel I do not have enough time to accomplish any one of my very self-important tasks, I’ll sit in dull resentment. Rather than play computer solitaire, I’ll apparently take sub-loathing in Purgatorio. Not in the dark. Not in the light. Not quite living. Not quite dead. To paraphrase Kris Kristofferson in his song “The Pilgrim,” Not quite truth, not quite fiction, “a walking contradiction…taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.”
WHY AM I HERE?
Self loathing is boring. What does one do in such a situation? And there are lots of us: the unemployed or underemployed, temp workers, callbacks, the wrongfully incarcerated, those awaiting medical tests or treatments, those who must wait.
Well, I always think about archetypes. Don’t you? Archetypes are the real deal. They are the truth, even if they are fictional. The original.
The first. The mold out of which each and every copy is formed. Each archetype has the full power, the undiluted truth of the form. The full-tilt boogie.
Archetypes live in an infinite reservoir of meaning and power out of which the streams of imagination flow. There is also the water table of archetypes into which one can tap when stuck in IAD for six hours.
When you deploy an archetype, pick one that is really dramatic and interesting, because you have hours to fill. Rather than stay with Dante’s Inferno, which I explored in my play Dante in Jiffy Lube, I called in Moses. Whether you portray Moses in a 6th-grade play or sit in the presence of one of Leonardo’s sculptures, your ticket gets punched forever. The experience is your ticket to revisit that archetype at any time.
WHAT DO I WANT?
Moses helped me move from my specific fate to the general and heightened my interest in the godawful Pharoh airline scheduling plague. You look at your experience of Moses as an archetypal lens and, through interaction with archetypal forces and principles, things change.
Languishing in the gray airport gloom like the children of Israel who had missed their last flight to the Promised Land? Enter Moses. Need a little leading of your ancient Hebrew soul out of Dulles or Egypt? You bet. “Burning bush” to fire things up? Why not? Let’s get some enthusiasm going for Starbucks opening in four hours! Some laws? “Thou shalt not schedule flights in such fashion!” Born a slave and want to become a rich guy? Still a slave and feeling oppressed? Have become a rich guy who is out of touch with your people? Call down some plagues on the neighbors? Had a plague called down on you? We can all relate to SOME aspect of the archetype in some way.
Even when our whole lives seem to be lived in between, in some waiting room for the next phase, or in recovery, or we have been sold into bondage in some fashion, archetypes can guide us and give us new ways of interacting with our fate. They are universals, which means they are recognized and understood by others. They give us answers or provoke questions. This is why they are so powerful. They are common currency for ideas, ideals and feelings, forces and principles.
“Go Down, Moses!” is a gospel song that I first heard when I was just a kid. I sang it when I was working that midnight shift for UPS and I was bone weary. You hum it (this is the “interaction” part), trying to soothe yourself on the benches at Dulles, or at least I did. Sing slave songs when we feel oppressed.
Having said all that, while the archetype of Moses was comforting me on my bench, I must admit that the one courtesy blanket I found stashed in a closet was worth its weight in archetypes. Lucifer kept the a.c. blowing all night in that particular corner of Hell.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish