Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Stoa Poikile - Philosophers of the Porch - American Urban Stoics

Stoa Poikile means the "the painted Colonnade, " or Porch, from which the philosopher Zeno (326-264 B.C.)questioned and prodded his students. These disciples were called Stoics or "philosophers of the Porch." The Stoics held that everything happens necessarily. Each day has twenty-four hours, comprised of light and hours of darkness, unless one lives in Alaska, or Sweden, or some other Northern clime and those folks must behave accordingly.

You could call them fatalists. Eventually stoicism became a huge part of Christian philosophy, which affected the the teaching of theology. Stoicism is often misjudged as an unemotional and joyless path to living - on the contrary.

I remember translating passages of Marcus Aurelius in Father Henry Maibusch's Latin class. Most of the sententiae or sentences were reminders of the wholeness of the universe and each man's small role in it - ironically, Marcus Aurelius was the Emperor of Rome and wrote the Meditations in an army tent while campaigning against the German tribes of Danube. Aurelius spent most of his reign with his Legions defending Rome, rather than luxuriating in its power and wealth. In Book X he wrote:

Everything which happens either happens in such wise as you are formed by nature to bear it, or as you are not formed by nature to bear it. If, then, it happens to you in such way as you are formed by nature to bear it, do not complain, but bear it as you are formed by nature to bear it. But if it happens in such wise as you are not formed by nature to bear it, do not complain, for it will perish after it has consumed you. Remember, however, that you are formed by nature to bear everything, with respect to which it depends on your own opinion to make it endurable and tolerable, by thinking that it is either your interest or your duty to do this.

Translated to 19th Ward Chicago by a guy with whom I sat on the porch last night. Chicagoans tend to sit on the porch with neighbors and talk. Mostly, politics, mutual interests, Catholics school politics and gossip, high school sports, recipe exchanges, often pretty funny stuff, but last night was dead serious. I had just come home from another meeting and a guy I had not talked to in months drove by, saw me backed up and got out and we sat on the cracking concrete of my porch.

"Hickey, your wife died and my wife is dying. That's it. Not a whole Hell of a lot we can do about - cry I guess, but that is not going to bring your wife back or keep mine out of the nice coffin at Sheehy's Funeral Home. I still have kids at home and will need to go back to work after Martha dies and do my job and make dinner after work; pack lunches for school' pay bills; learn to live alone in a house full of kids. Martha is on the morphine drip. Thanks, I gotta get back to the hospice."

This guy went to Mount Carmel High School and John Carroll University. I never saw him drink more than one beer. I never heard him tell a dirty joke. He is 'whipped' in love with his wife and he will not have her in a few hours. She is going back to God, or as the stoics might say the Logos.

Stoics live by endurance and not Hope. Hope is only important if we have the skills to endure. Like grief, living is a process. It started when we were kids and goes until we ain't.

1 comment:

BillyFish said...

Just started William P. Young's The Shack this morning. Was wondering if you've read it? Your take if you have?