The casting away of things is symbolic, you know. Talismanic. When you cast away things, you're also casting away the self-related others that are symbolically related to those things. You start a cleaning-out process. You begin to empty the vessel."
Larry shook his head slowly. "I don't follow that."
"Well, take an intelligent pre-plague man. Break his TV, and what does he do at night?"
"Reads a book," Ralph said.
"Goes to see his friends," Stu said.
"Plays the stereo," Larry said, grinning.
"Sure, all those things," Glen said. "But he's also missing that TV. There's a hole in his life where that TV used to be. In the back of his mind he's still thinking, At nine o'clock I'm going to pull a few beers and watch the Sox on the tube. And when he goes in there and sees that empty cabinet, he feels as disappointed as hell. A part of his accustomed life has been poured out, is it not so?"
"Yeah," Ralph said. "Our TV went on the fritz once for two weeks and I didn't feel right until it was back."
"It makes a bigger hole in his life if he watched a lot of TV, a smaller hole if he only used it a little bit. But something is gone. Now take away all his books, all his friends, and his stereo. Also remove all sustenance except what he can glean along the way. It's an emptying-out process and also a diminishing of the ego. Your selves, gentlemen--they are turning into a window-glass. Or better yet, empty tumblers."
"But what's the point?" Ralph asked. "Why go through all the rigmarole?"
Glen said, "If you read your Bible, you'll see that it was pretty traditional for these prophets to go out into the wilderness from time to time--Old Testament Magical Mystery Tours. The timespan given for these jaunts was usually forty days and forty nights, a Hebraic idiom that really means 'no one knows exactly how long he was gone, but it was quite a while.' Does that remind you of anyone?"
"Sure. Mother," Ralph said.
"Now think of yourself as a battery. You really are, you know. Your brain runs on chemically converted electrical current. For that matter, your muscles run on tiny charges, too--a chemical called acetylcholine allows the charge to pass when you need to move, and when you want to stop, another chemical, cholinesterase, is manufactured. Cholinesterase destroys acetylcholine, so your nerves become poor conductors again. Good thing, too. Otherwise, once you started scratching your nose, you'd never be able to stop. Okay, the point is this: Everything you think, everything you do, it all has to run off the battery. Like the accessories in a car."
They were all listening closely.
"Watching TV, reading books, talking with friends, eating a big dinner ... all of it runs off the battery. A normal life--at least in what used to be Western civilization--was like running a car with power windows, power brakes, power seats, all the goodies. But the more goodies you have, the less the battery can charge. True?"
"Yeah," Ralph said. "Even a big Delco won't ever overcharge when it's sitting in a Cadillac."
"Well, what we've done is to strip off the accessories. We're on charge."
Ralph said uneasily: "If you put a car battery on charge for too long, she'll explode."
"Yes," Glen agreed. "Same with people. The Bible tells us about Isaiah and Job and the others, but it doesn't say how many prophets came back from the wilderness with visions that had crisped their brains. I imagine there were some. But I have a healthy respect for human intelligence and the human psyche, in spite of an occasional throwback like East Texas here--"
"Off my case, baldy," Stu growled.
"Anyhow, the capacity of the human mind is a lot bigger than the biggest Delco battery. I think it can take a charge almost to infinity. In certain cases, perhaps beyond infinity."
They walked in silence for a while, thinking this over.
"Are we changing?" Stu asked quietly.
"Yes," Glen answered. "Yes, I think we are.