Saturday, September 29, 2012

Ecclesiastical Epiphany

"Waiting is like silent action," I overheard today. Indeed. There is a time for everything. A concomitance of hope, intention, awareness, action, luck, and timing can bring marvelous things to fruition. One of my favorite characters in stage theatre was recently effectively played by Frank McCloud, in Titanic. He rushes onstage as the Titanic is leaving, shouting 'wait, wait, I have a ticket!' and then is embittered by his dastardly luck. Oh what chances we mortals take. And when the consequence befalls us we do not necessarily see it as positive at all, unless a consequence be immediately 'good.'

Positive Disintegration would appear to be an oxymoron. Yet for us to move from one state to another, from one set of paradigmatic proclivities to another, we need to be able to let go of our stance, to climb over the fence, to break beyond the arrest of our proverbial box; in fact, to disintegrate. At issue is whether it be positive or not. After all, many a person on the Titanic had possibly taken the trip of a lifetime, away from the usual, and such a dreadful end would hardly seem to have been worth it. It is not a shift in the physical, geographical, the material, nor our ability to move across continents of which I speak when deploying 'positive disintegration', but states of mind. Nay, even more, states of spirit. For disintegration to be positive it has, paradoxically, to become yet more integrative. To accept. To include. To let go of the rigid and the curtailed, the arrogance of judgement and disavowal, and to become yet more and more inclusive is not easy. After all, one may hear, "I hate black nails. Well, nail polish that is. But I don't hate the person wearing it. I just have a hard time with... Well, know what I mean?"

Positive Disintegration allows for a greater apprehension of the whole, an increasing sense of flow within the dictates of structure, stricture, and society, and an inclusion of the fact that everything is as it is, with some evidence of evolution. Good friends of mine are given to disenfranchising evolution. They see no significant growth in our societal structures, at least not en masse. Our general climb from savanna like survivalism through familial bonds, warlord-ships, religiosities, commercialism, egalitarianism and into the realms of complete integration does not inspire their hope. They are convinced that we are doomed. We kill off the planet too quickly for significant change. We breed too quickly for our own sustenance. We are cancer cells, and our sole purpose is to serve our own soul. If we have such a thing. Some of my friends are determined we do not. The soul is just a concept. There is nothing for them but the now. Existentially.

Their 'now' appears not quite The Whole Now. The distinction is like contemplating a forbidden fruit fly, unexpected in the room. As in John Donne's flea, the pesky mote is there because of related incidents; the wine; the banana. Not just by itself. Wine is there because. Fruit is there because. Where ends the connection? And just as every Now is connected to Time, so are all creatures great and small connected, despite clear distinctions of cellular and molecular physicality giving each a form out of the void. Spirit too. Energy! Moments of existence come because.... Alpha and Omega are concepts. Names. Metaphysical conceits (those ideas made grander than reality) arise because.... Words are concepts. Concepts are cultural, linguistic; become established. Life! Death. And disintegrating concepts while allowing for all life simultaneously just to exist is the great paradox of being in The Now. Can we spill over into more? As for the fly? Kill the dastardly mite? Or might we simply wait, since waiting, indeed, is like silent action?


by John Donne

MARK but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is ;
It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know'st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead ;
    Yet this enjoys before it woo,
    And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two ;
    And this, alas ! is more than we would do.

O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.
Though parents grudge, and you, we're met,
And cloister'd in these living walls of jet.
    Though use make you apt to kill me,
    Let not to that self-murder added be,
    And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it suck'd from thee?
Yet thou triumph'st, and say'st that thou
Find'st not thyself nor me the weaker now.
'Tis true ; then learn how false fears be ;
Just so much honour, when thou yield'st to me,
Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee.

Donne, John. Poems of John Donne. vol I.
E. K. Chambers, ed.
London: Lawrence & Bullen, 1896. 1-2.
Georges de la Tour.  Woman Catching Fleas. c.1630.
Woman Catching Fleas. c.1630.
Georges de la Tour.
Musée Historique, Nancy

Ecclesiastes 3

New International Version (NIV)

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Early Eulogy

"If people are going to say nice things about me I want to hear it. So I had a living funeral," Morrie Schwartz told Mitch Albom on a Tuesday. So now it suddenly strikes me, which day would be more right than another to tell someone what you think of them? Do we need wait until they're dead? And of all people I know the one I speak most often with about being ready for The End, of an appreciation for The Now, of enjoying the now, yet still being ready to let go, now, is my old friend, The Man.

The Man is twelve years my senior. He has never failed to impress me, to inspire me, to encourage me, to support me. Yes, there are times when he might have interfered and saved me from myself, but in his wisdom he knew I had to run some of my course alone, especially the forks in the road I chose in his absence, without his consultation. And in these years of our friendship, over 30 years now, we have coursed the globe, divined the heavens, plumbed the fathoms, and chewed the fat. Shooting the breeze never came lightly; we were instinctually too analytical merely to be mouthing words.

The Man is a consummate listener. He will recall the details, forgive the elisions, hear what you mean instead of what you say, and ask for more at all the right moments. No sense of judgment attends his listening, no sense of curtailment, but he will redirect you if the thread of sentences merits it, if the meaning needs more matter. Even in his narrative will he seek to include you, as in "as you know", or if applicable, "you of course have been there, seen it, mentioned it before," etc. This is a man who is instinctually empathetic. Friends flock to him. People phone him. People write. He has a cadre of companions as diverse as bumps on a log, each full of warts and foibles and interests and complexities, but each with a life that The Man is prepared to examine; his interest in others is a paramount modus operandi for him. People like to tell him their stories.

The raven speaks. But it really was a crow. As I began typing this essay I was in the passenger seat of my car in the parking lot in front of Pier One, my wife on a search for stuff to help us nest. The size of the crow heading straight at my face first got my notice, but it landed on the slope of the hood and began scrabbling toward me. Twice. The first awkward flutter and slip did not deter it, and the entirely black creature, all sharp beaked and rake clawed took off with a flap but landed again, and unerringly made straight toward me. Beady eyed. Something stuck on the wiper blade? But then it suddenly lifted off in a black flap and skrawked away. What do you make of that? What omen could it be? Nevermore, quoth the raven. Say? At which point will my friend be nevermore?

Thing is, the measure of a man is in the moment. Now. I can relate The Man's history, tell you exactly who he is, but the point of this missive is to reach out to him, and to you, with the immediacy of the moment. When I hear The Man's voice on the phone, or in person, or even when I receive some email from him, I know a sense of love. "What's your sense of it? Of things? Of him? Of her? What's your sense?" is my friend's favorite question. And in the moment of my seeing the crow, big, black, menacing, surprising, doing what it does without meaning anything personally toward me at all, I am struck by the fact that as much as anything or anyone ever effects us, it is our own apprehension of the moment by moment, like mine of The Man, that counts. We react, or we respond. The Man always chooses the latter. His life will resonate with me, as long as I'm alive. Mayhap, so will that crow!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Old Familiars

We are two old warriors sitting on a bench. Our long lives have been rich, multifaceted. Now, people pass us by with nary a glance. We may choke and nobody may be there to rescue us. We may expire and there might be no record of our having been. How very many other unknown souls have also come into and gone from this world, their loves unheralded, their very existence unfelt? History is full of such as these. A small group of nomads, a little village of survivors, a lone huntsman. With no writings to mark his passage; no photos that tell a story in her recollection; no great great grandchildren who have a true sense of their precise heritage, how shall the lives of any one Other signify but in the very moment by moment of their having actually been? Who was my great grandfather, really? And before him? But sitting on that bench my friend and I know we have no such obscurity; a host of others have buoyed us along our way and our present isolation is but circumstantial. At our passing the eulogies will be there to sing our praises. It is the persons whose deeds go unheralded, whose life appears in relative indefinableness that intrigues; that such an one be self-actualized, have a sense of worthiness, be content. We are not the sum total of what we've done but of who we are. Right now.

Another old friend from long ago recently contacted me. Almost forty years have passed. Who am I to him now, or he to me but the young men we once were? He has a health service award named after him. His daughter is a lawyer. His son is a doctor. He has lived in the same house since about 1978, or was it 79? And he appears to remain the same, though there is a tone of seriousness in his writing (as is in mine) that might have been more jovial when we were younger. His questions essentially ask, who are you now? What is your passion?

I write to him with words. But my concern is for a catachresis. Misunderstood words might invade the meanings between us and we may go chasing red herrings of assumption. I am not really what I do. Less what I've done. This body is not really me. I am not really attached to my stuff. I cannot continue to claim accolades for the past, though I slew a dragon, climbed a mountain, bellowed into the mouth of the volcano. Hyperbole and metaphor enliven. Truth is so very revealing, but can be bland. Does it matter that I once flew to Montreal? My friend's theological interests might dovetail with yet another old friend I met there. No, we do not go fishing fruitlessly, we rather are distracted by the other's conventions, literary, religious, paradigmatic, or perhaps we just go fancifully by some trail of our own. Thing is, when I look into his eyes and hear his voice it is his spirit that will re-engage me in the moment, and we shall resume that kismet sense of accord that enlivens friendship, or not. What matter that he swam the River Jordan, or fought in the battle of Jericho? But should that chemistry no longer be there we might uncertainly shake hands, and know that a reason, a season, a lifetime is all part of the passage of time. We wend our way to finally shutting our eyes, to letting go.

My new den is taking shape. I unpack boxes and boxes of books. They each are symbols of my interest. Like old friends they each contain my energy in procuring them, leafing through them, somewhat understanding them, and each are worthy of revisiting. It is my trophies and awards that remain unpacked. That was then. This is now. Who shall care for what I did any more than what I do? Right here and now. In this moment.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Trouble in Paradise

Themes of conflict abound. Literally. What story does not affect us? No matter where we go Man is against nature, society, one other, the supernatural, mechanization, or himself. Caught in the chaotic coincidences that imbue our lot, how do we learn just to flow with our fate? Embroiled, surrounded, affected by, and up against odds, old habits persist, or perhaps not. Perhaps we are afloat on the seas of troubles, adrift, or are we buoyed? Perhaps we are on course, wind at our sails, or are we beleaguered? Whichever way we choose to look at it, here in the troubles of paradise, heaven is a choice of attitude.

The weather has been wonderful. For almost two years we've been on the move. Four houses. Packing. Loading. Driving across two provinces, last with a 17 foot U-Haul driven by 28 year old stepson Keith, and my loaded 4x4. West, man. West! Driving both ways. 15 hour drives. A one and a half hour ferry, both ways. There to Here; back There to Here. Five times. We had no trouble with weather. Despite one trip with others in ditches, friend Ken driving. But the big move of the last two months? Weather has been wonderful. Just a sacrifice of long lost mornings or glorious afternoons of extended walks in the sunshine. We had work to do! We have work to do. We are inside stores or in the car or in the apartment always doing something, instead of our being outside in the sun. Or at least, for me, set in some shade by a beach-nut tree. By evening we are just too tired to move. Oh woe!

Society has been great. Kismet occurrences of friends turning up at just the right time to help pack, unpack, load or unload have been miraculous. Friends relaying our moving news to find us great renters, bringing us goodies, carrying our stuff, carting away our unwanted, and ensuring our comfort has all been such a rewarding experience. And the caretakers in both buildings and the new tenants and the new neighbors have all been so very pleasant. But what about my lack of communication? What about the friends I've deserted or am losing touch with? How do I possibly sustain the momentum of contact?

Then there is still An Other, close or away, whose long-ago furious face or hurt in voice comes haunting to pull the rug out from under one's feet. A pity. It'd be nice to see them, to ask for forgiveness. Being here in Paradise neither absolves one of the past nor let's one entirely forget little stupidities. And the guilt, shame, regret, perpetuates. Forgiven?

Ghosts in bad dreams still wakes one from sleep too, though below the window the surf soughs gently and the moon can glisten on the sea. To sleep, perchance to dream, but the boogieman lurks in the corridors of the mind. Even in paradise dreams are not free.

Problems with internet and wifi and computer and telephones and clock batteries and the cable company and car service and finding chargers for the electronic equipment and the renovation hassles and too much stuff and the new furniture not fitting an elevator do discombobulate.

But worst of all is the self. Moodiness in paradise happens. Disgruntled moments. Fear lurks. Impatience arises. Pettiness and selfishness and petulance persists. One is not perfect. It would be great to think that location-specificity can produce a platform from which there be no more sea of troubles, no more gauntlet, no more pain, but... Being human in Paradise persists. The halo is tarnished; pleasure is fleeting. Like driving, one must concentrate on the now by now; just enjoy the process too. Relax! Enjoy the view!

Monday, September 17, 2012

iAfrika! explained


A stowaway at 26, about to escape his extraordinary past, about to sacrifice the love of his life, Adam resorts to writing his confession, iAfrika! His admission fulfills a boyhood promise made at the murder of wise old M’dhalha, his Matabele mentor. It gives indelible significance to a turbulent childhood on a North Rhodesian wild game farm in the 50’s. Even as a boy, Adam had to kill a man. Sent to Pretoria at Zambia’s independence, 1964, Adam strikes up an illegal interracial relationship with Muhle, the maid next door. Did she ever get free? At boarding school in Kimberley the gauntlet of tests continues. Conscripted to the army in the 70’s and defending the border Adam meets with his lifelong nemesis, Aikimbo. Was that fate? As a railway stoker in Zululand’s Valley of A Thousand Hills he finds no alternative but to seek escape. Hidden aboard a Union Castle ship, trying to write as so long ago promised, iAfrika! is Adam’s atonement to the many remarkable characters that define his passage. Might it be his exoneration too? But first he has to countenance the rest of old M’dhalha’s prophecy: iAfrika!


iAfrika!: 113,303 words. Literary/Mainstream. By R. Francis Michelle-Pentelbury       

Adam, at four years old, waits alone at the Ndola station. Very late, his new guardians, Kassie and Sarel, eventually fetch him. Kassie sets the tone for the next seven years: “I’m your mother’s sister, see? But since she’s now dead, when was it, last year? No, the year before that, 1954. ’53?  Anyways, since our mother, your Ouma down in South Africa says you’re too big for your boots, you’re here in Northern Rhodesia to stay. We gots a wild game farm, wild animals, so you gets to work. No reading things too big for you! Understand? And you call us Mammie and Pappie. Ja? ” He nods. Intuitively, he does not let his new guardians see his children’s encyclopedia.

Adam befriends M’dhalha, an old Matabele warrior. M’dhalha tells Adam he is destined to be the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. He is to be the Bietjani Zimba, the Little Lion who eventually is to “Write everything important, everything you remember … about everything with a connection.” The wisdom of M’dhalha’s benevolent influence pervades. But it is Adam’s kindly Aunt Valerie, Kassie’s friend, who brings books “for you to learn from.”

During the chaotic time of Zambia’s struggle for independence Adam looks for significance in extraordinary encounters with snakes, baboons, a crocodile, a leopard, and having to shoot his pet donkey. Trying “to understand others” sustains him through the cruel beatings dealt him by his aunt and uncle. In Adam’s tenth year Aikimbo, a teenaged black boy arrives from the Congo. Adam’s own stupidity gets Aikimbo’s father killed by a trapped leopard. Aikimbo vows revenge. When Adam’s beloved Aunt Valarie is murdered by Aikimbo, who also stole M’dhalha’s knife, Adam feels himself to be the cause.

When Adam’s ‘real father’ after a six year absence arrives for Adam’s tenth birthday with the gift of a bicycle the reflectors in its pedals seem to be the realization of M’dhalha’s old prophecy about the “stars at the cub’s toes.” M’dhalha, fearful, is convinced they presage his own death.
Adam’s new-found father is given conditional permission to take Adam on a monthly Sunday-visit to his England-born grandparents, living in nearby Luansha. Disobeying his grandfather and almost getting killed by an incarcerated rabies-infected servant, Adam, rather than a beating, receives the unusual experience of unconditional love, acceptance, and hope. His father plans to take Adam to England for a year, but Adam is given to understand that they cannot reclaim him from his Afrikaner family. And, he is told, he must return to Africa.

In his “eleventh year” Adam is allowed to go with his father to England. Physically mature for his age, Adam is seduced by a teenager on the ship and in a decision that has far-reaching consequences vows never to have children. In Babbacombe Bay, while on a rowing skiff, they encounter a Baskin shark and his alcoholic father’s cowardice sets up an irreparable relationship. Yet later, in Scotland, Adam tearfully entreats his dad that they ‘hide’ in Britain.

Ineluctably returned to the clutches of his relatives and into the blistering birth of Zambia’s independence, Adam meets unexpectedly with Aikimbo, his childhood enemy. He is challenged to return with M’dhalha to retrieve his stolen bicycle and to reclaim M’dhalha’s old knife. Adam becomes an inadvertent accomplice during the fateful spearing of M’dhalha. He gets the knife back as well as his old bicycle, but searching with spear in hand, Adam does not find Aikimbo.
The night of the plunder and pillage of Adam’s childhood home on the threshold of Zambia’s independence and the murder of his guardian parents leads to a terrifying struggle in the dark and Adam kills one of Aikimbo’s gang. He manages to hide, and crazily waits to see if he can retrieve his treasured old encyclopedia from its hiding place in the house. In finding it Adam narrowly misses getting killed as Aikimbo’s bullet grazes his forehead, and Adam eventually escapes by frantically bicycling all day, the reflector-pedals blazing at his feet, his book and his knife in hand, towards the safety of his grandparents’ homestead. Within weeks, however, he is again legally claimed by his Afrikaner grandparents and sent to live down in South Africa.

On the train down to Pretoria Adam meets the Rev. Martin Moore who ignominiously has been sent by the church back to England. The contact is years later to prove most beneficial to Adam.

Living in Danville once again with his deceased mother’s impoverished, crowded, and dysfunctional family, Adam is subject to ongoing abuse. As Afrikaners they hold it against him that his English father had impregnated his mother, and thereby brought about her social, moral, and physical demise. On a horrific afternoon Adam has little choice but to countenance his pedophiliac uncle, victim of polio. Yet as a consequence of the confrontation there is an auto accident that eventually results in Adam becoming his uncle’s nurse. Adam’s Ouma also has a vision that he will be a great leader in their church. For a while he converts and immerses himself within the compass of the congregation, but soon gives in to his dangerously secret and forbidden inter-racial interest in Muhle, next door’s pretty black maid. The horrendous culmination of their liaison is the climactic day when, after being savagely whipped by his family on the backyard washing-line pole in the name of redemption, he manages to escape while they’re at church, thanks to Muhle using his old knife to cut him down. Once again, his bike beneath him, his knife and his encyclopedia in hand, Adam sets off into the unknown.

Thanks to the intercession of an insightful schoolmaster Adam is sent to boarding school in Kimberley, where the cycle of extraordinary events continues to clamor. A bully steals Adam’s bike and is killed by a car, the bike undamaged. In fury, in attempting to rid himself of the one thing that seems to symbolize the old prophecy’s hold on him, Adam hurls the bicycle with its ‘stars at his toes’ into the vast open mine crater of Kimberley’s Great Hole. Harrowingly, he almost plunges in with it. Saving himself, he realizes a turning point in his apprehensions and soon confronts the Headmaster about the value of competition and of financial independence.

Following graduation the old prophecies continue to haunt him. He is conscripted into the army and becomes a sniper on the Rhodesian border. While on reprieves he meets the love of his life, Felicity, but she wants children, and Adam lets her know he’d vowed never to sire any. The army sends yet another Call Up and while serving on the border Adam has a final confrontation with his old enemy, Aikimbo. The poetic incident serves to convince that he no longer can support Apartheid or S. Africa’s expectations of him. He decides to stowaway on a ship, but in doing so he must choose to escape an old life by sacrificing his new love. Or must he? At last on the ship, as prophesied, he tries to fulfill the mandate of his childhood promise: “Write, write about it all.”

The result is Adam’s first person present tense narrative, iAfrika!

[If you know who published this photo kindly let me know!]