Behemoth in a bathrobe
The small voice of conscience converses with the American psyche
GIG HARBOR, WASH. — VOICE: What's happened to us? Wake up. What's happened to us?
BEHEMOTH: What? Who's talking? And ... how'd you get inside my head?
VOICE: I'm that still, small voice - inside, at the back - that says, "I can." And I've pushed my way to the front, because since 9/11 - and despite two sets of New Year's resolutions - I'm hearing mostly, "I can't." We need to talk.
BEHEMOTH: About what?
VOICE: Our spark. Our élan vital, our can-do spirit. America's unique quality - once upon a time - the quality that, just 200 years after the nation's founding, put a man on the moon.We need to recover that spark.
BEHEMOTH: Who says it's gone?
VOICE: Well, look at us. We were off the rails before 9/11, but that terrible day restored us to our can-do, caring best. And since then? While we care more than ever for family and friends, we're consuming trash TV and "reality" shows that exalt humiliation, violence, sex - a tawdry reality to convey to our kids. After a stint admiring real heroes, we've reverted to the unreal kind - celebrities - who behave ever more moronically. We shop, which helps the economy but not the soul ...
BEHEMOTH: I need a sandwich.
VOICE: ... and we're feeding our faces, far too much. Sure, in the shock of 9/11 we needed distraction, but we've extended into silly season. Meanwhile, vital issues get past us. We raised few peeps about the corporate scandals, though they hit our retirement savings. We sat out the midterm elections. And - most grave - we've been uncommonly passive about imminent war with Iraq.
BEHEMOTH: It's a done deal. I can't ...
VOICE: There you go: "I can't." We are in bad psychic shape. The behemoth is in his bathrobe. We need to suit up, get a grip. Because if there are more 9/11s coming at us, or retaliation here over Iraq ...
BEHEMOTH: Oh look, a rerun of the Victoria's Secret documentary!
VOICE: All this mindless activity - we must become more mindful.
BEHEMOTH: What? Think more about more 9/11s? Contemplate the ka-boom of the nuclear "option" the administration is now actually considering?
VOICE: Deep down, we know what's going on, don't we. Avoidance. A-void-ance.
BEHEMOTH: Where's my remote control?
VOICE: Ralph Waldo Emerson, early American thinker, in his essay "Self-Reliance" ...
BEHEMOTH: Where is that remote control?
VOICE: I'm your remote control! Who must ask: Would you, if the walls came tumbling down, want to be caught watching women tumbling out of their underwear?
BEHEMOTH: No. But, I don't like to think about walls tumbling down.
VOICE: Understandable, but we must - or be blindsided. Any terrorist would be thrilled we've retreated to our bathrobe. Now: What are we avoiding?
BEHEMOTH: The still, small voice raises the very big thing. Fear.
VOICE: Yes, fear. Of the worst kind: of annihilation. Before Sept. 11, 2001 - before we numbed down that day to 9/11 - our security was part of the natural order of things. After all, we were a continental nation, separated from a complicated world by two oceans. But on that day our borders were breached, our security destroyed. In a fashion beyond imagining. And in swept fear, capital-F Fear, feeling like "zero at the Bone."
BEHEMOTH: Emily Dickinson.
VOICE: Yes, another early American.
BEHEMOTH: Keep talking.
VOICE: This fear is new for Americans. In our historical crises - the Revolution, the Civil War, the Depression, two world wars - there was fear, but not of annihilation, and not in the refuge of our homes. The water from our tap, the air - all are now suspect. Therefore: Feeling fear that's "zero at the Bone," the question becomes ...
BEHEMOTH: How to live.
VOICE: Yes, and live fully, not just exist. Realizing this fear is shared with most of mankind may help, maybe serve as guide.
BEHEMOTH: Sharing the fear is good, I suppose.
VOICE: Hard to bear is knowing that, given the easy access to munitions and all the world's rage, this fear will be with us forever. Of course, that may be too fatalistic for the can-do American to accept ...
BEHEMOTH: It doesn't help that our administration is driving up the fear with muscle-bound behavior, upping the ante - I feel like I'm on the Titanic heading for the iceberg!
VOICE: So, what to do, what to do?
BEHEMOTH: Reduce the fear, for starters. But what concrete steps can we take?
VOICE: What's been our theme here?
BEHEMOTH: Mindfulness. But that's not a concrete step.
VOICE: Oh, yeah? In this carnival of fear, to question, protest, think - and think clearly - is capital-A Action. Question the use of labels - "good," "evil." Question premises, motives. Question the administration's even thinking the Unthinkable ...
BEHEMOTH: ... and let it know our fear cannot be manipulated.
VOICE: Yes. Same goes for any terrorist.
BEHEMOTH: Same goes for any terrorist. History is replete with instances of a people manipulated by fear. But is it too late to act?
VOICE: Who knows, but we must acquit ourselves, learn how to live in our new world, open out to it, not retreat. Harness fear and use it. Live with questions as well as answers - in a word, complication. Learn self-critique - important for a behemoth. And understand that, while our security is gone, it was an illusion, and isn't life better without illusion? This is our opportunity to mature. In fact, metaphysically, this could lead to an American existentialism - yes! - taking action in a hostile universe ...
BEHEMOTH: Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Will we ever laugh again?
VOICE: Our easy smile has faded, but an earned one will come.
BEHEMOTH: Let's keep talking. I find this ... this dialogue ... bracing.
VOICE: Just don't move your lips in public. From catatonia to Action in a few blinks - pas mal.
BEHEMOTH: More than fun, it's pleasure, in fact - this is antique vocabulary - tonic, inspiriting!
VOICE: Those are favorite words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, to close our loop: "Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind." Now, the bathrobe...?
• Carla Seaquist's play 'The Washington-Sarajevo Talks' will be produced in the Festival of Emerging American Theatre 2003 in Indianapolis.