Sunday, March 29, 2020

Pandora's Box

It’s a cozy rainy day. The refrigerator is full, the heater is on and (miraculously), toilet paper is re-stocked. Earlier, I stood in the early morning drizzle outside Trader Joe’s remembering the photos of the breadlines during the Depression. But instead of a crust of bread and cup of soup after a long wait, I entered a store with stocked shelves (toilet paper!), friendly people and drove home in a car with a tankful of gas. It could be—and might become—so much worse, but meanwhile there are innumerable blessings still to be counted. 

Post-grandkids, we’ve been straightening and sweeping and dusting and vacuuming and doesn’t that feel good! I’m about to tackle (after this tactic of procrastinating) the front room and deal with the stacks of overflowing CD’s, music books piled helter-skelter, papers begging to be re-filed or recycled. There’s a drawer in the bathroom crammed with old medicines and toiletries that has been waiting for attention some 3-5 years (!), other drawers in other rooms with old cassette tapes and videos, file cabinets with outlines of workshops taught these past four decades—and don’t even get me started on the basement! I thought I’d ease into it all with my approaching retirement and I do think there’s wisdom in limiting right now the number of Pandora’s boxes that I dare open, but hey! might as well get started.

But first, felt like I should investigate more closely the metaphor of Pandora’s box. I imagine this as a box filled with things you eventually need to deal with—be they misfiled papers or emotions you’ve repressed—that you need to think twice about before letting them out. In short, you need to be prepared for what will emerge, have the necessary time and needed bandwidth to meet it. So sometimes it’s wiser to keep it closed—at least for the time being. 

Well, almost. The real Greek tale begins with Prometheus stealing fire from heaven. Zeus is mad, so he sends Pandora to Prometheus’s brother, who asks her to care for a jar but not open it. Of course, her curiosity got the better of her and when she opens it, out flies sickness, death, mayhem, the Republican Party (updated version) and other evils to wreak havoc in the world. She quickly covers it again before the last content of the jar (later referred to as a box) flies out—Hope. As described by the poet Theognis of Megara:

Trust, a mighty god has gone, Restraint has gone from men,
and the 
Graces, my friend, have abandoned the earth.
Men's judicial oaths are no longer to be trusted, nor does anyone
revere the immortal gods; the race of pious men has perished and
men no longer recognize the rules of conduct or acts of piety.

Hope is the only good god remaining among mankind.

The erosion of trust, restraint, grace, reverence. Judicial oaths not carried out, men purposefully not recognizing the rules of conduct. Did Theognis look ahead 1500 years to witness the Senate Impeachment Trial farce? Meanwhile, there lies Hope, still sheltering in place inside the box/jar/urn. This could be pessimistic—hope is locked away—or optimistic—hope is awaiting for the moment when we’re collectively brave enough to re-open the box. Who knows?

I’m going to think about this while I clean the front room. 


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