Thursday, December 24, 2015

Gift Givings

“I put some tunes on here for you,” he said, casually handing over the equivalent of a silver USB thumb drive, shorter than my pinky-finger, thinner than a pencil. “You listen to it through these mini-earphones.” So, although I was not used to earphones nor accustomed to playing music for myself anywhere other than in my home, I sometimes listened to it. And yes, I was grateful. After all, it came from him. And he’s very special to me. And the thing itself is lovely with its apple logo embedded in it. But I did not know the names of the musicians, did not recognize the songs, and could not ever access the stick to get a list or see the record album covers. So…

Nearly four years later another friend, conversant with the Apple brand products, at last took those tunes off that stick and integrated them on iTunes with my Personal Computer. Oh my! The album covers! The images. The names of the singers! The lists of songs. Apart from the raunchy Koos Kombuis, I knew none. And now, especially with the artwork of the album covers to guide me, I have a real treasure indeed. Now, what I'm about to type may not resonate with you at all, unless you've heard or know of or even like these artists: Animals. Jimmy Barnes. Ian Moss. Cold Chisel. Mango Groove. Koos Kombuis. Devo. Die Grafsteensangers. Zz Top. Angels. First Aid Kit. Hunters and Collectors. The Black Sorrows. Hocus Pocus. AC/DC. Australian Crawl. Page and Plant, and FOCUS.

Thing is, the treasure for the receiver is in the appreciation. The treasure is in the growth one may have by listening to phrases and learning snippets of songs, the ongoing guessing of fragments left by poets and troubadours, the inherited wisdom laid down in grooves and in tapes and in digitized bites of sense and sound. And my old friend has never received a word of just how much I value that collection, until now. He gave it to me. And he got little back. Surely though, I said, “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” was all that I recall receiving when I once gave a teenager her 16th birthday car. I'd put a new windscreen in the vehicle, and ensured that the four year old silver Toyota was gleaming and new-ish and that there was even a bow attached atop it. “Thanks,” she said. It taught me the lesson of gift-giving. We give a gift to the other for them to do whatever they want with it. It is theirs to re-gift. It is theirs. And if one has an ulterior motive for giving (such as I did at that time, since the car would free the teenager’s mother to spend more time with me) then be certain that you wanted to give the gift in the first place. “Thank you,” is all that one might expect.

That exact phrase was delivered most succinctly by another very good old friend, my age, at a magnificent dinner prepared for a group of us. We sat around the spread and each was invited to say something to our hosts, and while some of us gave a sentence or two (or more) in response (what, me?) this friend looked directly at them, raised his glass, and said, “Thank you”. Heartfelt, sincere, authentic, it was all that was necessary. And yes, it would have sufficed even without the rest of our jabbering.

We give gifts out of our wish to give pleasure to the other.

Still, I hope my friend who gave me the silver-stick might get to read this, and thereby see how very much I do appreciate those tunes, now, especially that I know something about all those new artists. (Ian Moss and his Six Strings album! Wow.) So very much to appreciate. Thanks!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Selfish Semantics and Daring Deeds

December 16th, 2015

“Why waste your time with these people?” my friend asked. Though nearly ten years ago, I can still hear his frustration. ‘These people’ was an alcoholic who wanted something from us, who was putting us to a considerable amount of trouble. In the vein of ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’, I said, “I'm hoping somehow, somewhere, a seed is sown toward more enlightenment.” But it did not satisfy. Alcoholics take more than they give. One can but humour, or visit, or spend time remonstrating and pleading and hoping and even praying. Mostly, in my experience (and evidently in my friend’s too,) to no lasting avail.

I sit in the dark of my car and type this. I'm deeply affected by the moment. I recall as a child the fears of fragmentations of the senses. Drunk adults could never be trusted. Their promises were broke. Their tears were crocodilian. In the morning, or later that day, or at least all too soon, they'd eschew their vows and along with it my hopes. The obligations to stay beside them, to attend them, to nurse them, or even to humour them grew in me like so many prison sentences. Disgusted, I wanted so much to be out and free and beyond their reach. For always.

I sit in the dark of my car on the street outside a house and type this. Inside the house some poor sick soul is hurting and succumbing; and with his own inability to surpass the disease, he takes up an other’s time. I understand it to be more than psychological. I understand it to be more than physiological. I understand it to be a congenital condition handed down by the proverbial sins of our forefathers. And I understand addiction. We each have our own little demons to bear. Mine is to be productive; it seems harmless enough. But it swallows up time from others who would have more of me. So, in the darkness of your own being, what's yours?

I sit in the dark in my car on a cold December night outside a person’s house; I am not the one prepared to go in there and talk to the drunkard. Words do not register. And the ill-one cannot but help to tell a story, over and over. No, from my car I can see into the living-room window where that demised head bobs while in consort with his interlocutor. And should there develop a problem, why, I'll move from my car, and male-like, go to the rescue. There’s enough fire in my bones to do that. Yet I feel guiltily impatient with the afflicted. They've a wound that won't heal because they won't, cannot, and don't let heal. Worse, they draw on the attention of others to have themselves attended. Then, alone, they rip off the bandage! Booze does that.

Others are very much better at this than I: Doctors; Nurses; Psychologists. I confess to an ugly impatience. Say it, do it, and move on. Even if it's your dad or your mom or your wife or your husband or your uncle or your friend. “Why waste your time with these people?” It resonates.

I am a lot like my friend. Not like the one in the house helping the drunkard. Certainly not like the drunkard himself. No, I'm like the one who challenged me, “Why waste your time?” (After a hand-up, help yourself!) But alcoholics, once given a shoulder, keep up a never-ending need out of the very despair of their own illness. How sad. How suffocating. Surely it's different if one’s loved one is stricken with a physiological disease. They need nursing. But drugs? Alcohol? Surely after attending the most expensive programs the result is the same: “Look after yourself!”

I sit outside a house in the dark in my lamp-lit car, and type. Ineffectually? What would you do? 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Good Grief (In honour of little Erin Moore)

A mountainside grievously rumbled, and killed a little girl. Young Erin Moore’s death since then has made yet more noise. It is a noise in our hearts. It is a noise in our minds. It is the noise of grief and disbelief and the ache of missing her and the sense of being astounded. And that this gifted and beautiful seven-year old, just before last Christmas, 2014, should so be taken is cause for the ongoing debate about the meaning of life, the will of God, the forces of nature, and the victims of circumstance, coincidence, and accident. We ache. How then, can grief be good?

“O welche Lust,” the prisoners sing, in German. (It is a sound in opera to evoke tears.) Fidelio, the disguised young girl, searches among them as they for the first time in years tentatively emerge from the dark, aching with sound, “Oh wondrous joy, oh what a joy!” It is a song that shivers the spine. To free the aggrieved out of darkness into the paths of enlightenment is tantamount to Plato’s famous analogy of the cave; we are but beings watching shadows on the inner wall, giving their artificial dance meanings, giving their play a power to suspend our disbelief. Until dumbfounded by the ploys we are not prepared to turn away. We fear the light. Yet being free, we are yet more appreciative for having had the contrast. However, in another opera, Puccini’s La Boheme, the protagonist, Mimi, comes onto the stage coughing, and she is doomed right from the beginning. Neither love nor hope nor even medicine can cure her. Without the music, how is watching such a sure demise ‘good grief’?

Our senses can soothe. If like me, you may grieve in very many stages, over very many years, decades even. No, it is not for lack of having had a ‘good grieve’ at the time of loss that I am so stricken. It is out of experiencing a never-ending love. Taking the loved-one from me does not take my love away; rather, I still feel in little smiles and heart-tugs and teardrops. Forty years or more separates me from some I have loved, and still I feel sad and sore, sometimes. None of it is debilitating. Rather, I choose to see it as loving, which to me does not end. Sometimes grief sneaks up on me by dint of a smell, or a sight, or a phrase, or a piece of music. And it is not just for the dead that I am in grief, but for those I love and do miss too. Surely this is a ‘good grief.’

Life is not fair. There is no equilibrium. Opportunity is different for most of us. Chance and accident and coincidence are not necessarily colluding; rather, they collide with us in the many pathways of their own momentum. We do not necessarily deserve their consequences. It is not our fault that we were in that plane, in that building, in that car, or on that mountain when other energies moved to hit, hurt, beat, and destroy us. Stuff happens. Illness and disease are not necessarily karmic, surely?  And in the wake of it we grieve the loss and the hurt and the betrayal. We grieve the love we cannot express to the one we've lost. And in that sense, our grief is good. It indeed shows us that we love. Imagine if we were cold, distant, disaffected.

Life is not a cartoon. Life does not end like the resolution of a novel, or a sit-com, or a movie. It goes, as you know, on and on. Until for you, personally, it ends. Until then one may indeed love the ones we miss. We may grieve at their image, at the sound of their favoured song. We might even go on the same mountain walk that so egregiously and untimely plucked the life from our loved one. And there we again may grieve. And our grieving, surely, is good. Or else so very much of life would indeed be dark and drear, deep as any cave, incarcerating as any prison. In grieving what we could have, might have had, we keep bringing love to light. And that, indeed, can be good.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Maintaining Momentum

I wrestle with these words. My meaning’s awry. Each opening paragraph is too much about me. Yet how else do you or I see the world but through our own experience? Then too, how else is our time spent but by dragging along our past, or by envisioning our future, while the actual-factual interpretation of that which is our very Present slides by, moment for moment? Which of us is so scientifically precise as to make our words indubitably impeccable, our efforts one-hundred percent focused, our assumptions held in abeyance, our ability entirely to be objective always in the forefront? Esoteric-ism inveigles both precepts and percepts; either one recalls a reference, or not. Indeed, how much else does one in innocence wrestle with in the hours that make for months and millenniums? And just how very individual and unique is the moment by moment challenge to each, despite the simple honesty of any one of us being the same species.

Maintaining momentum occurs for me in the space between. Between inception and Product is one’s swing of the pendulum; an Idea to concrete Reality. Between flight or fight is not so much ‘freeze’, but waiting to Act. (And, “knowing when to wait, is like silent action,” Goethe(?) says.) Gestation, incubation, cogitation; these are the moments in which we wrangle with what to do.

For me, early mornings are worst. Pain immobilizes. First movements are agony. My psyche stretches in the dark beyond my burning cage of bare bones, and over the next two or three hours I drift into the dawn, determining to be positive, to be affirmative, to be contributive; just to be! In lulls between consciousness and being insensate I'm aware that I'm not really sleeping, and the pillow against my ear creaks with my breathing as my skeleton reassembles with the muscle-contractions I must exercise to get myself yet again aright. To not give in. Is that not what the marathon runner who rises early in the morning to train must say? To not give in. Is that not what the person who hates their job says? To not give in. Is that not what the long-suffering and the winded and the beleaguered and the harried must perforce practice? These are the moments that lead one into the other. They are neither fight nor flight. They are action, the verb, the very moments of waiting itself, one by one, since twixt each tiny tick of time that separates a person from giving in, and from persisting, lies maintaining the momentum. For me.

No one sees your pain when you're alone. It serves no other than you. Few can relate to it, even though they too may have had a broken nose, or a broken leg, or have been called a fool, or named even much worse. To each of us is there is an incremental curriculum in life's lessons of adaptability and experience. (Yet let me hasten here not to be too ontological; the meanings we give events matter more to us than that events were not really made to give us meanings; surely? Or why else be so easily presumptive that an entire weather system rearranges itself, “just `cause I am here,”?) Do accidents and coincidences and collisions coincide with our beings specifically for our very own ‘benefit’? Like, “meant to be”? Is chronic pain itself, as some have suggested to me, karmic. Very many would say yes. Some would say no. Some would say, “I don't know.”

That was the phrase my good friend, Jim, wrote in his journal of our conversation today, ‘I don't know’. That, and the words Ontology and Entelechy. (For even at our age, Jim brings a note book to our talks over tea.) And now, as I bring this page to its end, we must leave off satisfied or not with what exactly I was getting at through all of this: In the dictum of life, it's surely ok to say ‘I don't know’; and moment by moment to keep on going in the grace of one’s maintenance of momentum. You see, these words are not just about me, but about you too.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Patients of Patience

We break open our shells and breathe new air, or we huddle inside our skin and make it thicker. Seems there is always something tapping on our shell. To be more-better takes many guises. In the development of the chicken it too must wait for ‘the right’ moment to come out of its shell, so too for the tadpole, and for the silk-worm, and for all that transforms from what was to what is yet to be. Metamorphosis and enlightenment occurs in stages, and the gradations at each moment are as essential to the whole as is the journey to the product. How else do the little turtles make their way to the sea? How else does the ugly duckling become a swan?

“Patience is its own reward.” What a statement! It takes having to be patient to appreciate its reward, if one is patient long enough. And if the implication is that waiting long enough to see the sunset, or to see the otter come up again from under the sea, or to see the calving of a mighty glacier fall thunderously into the ocean, then yes, being patient for that expected moment brings about a reward. But what if you're mired in the mud and feeling impatient to get on with the journey? What if you do not know what the test results are? What if you cannot wait for the holiday? What if you want something so badly you can taste it and so break your resistance and eat or drink the thing anyway? Remorse, afterward, clearly is insufficient in a lot of cases not to do, or to want, or to yield again. Addiction, selfishness, greed, and narcissism are the victims of impatience. How then to be rewarded while practicing, or while being patient?

Stillness takes time. The chatter of the mind (particularly our creative minds) intervenes in the moment by moment by day, night, week, month or year of having necessarily to be patient, and side-roads and sliding-metaphors and likely-similes intrude. Patience is the practice of apparent impoverishment. Apparently. We only needs be patient when what we want is not available.

One’s dear friend gets the results of the cancer tests. All concerned have been ‘patient’ for too long! And that ailing person has been ‘a patient’ for how long? Out of ‘consideration for others’ many victims ensconce themselves in a cocoon of ill health and un-reach-ability; constant coughing and bleakness of aspect and inability to speak make for quite natural self-imposed quarantines. One leaves cards and soup and cookies at the loved one’s door. And one feels otherwise helpless and ineffectual. Words can only say so much. And the patience with which all concerned have to wait for what nature itself has taught us is an inevitability; that patience appears to bring us no reward. Yet the love felt and the sympathy felt and the care given and the concerns expressed are indeed the reward. Within the patience needed to allow for time to work its ways there is a richness of the explorations of belief and hope and acceptance and projection and certainty. Between now and then there is something one can do: love! And even in patience there is breathing to do. Love. And at the very least, most of us can breathe freely.

Metamorphosis will have us be one thing in order to become yet another. The observable and concrete concept of it is so pervasive that we hardly can accept that an end to an actual life does not continue to contribute toward the whole afterward, albeit “in thousands of little atomies,” as Shakespeare would have it. Life's about me! So too for reincarnations and the mansions in heaven.

And in the meantime, patience is what we practice; moment by moment; so full of interesting observations and natural breathing such that one may hardly notice one is being a patient at all.