ATOMS OR ORDER
By: Lauren Anderson
So… yesterday I was walking downtown in the morning and there was construction by the building where I work. And not just regular construction— I’m talking Warner Brothers cartoon-style jackhammering in the street. Men in hard hats shouting things and clacking pipes. That kinda noise.
The typical sound of downtown Minneapolis mid-morning was replaced with a cacophony of bewailing concrete and clanging metal.
I was by myself, so I could just observe it for what it was. And I was fascinated by the people around me. As I got closer to the building, right by the heart of it, three couples walked past me in the opposite direction.
The first couple, two business men, SHOUTED at each other. They just screamed their fricking heads off. No break in their conversation, just an increase in volume by like, 1,000 percent.
I was so alarmed to see the effort in their shouts— I started to laugh.
Because they kept yelling. But the other one only said “WHAT?!” Vice versa, and so on.
The next couple were tourists perhaps? Dressed in casual clothes. A man and a woman. Not really with a clear indication of where they were going. ALSO SHOUTING. It was as intense as the business men. I laughed again.
I’m not sure why it struck me as so funny… but I got the giggles HARD. It seemed like such a futile effort. Like they were never going to surpass the mountain of sound.
BECAUSE THEY WEREN’T.
I appreciated their effort to a degree. But it reminded me of the futility of pushing at something or someone that’s not ready to move. Ya know? It reminded me of trying to make something happen before it’s time.
And then it reminded me of me, in my pre-Solcana “Angry days”. Raging just for the sake of rage. Mad at my body and everyone around me. Trying to break free from something. But not ready to figure out what that something was. So I got really really mad, for a really really long time.
At what? I’m not sure. I think I was “yelling” hoping to be heard. And I never was. Because no one could understand what I was saying. I was under too much construction.
And because sometimes I have to wait.
Sometimes the only thing to do is move through the moment until it passes.
These street-side musings were coming on the heels of me seeing a wonderful play the night before called “The Last Days of Commodus” by Matt Spring. Put on by Four Humors. It was an excellent show that I cannot recommend enough.
The play talks about the unbelievable real history of the last days of Emperor Commodus.
But the part that really struck me was when they were talking about the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Commodus’ father and beloved Emperor before him) and what he said in his famous book, “Meditations”.
The play distilled the much more complicated idea from the text of “Meditations” into something very palatable. Simple even. And I CAN’T STOP THINKING ABOUT IT.
He said in the play, “Everything is either Atoms or Order.”
And I’m very-much paraphrasing here, but that’s essentially what was said. Meaning that if everything is planned or ‘ordered’, then we have no control over it.
So we should give into it. Because what has been written for us will be.
Everything is Atoms. Just random atoms and energy bouncing together or apart at will. And we have no control over it. So we must give into the chaos. What will be will be.
Interesting idea right? The play went on to suggest that people have used Marcus Aurelius’ words to justify doing awful things because they have “no control”. Everything is Atoms or Order.
But I don’t think that’s what the Emperor meant.
I think what he meant to say is: Why do we waste time trying to force something that wasn’t meant to be? Or put each other on the wrong timelines? Or spend time finding fault in the way things sometimes fall together?
When we have no real control?
I see myself doing this at the gym all the time. I have it in my head that this workout is the one where I finally max out, or finally get that perfect push up, or whatever it is that I’m hoping to accomplish.
And my body is like—NOPE. Not today.
Instead of listening to it, I try to push. I “scream over the construction noise” of my own body, and I try and forge ahead instead of giving into what is ACTUALLY HAPPENING.
I want to control something that I cannot. It only leads to shouting into the void.
To quote Speech the rapper from Arrested Development (the group, not the show)
“All shouting does is Make. You. Lose. Your. Voice.”
All I do when I don’t listen to my body is get hurt. Or disappointed. Or frustrated.
Because I forgot that some stuff is OUT OF MY CONTROL. I am raging against the “mixture and dispersion” of atoms. I am forgetting that perhaps it’s only Atoms or Order.
To quote Emperor Aurelius again, “Why then, art thou disturbed?”
Sometimes I have no control. Sometimes I have to listen to what my body needs, and surrender to where we are at. And sometimes it is best to wait and see what pans out.
* * *
I’m deep in my thoughts about this great play and Emperor Aurelius, and how I push my body, waiting for the walk light. But my deep reflections are interrupted by another couple walking past.
As if on cue.
Two business women with walking shoes on strut by. They are talking about work stuff I can tell. When they get to the construction zone, I see one woman point at her ear, and then at her mouth, and then shake her head. As if to say, “No. I can’t hear what you’re saying.”
The other woman nodded. They both stopped talking and waited together in silence for the light to change. When the walk light lit up, they smiled and hurried to the other side of the street.
As I watched them cross, I could see them pick up their conversation again when they were away from the noise, without missing a beat. And I started to laugh.
This time for a different reason.
All I could think was, “I hope those wise women are the bosses at their company.”
Because judging from how they handled that construction noise…
I know they’d be great Emperors.