Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Nurse the Hate: Gustav Steiner

I had not seen my old friend Jim since my early years of college.  Jim was a bit of an odd bird, which is frankly why I liked him.  He came from one of those childhoods where the parents didn’t have a TV so he didn’t understand any cultural references made by his peers.  I think his parents met on a commune in Vermont.  He was vegetarian when that blew people’s minds.  He was always into Eastern mysticism and weird religious off shoots.  I remember him being fascinated by the Rastafarians, and for three months straight I heard nothing but Marley and Peter Tosh coming from his room.  He always seemed to be just about ready to come apart at the seams.  I fell out of touch with him after awhile, our lives taking divergent paths.  It was a surprise to see him this week.  Not just for the gap in time in which we had not seen each other either.

I saw him in a hotel lobby downtown.  It was odd because I didn’t recognize him at first.  What caught my attention was a man in business attire pushing a wheelbarrow filled with large rocks across the marble lobby.  He didn’t appear to be involved with construction, so I stared to try and figure it out.  Why does that guy in the executive slacks have a wheelbarrow?  Noticing that I knew the guy with the wheelbarrow was an afterthought.  "Jim?"

Indeed it was Jim.  We exchanged pleasantries and “so, where you working now?”s.  We exchanged the obligatory “East or Westside?” question.  He was working for a doomed educational group focused on underprivileged kids with a name I immediately forgot.  Then I asked him “What’s with the wheelbarrow?”.  He gave a little laugh and said “Oh, I’m a Steiner.  You know about that, right?”.  No Jim.  No, I don’t know about that.  I almost wished I hadn’t asked.

Gustav Steiner led a puritanical off shoot of Lutheranism sometime in the mid 1800s.  Steiner had this idea that man needed to cleanse himself of all of his mortal sins and mistakes while on earth to prepare for the afterlife.  One needed to take responsibility and atone for mistakes in the eyes of the Lord.  When a person made a mistake of some kind, they were then required to carry the weight of the size of that error as a burden.  Large mistakes equaled large weights while smaller, yet still noteworthy mistakes, required smaller stones to match up with the scale of the mistake.  Only when that person had somehow righted their mistake could they remove that weight from their load.  The goal was to reach no weight at the time of death, thus insuring entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Jim had met some people at some “retreat” that were investigating Steinerism. He said that weekend “totally changed my life.  You should look into it.”  He said there was a small congregation in Northeast Ohio, and in fact, most large sized cities had groups of some kind.  That seemed impossible I hadn’t noticed this, but then again how often do you pay attention to someone pushing a wheelbarrow?  He said that different factions differed in the specifics of the stone carrying, but he was part of a sect that was very strict.  “I wanted to be pure.”  Of course he did.  He was a white kid that grew dreads, so I have no doubt the most extreme form of Steinerism attracted him.

I looked down at this wheelbarrow and saw a couple of stones the size of small bowling balls.  In addition to those were a variety of decent sized rocks all arranged around the larger pair.  It had to be about 60 pounds of rocks.  “So let me get this right Jim.  You push this wheelbarrow of rocks with you everywhere you go.  Like if you go to a restaurant, you bring the wheelbarrow?”  He seemed oddly serene, almost drugged.  “That’s right.  It’s my burden.  If I can right those two biggest wrongs, I could probably get by with a backpack.  That is why I am trying to right those as fast as I can.”

The wheelbarrow was set down in the middle of the lobby.  We both looked at it.  I really wanted to know what the big rocks represented.  I knew he saw me staring at those rocks and wondering.  “One of those big ones is how I failed with my daughter.  She lives with my ex-wife in Oregon now.  The other was a failure of character.  I failed someone who loved me.”  He looked at me and smiled.  I broke his glance.  We both stared at the rocks like when one guy is explaining an unseen issue with a car to another.  

Let me be honest.  I felt very uncomfortable like I was talking to someone that had left Scientology only to double down with the Manson Family.  I don’t know if this guy was technically crazy, but hauling around 60 pounds of rocks while going to eat “endless appetizers” at TGIFridays didn’t seem sane.  Did he go to Indians games with that thing?  Did he have to drive a truck?  Who decided the size of the rock?  Who decided when he could drop the rock? Where did it go then?  To someone else?  Could you dispute the size of the rock?  I was fascinated but didn’t want to get in too deep.  If I seemed too interested he would probably knock me out with a chloroform rag and I would wake up chained to an enormous wheelbarrow of stones somewhere on the Eastside.  The last thing I need is to have to haul 176 pounds of rocks everywhere I go.  No, I needed to get out of this…

Hey man, it was great to see you!  We should get a drink sometime!  “I would love that.”  I will call you at work…  Or just message me on Facebook or something.  (Nice and vague…  That was the way to go here.)  I turned to walk towards my meeting.  I heard him give a small grunt and begin to push the wheelbarrow towards the elevator.  He was still sort of the same guy I guess.  It was me that had probably changed.  I hoped he was able to figure a way out to stop carrying those rocks.  Well, the big ones at least.  It seemed like quite a burden.


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