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Sunday in the Park

You’ve seen the commercials advertising medications for restless leg syndrome, no doubt? Well, I’m looking for something to help with restless sleep cycle. Not a sleeping pill — no Ambien-late-night-forgotten food raids for me, no, no. I fall asleep just fine and stay solidly asleep, most nights, for five hours or so. No, it is those predawn hours when I should be sleeping and not really awaking that are restless and rather troublesome.

I can get up, sure, but then the day is too long and my rhythms are confused and I will be first to admit, I’m kinda crabby. So I try to reintroduce sleep. Sometimes I will play soothing music; sometimes I will fix a sweet cup of Chamomile tea and read a book. But most often I’ll leave the lights off altogether and put on the lilting sounds of the BBC which morph into the early morning reports of NPR.

This way I hear about the cricket scores, what happened in Parliament, and some cheeky piece about some current fad across the Pond. And random stuff, really random stuff. Which is what I’m fairly certain I heard yesterday morning upon waking. It was a little brief, as we call them in print media, about a young man in China. The man, in his early 20s, had posted on a Yahoo Web site, for sale — his soul. His soul. He had had 58 offers to buy it before Yahoo pulled the offer, saying the young man would need "a note from a higher authority" to put this item on sale.

All day long I searched for a repeat of this story, and I didn’t hear it or see it in print. I am certain though I heard it and certain I got it right. My recall is one of my strong suits, though not like the 94 percent recall credited to author Truman Capote. I did once have a detective tell me I should consider law enforcement. I guess dating a cop wasn’t what he had in mind.

But I digress.

That early morning story haunted me all day. I wanted/needed to know more about the young man in China and his Faustian proposal. What had motivated him to place his soul for sale? A whim, a joke, an act of financial or emotional desperation? And what of those who had bid on his soul? Since the Internet is a world of its own, without borders, those bids could have come from anywhere on the planet. What precisely did those folks think they were bidding on? What would be sent to them in the mail? Was there a photo of the young man included or an image of his soul? How many bytes does a soul take up exactly? And were there qualifications for the buyers? A soul for sale isn’t the same thing as a free-to-a-good-home offer.

Then, of course, there was the brilliance of the removal of the item. You could just hear reasoned Asian men sitting in a room, perhaps drinking from handle-less cups of tea, trying to figure out a way for all to save face here. The idea that a note from a higher authority would be required is inspired.

And so I was wondering about what else you have left to sell if, in fact, you had succeeded in selling your soul. If the ultimate intangible can be made tangible in commerce does it open up a whole inventory of squishy stuff? Could you sell old memories? Old grudges? Is there a market for old love? Or past hurts? Or faded glory or beauty?

And how do you set a price on those things? And if you sold them all, then who would you be? Would you go shopping for someone else’s memories since you now had more internal space available? Would trying on someone else’s hurts be of interest? Is this crazy science fiction-sounding stuff the stuff of the future in our lifetimes?

Existential wanderings, I’m afraid, are a hereditary burden for me. Both my grandmothers were Catholic but my father’s mother wandered from the church. According to my mother, her mother-in-law, Nellie went to whatever church had the best poker games going on the side, which you would have thought in the ’20s and ’30s and well beyond would have been the Catholics, but apparently not. I like to think Nellie was sampling theologies over those card tables. Over tea sandwiches and probably mint juleps listening to the wisdom or lack thereof that comes in relaxed conversation. Deciding when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em could, by itself, be a rather boiled down religion all its own. I just think Nellie was wise beyond her years and unsuited for organized religion. Which I quite understand. If you just wrap yourself in some Golden Rule concept of doing unto others, you have the basics of all the major religions anyway. Or as the Grateful Dead refrain required as the basic tenant of their belief, Are you kind?

Which brought me back to the young man in China. Is he kind? Would someone who bid on his soul, be doing it as an act of kindness? And the men (and certainly in China it would still be men today) who decided to rescind the offer from the Internet — were they kind? If I had seen the item for sale would I have responded with kindness? Complicated stuff, selling of souls as Daniel Webster and Faust and fiddle players have all wrestled with. But if, as Lincoln once poised (it was Lincoln wasn’t it?) about the "better nature of our angels" looks out for us and nudges us on occasion to do the right the thing, then maybe just posting your soul for sale is an act of courage. Maybe it was meant to solicit a thoughtful discourse about the worth or the essence of our spirit, or how we think absolutely everything has a price. Or maybe, just maybe, I heard the story wrong and the whole thing was just a way for my overly active mind to transfer my own existential wanderings into some pattern to occupy my restless predawn mind and finally coerce it back to a peaceful sleep.

What I know for certain is this; my own idea of religion has become very broad without borders and without constraints. I think I have a soul and for now I plan on keeping it to myself. If nothing else, it’s in no shape to put on the market. There is still much work to be done, which I will try to do in the predawn hours as well as in bright sunshine, any day of the week but certainly on Sunday in the Park


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