Hats : Humility

“Cover your head in order that the fear of heaven may be upon you.”

-the Talmud

Traditionally, yarmulke is considered to have originated from the Aramaic phrase “yarei mei-elokah” (in awe of the Lord),  the principle being that the yarmulke reflects one’s fear of God. Rabbi Huna the son of Rabbi Joshua never walked 4 cubits (2 meters) with his head uncovered, “because the Divine Shekhina is always over my head.”

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Miller’s Crossing, the third feature film from the Coen Bros, begins with an upward shot of the covering of trees and then a hat blown by wind. The film follows Tom Reagan, chief yegg of the gangster Leo O’Bannon, as he dangles between deceit and loyalty, love and self preservation. Throughout Tom seems chiefly concerned with his hat and keeping it on his head. He is most discomfited when it comes off.

Verna: What’re you chewin’ over?

Tom: Dream I had once. I was walkin’ in the woods, I don’t know why. Wind came up and blew me hat off.

Verna: And you chased it, right? You ran and ran, finally caught up to it and you picked it up. But it wasn’t a hat anymore and it changed into something else, something wonderful.

Tom: Nah, it stayed a hat and no, I didn’t chase it. Nothing more foolish than a man chasin’ his hat.

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Sometimes a Hat is Only a Hat

Flannery O’Connor : Week before last I went to Wesleyan and read “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”  After it I went to one of the classes where I was asked questions.  There were a couple of young teachers there and one of them, an earnest type, started asking the questions.  “Miss O’Connor,” he said, “why was the Misfit’s hat black?”  I said most countrymen in Georgia wore black hats.  He looked pretty disappointed.  Then he said, “Miss O’Connor, the Misfit represents Christ, does he not?”  “He does not,” I said.  He looked crushed.  “Well, Miss O’Connor,” he said, “what is the significance of the Misfit’s hat?”  I said it was to cover his head; and after that he left me alone.  Anyway, that’s what’s happening to the teaching of literature.

Johnny Caspar is sick of the high hat.

More than a little of the Coen Bros ethos could be found in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”.

As Sufjan Stevens puts it in his song based on Flannery’s story:

Hold to your gun, man
And put off all your peace
Put off all the beast

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Bernie Bernbaum begs Tom Reagan not to shoot him:

Tommy, you can’t do this! You don’t bump guys!
You’re not like those animals back there. It’s not right, Tom!
They can’t make us do this. It’s the wrong situation,
they can’t make us different people than we are.
We’re not muscle, Tom. I… I… I… never killed anybody.
I used a little information for a chisel, that’s all. It’s my nature, Tom!
I… I… I… can’t help it, somebody gives me an angle, I play it.
I don’t deserve to die for that. Do you think I do?
I’m… I’m… I’m just a grifter, Tom. I’m… I’m… I’m… I’m… I’m an nobody!
But I’ll tell you what, I never crossed a friend, Tom.
I never killed anybody, I never crossed a friend, nor you, I’ll bet.
We’re not like those animals! This is not us! Th… th… this is some hop dream!
It’s a dream, Tommy! I’m praying to you! I can’t die!
I can’t die… out here in the woods, like a dumb animal!
In the woods, LIKE A DUMB ANIMAL! Like a dumb animal! I can’t… I can’t…
I CAN’T DIE OUT HERE IN THE WOODS!… like a dumb animal. I can’t… die!
I’m praying to you! Look in your heart! I’m praying to you! Look in your heart!
I’m praying to you! Look in your heart! I’m praying to you! Look in your heart…
I’m praying to you! Look in your heart. I’m praying to you… look in your heart…
look in your heart! You can’t kill me… look in your heart.


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Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.

-Annie Dillard, An Expedition to the Pole

G.K. Chesterton on Chasing One’s Hat

“There is a current impression that it is unpleasant to have to run after one’s hat. Why should it be unpleasant to the well-ordered and pious mind? Not merely because it is running, and running exhausts one. The same people run much faster in games and sports. The same people run much more eagerly after an uninteresting; little leather ball than they will after a nice silk hat. There is an idea that it is humiliating to run after one’s hat; and when people say it is humiliating they mean that it is comic. It certainly is comic; but man is a very comic creature, and most of the things he does are comic – eating, for instance. And the most comic things of all are exactly the things that are most worth doing – such as making love. A man running after a hat is not half so ridiculous as a man running after a wife.”

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“She would of been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

“Some fun!” Bobby Lee said.

“Shut up, Bobby Lee,” The Misfit said. “It’s no real pleasure in life.”

Caelo tegitur qui non habet urnam.

[Who lacks an urn is covered by the sky.]

-Lucan, Pharsalia