Computers, habits, houses, the moon
October 17, 2011
There's something a little bit funny about having a computer crash at the start of Sukkot. Sukkot is a festival of impermanence, when we're meant to leave our houses and dwell for a week in fragile huts with roofs through which one can see the stars as they emerge over the week of the moon's waning. And what should happen to me on the first day of Sukkot but the total and unexpected death of my hard drive, forcing me to relinquish the structures of data and habit in which I ordinarily dwell.
Nothing should turn out to be permanently lost; the friendly folks at the Apple store in Albany helped me retrieve the data which was new to my machine since I'd last backed it up, and I hope to have a new computer by the end of this week. But in the meanwhile I'm in a kind of digital limbo, using borrowed technology, constantly bumping up against the realization that some vital piece of data or some unremembered account password is not at my fingertips.
In Tarot, the death card is usually understood as a metaphor for transformation and change. The death of the old brings the birth of the new. Here we are at harvest-time, bringing in the riches of the growing season which has now ended. The spectacular autumn colors which grace our hills at this time of year are already fading, leaves knocked down by our frequent recent rains. We're heading toward the dormant season (in this hemisphere), toward bare trees and cold air. But that period of dormancy is always the prelude to the next period of fertility and growth.
I'm trying to take this amusingly-timed computer demise as an opportunity to step outside my usual ways. What do I really need to bring with me at week's end when I move in to the new "house" of metal and bits? Which of the blogs I habitually read bring richness, delight, new ideas to my life, and which might be cut from my daily routine because they tend to make me angry or sad?
My eldest brother, some years ago, taught me the sentiment contained in Mizuta Masahide's gorgeous haiku as "my barn having burned down, I found I could see the moon." (You can find two translations of the haiku on the poet's wikipedia page to which I just linked.) The collapse of a computer is a kind of barn-burning -- or it can be, at least for those of us whose lives (professional, personal, creative, communal) are so intricately interwoven with the technology we use. Having lost the machine, what moon might I be newly-able to view?
It's the perfect question for Sukkot. Sukkot calls us to step out of our houses, out of our habits, out of our illusions of permanence and stability. To spend one week connecting with others and rejoicing in the outdoors, in the harvest, in the world around us. Maybe by taking a week away from our barns, as it were, we can learn to see the moon without needing a burning-down in order to remind us of just how blessed we always are.