With no intervening silence

The beginning of August marks, for me, a time of resuming. The college returns to normal work week hours, and prospective students awaken and realize that they likely should consider registering for classes before all that remain are the 8 0’clock and 3 o’clock sections. My email inbox starts to fill up again, and both I and my daughter eye the school supply and back to school clothing sales with resigned interest. This summer has been busy for a summer, and the next three weeks promise to continue apace, so our movement into the new academic year is more a smooth glide than a sudden dive.

For my parents, this August marks a time of transition, of ending, and an uncertain beginning. We, their children and children-in-law, have decided that my parents’ current living situation will no longer do. For 17 years, they have lived in the downtown residential area of a small town. When my parents bought their home, the town was not new, but it had energy and purpose, and while terrible events occurred, for years, the town worked to stay strong and lively and focused on the constant renewal of the seasons and celebrated Azaleas and fall harvests. In recent years, though, the town’s energy has dropped off. Its lawns are not as well cared for; too many storms have passed through for business owners, residents, and artisans to rebuild, yet again. In that same time, my parents’ health and spirits have also waned. They could remain there and get through each day, but they are unhappy and alone, so what is the wisdom in remaining? Sorting, reducing, and packing have been my parents’ occupation this summer. Reluctantly and expectantly, they have entrusted their future to their children, to me. As I move forward, they choose which symbols and monuments of their lives are most precious and most necessary, pack them in boxes, and wait for me and my brothers to make decisions for them. I cannot imagine the tumult of emotions, the contradictory responses that must wash over them constantly. How much they certainly want to tell us to go to hell, we children whom they so recently reared, taught, rescued.

Time is so slippery now, in my middle age. I can only imagine it becoming even less precise in later age. If I can still find myself most clearly in the dorm rooms and apartments of 20 years ago, should I expect a more stable sense of the now as more time passes? A song, a photograph, a scent can disorient us, divert our way. Joan Didion calls this “magical thinking.” Eliot is less kind, for he names the harbingers of our diversions into time deceptive (from “Burnt Norton”).

                 Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

I have said before that I find peace in the past, in the re-visions of myself and the world, snapshots of memory filtered and enhanced by nostalgia and desire. These moments are soft-edged. The anger, wonder, sadness, joy are smudged with wear, dogeared from frequent handling. Beloved. All of this should tell you how blessed my life has been. I have felt pain, yes, but bearably. My losses, while at the time painful, have been thus far removed. My heart is whole. All of time is still a welcome friend. I have no hallways I fear to tread, no doors I wish to leave unopened. Blessed beyond measure.

Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.

All of life is a treasure, else we wouldn’t struggle so in the keeping of it. Nevertheless, the longer that struggle, the greater the possibility of pain. But must the pain be overwhelming? The thrush is deceptive, but perhaps not by sending us to look for children that are only echoes, that can be seen only when we eat the lotus petals. The thrush deceives:

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.

The Quartets are mourning poems, I know, but they are not hopeless. Even in the aftermath of a truly horrendous war, humans have the strength to bear it. We are creatures not of forgetting but of remembering.

Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

As August melts into September, as one chapter of the book of my parents’ lives ends, may we keep both the past and the present mind. Time past and time future, the crunch of autumn leaves and the promise of spring growth.

Future tense

With too many other bits of reading in between and over, I am reading Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. In a summer-time when I am trying to be stronger than my silly, temporary anxieties, Jinko and Oliver are becoming necessary, somehow, as they move in the background, slowing down the frantic sadness and, yes, anxiety of the two primary characters, Nao and Ruth. I am too close to the end of the book, though. I am at that moment, when to stop reading for a few days is impossible. Still, I set the finishing of this book up as a barrier between me, now, in my July of not working, and the inevitability (not unwelcome) of August and working again. Of course, the reading and breathing and planning and writing are not month-bound. They always are.

Simultaneity  is a (the?) significant truth in Time Being, as it is in the Quartets. “Up and down, same thing,” says Jinko, to Ruth in her dream, to Nao on the beach. “The way up and the way down are one and the same,” says Heraclitus in the epigraph. And of course, “Burnt Norton” begins:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
                                  But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.

In Living Buddha, Living Christ, Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story of St. Francis. In the middle of winter, St. Francis is walking through a grove of almond trees. It is winter, so the trees are void of leaves. The Umbrian region of Italy is not its glorious green self. Perhaps St. Francis is in despair or maybe just ready for an end to cold and the illnesses of winter. Perhaps St. Francis just needs reassurance. Perhaps he is in search of a new metaphor. For whatever reason, Francis calls out to the trees, to the birds (or their absence), “Teach me of the Holy Spirit.” In response, the trees break out into bloom. There was death (or the deathlike sleep) of winter. Simultaneously, the bare branches of the almond trees held the blooms of spring. Spring, winter, the same thing.

We think of time as passing, of course, as fleeting. It all goes so quickly. Days go from dawn to dusk in a few moments. How, for example, is it almost 4:30 pm as I write this? I just woke up a few minutes ago. My bike only now got that flat. Surely, I just walked through the door after the two-mile return on foot to get the car to get the bike. (How ridiculous.)

In Time Being, Jinko is 104 and will not pass on as a Bodhisattva until everyone is at peace, until everyone finds her or his “supapawa.” Jinko moves slowly through time, deliberately. She enjoys chocolate and sends text messages to her great-granddaughter via a computer — and through treasured letters of a dead son. She controls her presence in the world by erasing her footsteps, all without denying that she made them. Ghosts do return to her. Nao, though, is herself a living ghost, all tangled up in how her insistence on her own past footsteps keep her from controlling her own presence. Eliot recognizes the simultaneity, and, I think, also sees the futility of keeping the footsteps, the breadcrumbs back.

If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

We regret. We want to do it over. We want to redeem our time, how we wasted it, how we wronged it. But we can’t.

What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.

Yes! They, the moments we can’t do over or redeem, are foggy, misty, and so why look at them or for them.

I spend a lot of time in the past. Remembering it and rewriting it, retelling it. When I need peace, I look backward. My footsteps are so tiny, that I can’t really see them, so I recreate them, and this let’s pretend about the past is soothing because it helps me to hold moments and, in illusion, at least, it helps me to stop time. The past is safe. Its unredeemability is safe. The mistakes in it are done. And I push, push, push the present to get into the past. This hard thing, this present moment, this immediate future is so much easier to deal with when it’s past.

I am terrified of the might-be, of possibility. I have a child, and I want her to live her life, but the very prospect paralyzes me. I first read James Joyce’s The Dubliners when I was a senior in high school, so I was 18 years old. How I pitied Gabriel Conroy. I had no idea. Paralysis is the safest spot, but it is impossible to maintain. For if I stand still in avoidance, then what? But if I let my child make her own choices and she falls, then what? And how will my mothering stand up to scrutiny? The might-be’s are overwhelming, but I can’t let them be so. A different way of moving through it exists, and sometimes, I stumble upon it. It isn’t the racing pace I set during the school  year, nor is it the sleepy pace of the summer months. It isn’t those, but it is in them, or they are in it. Sometimes, I find my way in time, in the fluid present, by counting stitches as I crochet around and around. I breathe it, momentarily-timelessly when I look up as I pedal and am surprised by a garden or I fly through a tree tunnel and the shadows dapple everything and I cannot see. And the now is here.

My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
                                  But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.

Unlike the you of the poem, I am not filled with regret for what has been. I am filled with anxiety for what might come and how I might be judged for it. When I am in time, when up and down and past and present are the same, when there is a now, I have breathed a full breath and not worried about whether I will be deemed wanting. I do love the past, I guess, but not in the same way that Nao does. I love the past because there is nothing there than could hurt me or my daughter or how my daughter sees me. The past can be dealt with. It’s a known. What might be squirms in my stomach and begs to be be forgotten.

Stalled at the epigraph

A character in a book I was listening to during a commute one day referenced T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. That may not be correct. Perhaps a student or a colleague or a passing reference to time led me to the poems. By whatever road, I did arrive. Have I ever left, though? The very title of this incarnation of this site is so clearly an allusion to “Dry Salvages.” Nevertheless, I am back at Eliot, at the Quartets, and I have carried with me a notion to read them slowly, in pieces, as a meditation, a prayer, a practice in thoughtfulness. Less nobly, I crave a structure, a blueprint for settling my feet onto my own road, of writing, yes, but also of reading again, with a scholar’s mind and attention. I will read formally but newly historically. I am not a Crowe but a pendulum, and I shall swing, from my own thoughts to others’, too. I do not know much; I expect to know less.

Premumble complete, I’ll commence with the epigraph.

The epigraph is in Greek, two quotations from Heraclitus fragments. I am a dunce with languages, and this is the least of the forces pushing me so far from Eliot. I wanted to be a poet, once, but reading Eliot and Dylan Thomas and H.D. (and Whitman and Coleridge and, and) melted my wings. I was disappointed, in that once, but soon breathed easier, released and relieved to read without devastating comparison.

The epigraph has two quotations of fragments:

Although logos is common to all, most live as though they had an individual wisdom of their own

The way up and the way down are one and the same

When Eliot chose the first, how was he reading logos? In my classes, we describe logos as reason, as logic, the brains behind and within an argument. Is this a logos-driven argument, I’ll ask. In that context I imply logic, yes, but also critical thoughtfulness: significance, implication, possibility. Not just does this make sense now but will it continue to do so? For whom? What limitations encircle? What obstacles derail? While I think Aristotle would nod encouragingly at such talk, neither Heraclitus nor Eliot would find my freshman rhetoric sufficient to the idea. This logos is something more than a tool for argument–it is something less dependent on logic or reason and more akin to … what? Consciousness? Heraclitus suggests that “logos is common to all.” A shared thing, then. Created by all or for all?  Both? I lean toward the latter, but I suspect a more subtle and complex view that is both by and for.

There are forces–linguistic, social, survival, mythic–that shape us and that we shape. Or, they seem plural. But is there a one, a single logos? Something less definable than wisdom (as if that weren’t difficult enough) and certainly not individual? A force, word, need, design, truth is held in common, but we are oblivious and move and act as if we were separate or that our experience is somehow distinct. Einstein wanted a single unifying theory, a formula that could contain the plan that moves the universe–a logos. We are unified, theory or not. We are in time and representative of time. We were and are and are to be again and always.More recently, Carl Sagan joyfully proclaims, “We are made of starstuff.” And stars are made of humanstuff.

In the beginning was logos, and logos was with God, and logos was God.  Logos was with God in the beginning. Through logos all things were made; without logos nothing was made that has been made. 

Finding purchase

As anyone who moved and changed schools a few times as a kid can affirm, a blank slate is at once freeing and completely overwhelming. Now, to be fair, this tabula truly isn’t rasa. I’ve had this domain for ages, and I’ve used it for writing both confessional and fictional. Nonetheless, after getting hacked a while ago (one year? two?) and clear cutting the directories, I just let this webspace sit. Rasa. Not so many months ago, I thought I might keep a paper journal, and I did … for a few days between Christmas and a trip to Italy in early January. I was briefly inspired by an Old Testament class I was taking and a biblically themed journal I received as a gift to write meditations on the resonances between the Gospel text on each page of the journal and the Old Testament story that inspired it. When I returned home from the study abroad trip to Italy, however, I fell straight into last-minute course preparation for the upcoming semester, and then classes, committee work, parenting, advising, and all the ebbs and flows of life volunteered themselves up as likely excuses and reasons to leave the more individual life (mine) unexamined.

I am happier when I write, I know. Unfortunately, I’m really apt at filling up my hours so well as to disregard that happiness is wanting.

So here is this boat — or is it a church, a cigar box, a paper bag, a bindle, a patch of earth? — filled with, what? Certainly not treasure, not in the objective sense. Yet worth considering.