Where do we begin? The rubble or our sins?
Have you heard the pop song, “Pompeii”? It’s my children’s favorite song. Strangely catchy and fun, the song tells the tale of a volcano erupting on unsuspecting people, devastating their reality. I’ve heard the song many times, but last week stuck in traffic, when my two beautiful boys sang the song from my backseat, it gave me pause.
I won’t go over the whole song here, but there are some seriously great lines, starting with: “I was left to my own devices…Many days fell away with nothing to show.” This pretty well describes the last two months for me. But the bigger idea of reality crumbling around all of us as we stand looking for a still point is an even more powerful one. The song seems to suggest that it’s what we do after the walls tumble down that seems most important.
My sons belt out, “Oh where do we begin? The rubble or our sins?”
“Do you know what that line means?” I ask. (Please note: I’m an English teacher on sabbatical—I’m desperate for analytical conversation.)
“What?“ My nine year old says.
“Do you know what they are talking about, in the song?
The seven-year-old responds dismissively, “Of course, I do…We’ve discussed it.” I look at him, and he sees I don’t believe him. “I don’t need to discuss it again, Mom” he says knowingly, “I’ve already discussed this with John.”
My son is in first grade, and John is his teacher. At this point, I’m torn between not believing he truly understands, and being quite impressed with the education he’s getting. Mostly, I’m kind of disappointed that he doesn’t want to discuss this further with me.
I can’t quite let it go. “Do you really get it?… I know you may understand what the words mean, rubble and sins, but do you know the larger idea?”
He turns to his older brother who is ignoring me, and sighs! Then he explains that the people in the song are trying to decide between cleaning up the ash on the outside from the volcano or all the bad feelings, the bad stuff they regret on the inside. “They don’t know what to do first,” he says.
He’s done talking, and I’m there considering. Where do we begin after our reality is devastated?—the rubble or our sins? In our busy, efficient, productive culture, action that we can see is esteemed, and it’s regularly the only work that is recognized. It is also especially difficult because we live in the material world where action seems so important and so necessary. Who doesn’t want to clean up the ash? The positive effects are immediate and progress seems so quickly made.
In contrast, cleaning up the inside is so confusing. It’s like being in a barely lit hoarder’s house where everything removed uncovers something harder and more disgusting to clean up underneath. On the inside, it feels so difficult to measure progress, so hard to breathe. But most of us know that cleaning up the inside changes everything on the outside.
As the song suggests, If you close your eyes, you can almost see that nothing’s changed at all. That sense of inner stillness in the midst of sudden, violent change. If you close your eyes, does it almost feel like you’ve been here before? Can you see them and us in that moment of waking up covered in ash, not knowing what is really going on, but having survived, feeling the devastation, but also feeling that part of us which is unchangeable, indestructible—that we’ve all been here before?
The song ends, “How am I going to be an optimist about this?
And where will we begin?