Stoicism is a philosophy invented by ancient Greeks and Romans. It has been practiced by many persons. It is not a religion and does not want to be. It teaches useful ways of thinking and behaving. I own a book, the Daily Stoic, whose principal author is Ryan Holiday. I consult the book each day looking for useful ideas on how to think, cope and move forward.
Unfortunately, Stoicism says nothing about plugged toilets or how to get them unplugged. Tonight, as I write this, I own one. In its present state, it’s worth about as much as a plugged nickel. I've spent much of this day wielding two rubber plungers and a metal device known as a snake, as I tried to restore my toilet to its intended purpose.
So far I have failed. But Stoicism's teachings tell me not to worry or complain. Instead, I should remain unflappable.
There's a Latin slogan: "Amor fati." Roughly translated it means "You should love fate." This includes everything in life that happens, good or bad. Lately I've wondered how the stoics would react to a worldwide pandemic, such as COVID-19.
For starters, I don't think they would label the virus as either good or bad. They wouldn't panic, but they surely wouldn't just sit there. They'd probably look for a plunger, such as you and I do when our toilets become stopped up.
I have discovered several other suggested solutions to toilet stoppages. One of them is to pour a few ounces of dishwashing detergent into the toilet as you flush it. You could also shout "Be healed!" I doubt if that would help matters, but it might lower your blood pressure.
I tried cursing earlier today, as I jammed my plungers into the toilet. But nothing happened, except that my profanity frightened my cat Ellie, who fled the bathroom. Most of the time Ellie seems to practice Stoicism. She is a serene presence in my life, and I often tell her so.
But today I told her, "You wouldn't act so serene if your litterbox got plugged up, would you?" She made no response to that. I'm sure she's aware that in the litterbox episodes of her life, I am her plunger.
For possible solutions to my plumbing problem, I consulted an executive of my condominium association. He was sympathetic and gave me several suggestions. One of them was "Go to Home Depot. They have a magnificent array of toilet tools." I thanked him.
His recommendation made me think of a college classmate named Kenneth Langone. I didn't know him well, but we graduated from Bucknell at about the same time. He later played a major role in the founding of Home Depot. Good move. Ken and his wife, Elaine, have given millions of dollars to medical and educational institutions.
As I stood there with my plunger in hand, I asked myself, "Why did Langone end up as a billionaire philanthropist and I became an obscure part-time plumber?" A stoic-like voice within me replied, "Do not ask. It is fate. Love it. Amor fati, old man."
(At this point the curtain lowers for 24 hours to denote the passing of a day.)
It is now Tuesday, and I have good news. My plug-let (that's my wry nickname for my toilet) seems to be curing itself. With each flush, the water cascading downward from the tank hurls itself against the accursed blockage lodged in the waiting pipeline below. As I observe and measure the declining times and water lines between successive flushes, I feel like a father nursing a feverish child while hoping for any signs of improvement, and rejoicing as each one appears.
Am I over-dramatizing all of this? Absolutely. Would the Roman emperor and leading stoic Marcus Aurelius be embarrassed to hear my narrative? Of course. But then he never had to spend a fruitless hour or three jamming a plunger down an unresponsive latrina (Latin for "toilet.") He just summoned a slave and said "Fix it."
But then he probably added "Please." As a rule stoics are polite.