“The glacier knocks in the cupboard
The desert sighs in the bed
And the crack in the teacup opens
a lane to the land of the dead.”
~~ W.H. Auden
I have grown weary of “I.”
It is so tiresome, to be thinking always of oneself, to write always of oneself. Writing about the intricacies of a daily life, one’s own daily life and history, has value only in that others might see a breathing thread of union, or a mirror of their own joys, passings, miseries.
Eventually language ceases. Where, then, goes the binding thread?
The ceasing is a death. Isn’t it? Or is the ceasing a pause in the recitative, a momentary relief from the constant chorus?
Writing in this little world, my world, is constant, almost compulsive. On my last trip to Florence and Paris I filled a journal of several hundred pages with notes, essays, observations. And, of course, complaint. Perhaps it is the compulsive nature of my need, our need, to communicate, to keep record, that has finally exhausted and humbled me.
I have arrived, I believe, at the limits of language. Or to my admittedly limited creative capacity to use it.
The second to last day I was in Paris, the air itself was alive with trembling vivid color: green of Cezanne, domed sky of an aged Rubens – blue both soft and electric – limestone glowing a secret inner sun. Wandering from the shadows of the old Jewish quarter in the 3rd into the stunned openness of the Tuileries, the sheer odd fact of my own presence, of this finite body taking part in the communion of the reborn Earth, buds of spring, lovers intertwined like vines, came upon me with a force of brutal primordial Joy.
These are moments given not earned; they come suddenly and are gone. They carry with them all the baroque wisdom of ancient gods, and like gods they disappear as quickly as they unexpectedly arrive.
I once knew a man who understood gods, who like them spoke the language of grandeur and fearless exploration. He did not observe art, or books, or philosophy; he entered them, encased himself in a life of inquiry, appreciation, and Love for the finest monuments of human creation.
Had he been with me during that perfect moment in Paris, I think I might have clutched his hand. I think I might have said, “The Light.” That’s all. Almost too much. Because he would have been lost in the same wonder.
This is companionship. Brotherhood. Sisterhood. This is Indra’s Net: Union through Communion. Oh, how he knew. He just… knew.
Until he didn’t. At some point the knowing turned to arrogance, the arrogance turned to isolation, the isolation turned to rage, the rage turned on itself, an inferno inverted.
A few months ago he killed himself.
And now his absence is an even bigger presence than ever his life was, and perhaps this was part of his intention in taking his life with such settled annihilation. Self. Murder. He took the perpetrator with him, but we will always ask, “Are we not also perpetrators? At what point does the crime committed become collective? Is there a beginning?” We know, of course, there is no end.
Sometimes the richness of existence is too much. However complex the analysis of existence, or however simple a life seems through the lens of meditative awareness: it is too much, and the only sensation one knows is pain.
Through luck, love, work, a trick of the brain, that pain can be treated with time, a pause in the flowing phrases of one’s life. In the pause lies both relief and danger: linger too long and agony appears permanent, and those Parisian days drift further away, someone else’s movie.
On that sublime afternoon my thoughts stayed a long time with this death. I traced as well as I knew how the mystery of this man’s mind as it turned slowly against itself, the months and years it took to turn his back to the light right in front of him. I wanted him with me, I could feel his rough hand, fingers thick and strong.
“Look,” I wanted to say. “Come back. Come back. And just look.”
~~ For my Father