Saturday, September 27, 2014

Without Me

Recently, for the first time in weeks, I (and my camera) re-entered the comforting indifference of the natural world. I found that summer had proceeded marvelously without me, and was gearing up for high post-harvest autumn, busily disseminating itself before the great, cold sleep of winter. It welcomed me (its semblable, soeur) as it usually does, indifferently: no smile, handshake, service leaflet, chipper good morning, invitation to membership, ministry, fellowship, committee.  

There is no question of membership: dead or alive, one belongs. There is no hierarchy -- no pope, no bishop, no priest, no laity, no faithful remnant, no apostates or heretics -- only carbon-based, interdependent life.

Dodder was doddering indifferently (and flagrantly)  across the field, barnyard grass was (beautifully) ignoring me --

What more could I want ?

From a distance there came the cries of children spilling from a school bus. A few crickets ticked and tocked in the tall weeds.

I find myself in a field beyond human projects. Ambition, competition, dreams, tasks, desires: I've left these behind. Let the schoolbusloads of youngsters take on the world -- fix it, decorate it, pity it, pray for it, snap reams of selfies in front of it -- whatever. It's their turn.

There will always be outsiders, loners -- mostly faceless, invisible -- for whom the available forms will never suffice. For every gladhanding there is an opposite and equal sadunhanding, but no one readily admits this. There are outskirts of temperament better ignored, or relegated to a DSM V category and jollied back into the herd with psycho- or pharmaco- therapies. The tradition of hermits and anchorites is rarely mentioned, except as an aberration or at least something deeply suspect.

Humans (the experts assert) are social animals. The single schoolroom desk of yore is supplanted by circles of chairs and long group tables; solitary dreaming by group projects. The eremitic cell gives way to the megachurch. The cathedral is gutted and the straight-on pews are replaced by concentric circles of chairs, just as the starkly geometric, fully inhabited cross with its lacerating edges is replaced by a cozy, luminous, empty nautilus shell.

So let's assume that The Tradition (in all its manifestations)  is a metaphoric ground on which one walks, or a language that one uses to discourse upon the unspeakable -- then, yes, sure, let's get on with it, there is merit in submitting to centuries of thought and experience. I'm not that smart. I don't re-invent the car every time I drive to work. The world is not simply weeds and sunlight, trees and rain: there is (as the not-nautilus starkly proclaims) suffering, affliction, cruelty, greed, confusion, anguish, violence.

There is suffering, and there is release from suffering, variously defined as non-grasping, non-retaliation, humility, generosity, letting-be, letting-go, forgiveness, egolessness even (trigger warning) love.

Lament: the hypertrophy of the horizontal, the homunculus. The Trinity flies apart at the slightest touch and Boyfriend Jesus is left strutting about, triumphant, in the ruins. God by coup d'etat. Metaphor become zombie flesh.

Time spent on the threshold of the house of God is, overall, well-spent. The dual perspective -- that which is in, that which is out -- is instructive because, after all, there is no real in or out. Silence and speech, the simple and the elaborate, all fingers pointing at the same moon, sun, void.

Early fall reaching back into summer: sunlight, heat, meteorologists crowing about perfect weather. Some of us ease ourself into sleep with dreams of a forest hermitage, approached though night and snow, to the accompaniment of the last of Samuel Barber's exquisite Hermit Songs --

10. The desire for hermitage

Ah! To be all alone in a little cell 
with nobody near me; 
beloved that pilgrimage before the last pilgrimage to death.
Singing the passing hours to cloudy Heaven;
Feeding upon dry bread and water from the cold spring.  
That will be an end to evil when I am alone 
in a lovely little corner among tombs 
far from the houses of the great.
Ah! To be all alone in a little cell, to be alone, all alone:
Alone I came into the world 
alone I shall go from it.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Rapid Transit

Yesterday, one month downstream from cheerful madman #1 removing and replacing a chunk of my skull in service of hoovering up a messy subdural coagulum that had sneakily collected after my Green Street nose dive, I ventured out for my first solo neighborhood walk.  I have been, I realized, slowly metamorphosing into something like a stone -- immobile, insentient, unwilling -- and it seemed like time to begin to try to reverse the process.

A few houses south, I passed the rotting-at-the-core hollow stump of a formerly glorious tree that had long presided over our declassé street. It was shin high, and a bent traffic cone was jammed into its center. Compared to its Methuselan lifespan, the tree had not suffered a long illness. Over the past 2-3 years the leaves had dwindled, some outer branches had been amputated and, last week, an arborist was grimly reaping the rest.  I wish I had taken a less lurid photo of the tree, and one in which it was in full leaf, but this gives an idea of its comely shape and massive dignity -- may it rest in peace.

A good bonk on the head does turn one's thoughts to one's own eventual personal reaping and peaceful rest and, at the same time, jams the binocular retrospectoscope into one's eye sockets. The battered brain is repository/generator of memory, regret, fear, the constructed self-and-world. So what is this being-thrown-into-consciousness ? Original sin ? Original blessing ? I confess that the second notion makes me squeamish. It's too cute of a turn of phrase. More aptly, every newborn pops into its absurd and contingent existence with its rat brain primed, anger and desire ready to churn into overdrive at the least provocation.  Nonetheless the situation does call for some mercy: the old that there is something rather than nothing and its partner in crime the that I am (and someday will no longer be)  will eventually strike our newborn sentient with the appropriate horror. And then what, poor thing ?

What indeed.