Marked Not Safe for Human Consumption
Updated: Jul 23, 2019
I presented a session this past Wednesday at the SCL pre-conference titled "Movement and Formative Liturgies". After this session as well as a conversation following John Mays presentation on Science Labs as Apprenticeship, I was asked by several conference attendees to share the poem I wrote titled Marked Not Safe for Human Consumption. The poem was first delivered to the student body of a private secular K-12 school in Richmond, VA more than 10 years ago. It represents the perspective of a student suffering from teenage angst moving through the formative liturgies of a typical school day. I asked conference attendees to consider what this poem would sound like if it was re-written to reflect the formative liturgies (or "habitus") of our classical Christian schools. I challenge readers of this blog to compose a poem of this kind. Here is my original composition:
Marked Not Safe for Human Consumption
My locker door is one of two physical barriers I will encounter today that will prevent my eyes from reaching khaki-short-pastel-belt-pink-polo-shirt saturation. The other barrier is a small metal plaque on the restroom wall reminding me of the 40,000 gallons of water that I am saving by not flushing the urinal.
Over the next closed interval [0, 50 feet] I will pass by an assortment of fine citizens. One will say, “Hey, what’s up?” and I will answer “Not much.” Another will ask me how I am doing and I will say “fine”. One will remember that I was sick earlier this week and then ask me if I am feeling okay. I will assure him that I am “alright”.
The shortest distance between point A, the small blue door of my locker, and point B, the big blue door of my first class, is “not much…fine…alright”. These three phrases keep me close enough to something and at the same time far enough away to keep myself together. I don’t have time and I’m not ready for a breakdown, shake-up, or run-around. The honest answer to their questions does not slide off my tongue with the same ease with which my body slides down into the cusp of my designer-blue-euro-chair.
One-half of the way through an eighty-five minute block, four of five bars left on a cell phone battery, and 33 and 1/3 percent of a five-page packet of guided notes complete, I break to use the restroom. “You are helping the environment to save 40,000 gallons of…the inverse cosecant of two is pi over six.” Back in class. Bell rings. Class over.
I remember the side of the box as my foot slides into a new pair of shoes.
Anima Sana in Corpore Sano.
A Latin acronym meaning “a sound mind in a sound body”.
Our route takes us to the end of a dead-end street where a guardrail prevents cars from passing through but not runners. Most runners slow down and jog around the rail. I keep running and jump over it. It is the most dangerous and deliberate action that I will take today and I feel good doing it.
I finish dinner while sweat continues to dry on my face. My shower is rushed by the feeling of the next bell already approaching. My lifeis rushed by the feeling of the next bell already approaching.
I can’t stay awake long enough to feel anything more than “fine” and “alright.”
I am thankful that not all of my days are like this. 90.437% of the time “fine” and “alright” is precisely whatand allthat I feel.
When I do have time to think about who I am, I think about who I could be, what I could do, what I could have done, what might happen to me, …who I am.
I wonder whether or not I might escape this normality by abandoning it.
“Immediately after graduating, with honors, from Emory University in the summer of 1990, McCandless dropped out of sight. He changed his name, gave the entire balance of his account to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and then he invented a new life for himself, taking up residence at the ragged margin of our society, wandering across North America in search of raw, transcendent experience.” (Chris McCandless, Into the Wild)
Or perhaps I might escape this reality by momentarily creating my own.
“Who guys are in fight club is not who they are in the real world… Who I am in fight club is not someone my boss knows. After a night in fight club, everything in the real world gets the volume turned down…
You aren’t alive anywhere like you’re alive at fight club. When it’s you and one other guy under that one light in the middle of all those watching…
There’s grunting and noise… like the gym…hysterical shouting in tongues like at church, and when you wake up Sunday afternoon you feel saved.” (Tyler Durden, Fight Club.)
Or perhaps I shouldn’t’ even care.
“Do you feel absolutely no concern for your future, boy?”
“Oh, I feel some concern for my future, all right. Sure. Sure, I do.” I thought about it for a minute. “But not too much, I guess. Not too much, I guess.” (Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye.)
I am stuck in the middle, mundane, monotonous, and mechanical. A championship, blue ribbon, acceptance letter, letter grade, AP, GPA, UVA, does not appeal to me as much as [insert something quick, something trivial, something that will let me feel something, something that grabs me in the gut and shakes me up because it is so real and matters so much…or just something like a grande’-triple-extra-hot-cinnamon latte.]
I remember the scripture read from the pulpit days ago,
“And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labor: and this was my portion of all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit…” (Ecclesiastes 2)
What does he mean? Does he really want to know?
“How are you doing?”
Not so good. But if “not so good” is a subset of “fine” then I guess I am feeling “fine”.
“Are you feeling okay?”
Not even close.
I want to. I want to be a wrench in this system.
But waking up and flicking off the world is not a solution. It never is.
It is the action to which my self-destruction is the equal and opposite reaction.
The aisle will not be the conveyor belt that I ride on.
A decorative hat will not be the last plastic piece at the end of a factory line.
And my diploma will never be a certificate marking me safe for human consumption.
I am not a letter.
I am not a number.
I am not a list of clubs and courses.
[insert last name comma first name,
first name comma last name]
…and today thatis who I will be.
Today, when the day ends I will not ask myself what happened tome but rather what part of me was made more real.
Ask not what your country has done to you,
but what you have done to your country.
Between bells I begin to live a little.
Odd ones ring and I hold on to ideas and thoughts that I can be passionate about.
Even ones ring and someone finally finds out that I am feeling something other than “not much”, “fine”, and “alright”.
Between and behind the blue doors I am thankful and determined to be more alive.
In quiet reflection I conclude that saving 40,000 gallons of water per urinal per year is a good thing. But it’s just one small thing and it’s got me looking for all the others.