Deus Ex Machina

My therapist said that when I was upset, worried, angry, stuck on something, it was worth asking myself what I needed. I lay in bed, I sit on the couch, I run on the treadmill and I ask what I need. Not why am I angry/hurt/bewildered, but what I need.

Deus Ex Machina. It’s a greek term, a theatre term, a term that Aristotle coined. I love the wikipedia definition – a contrived plot device. It is. You read it in a novel, see it in a TV show and you are immediately offended by it. A hopeless situation, the improbably hero. The plot of every adventure movie, ever.

I like the usage in greek tragedies better. Euripides gets it exactly right. His gods appear at the end, when there is no human way forward, and they mechanically fix things. His Gods are truly machines, they mechanically sort the wheat from the chaff, pulling and poking, moving things around to achieve the better end. There’s no attempt to make this anything other than what it is – tragedy is always thus – we orchestrate our own failings and cannot get ourselves out of them. We need a wooden god to make mechanical fixes.

That’s what I need.

I think about all of the times as a small child when I should have been rescued. When adults, teachers, doctors, lawyers – people who knew what was going on and turned a blind eye – didn’t come to my aid. The times I very nearly drowned and no one seemed to care. I rescued myself. Often not well, often with a cost I am only starting to understand. I rescued myself by shutting off my feelings, by ignoring my circumstances, by keeping the peace at all costs.

You can do this. You can do this for decades really. You can survive the unsurvivable, and in small and broken ways, you can thrive, a weed growing between the paving stones.

Until you sit on your couch, and you realize that what you really want is to be rescued. A wooden God to straighten out your spine, set you on your feet. Turn off the spotlight and on a darkened stage, scurry around moving things to their correct positions. Undoing the chaos and damage of human life. Resetting the props, throwing you your line and paying the debts of ill spoken words.

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.

Walt Whitman

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