This article is my submission to the July edition of The BeZine. For the table of contents with links to my colleague’s work, click here.
Stan Freeburg’s comedy musical “The United States of America” contains a line where a Native American remarks to Christopher Columbus that they discovered the white man. “Whaddya mean you discovered us?” “We discover you on beach here…is all how you look at it.” “Y’I suppose…I never thought of it that way,” Chris replies.
Dualistic thinking, good/bad, right/wrong, is all about thinking, as my sister pointed out in a comment. It’s not about the actual thing in front of us. So it seems that often all we learn about the world is about how we are thinking about or perceiving it. Art and artists play around with this quite a bit, of course. And then philosophers ask, “What is real?”
Do we choose to look at things in a way that gives us pleasure of some kind, even perverse pleasure? Sure. I think we photographers get to do this now more than ever with all the tweaking technology allows. We get to illustrate the story going on inside our skulls. Here’s an example.
Sample inner monologue: “Rural life is a thing of the past. Flat, washed out, joyless and crumbling. There is no life left in the earth by now. Life is in the cities. It’s time we bulldozed these ruins and built something we can inhabit.”
Of course, you could be having a completely different monologue in your brain with this image. Go ahead, share it with us! Here’s another:
Sample thought: “Ah, the good old days! Blue skies, wood, stone, a farm. Life was simpler; it meant something back then to work hard on the land. All you need is within reach – your livelihood, your family, your pleasure. Who could ask for anything more?” Another:
Sample thoughts: “The world is an interesting juxtaposition of contrasting elements – texture, color, shape, pattern, organic and inorganic. There’s no making sense of it. The dynamic of life is about the tension and release we experience through our senses every day. Nothing more. I need a cigarette!”
There’s no right and wrong in this little exercise. “Is all how you look at it!” Please, have a go! Amuse me!
As usual, he called me at the office that afternoon while he was working from home. “Hi. How are you doing?” I probably mentioned something about my ordinary frustrations on the job or something about our daughters. Then it was down to business. “What are you doing tonight?” It was Friday night. Our youngest had a rehearsal at a church only a few blocks from our house, starting about a half an hour after I got off work. “Do you want to go out to dinner?” “SURE!” It was cold, the roads were icy. We didn’t want to go far, so we dropped her off and went to a bar & grill that had just opened behind the strip mall in our little town. It was full of activity: TVs were on, people bustled about, artwork from the public schools was displayed on the wall. There was lots to look at and hear. The menu was new to us. Teriyaki green beans sounded good. So did fried artichokes. I ordered a beer; I think he did, too. We had sandwiches as well. Then he got a call on his cell phone. Our daughter was not feeling well and was leaving rehearsal early. We said we’d meet her at home. We all talked in the living room for a little while, as he sat on the couch gathering his strength for the climb upstairs. He seemed pretty tired. He’d come home from the hospital just 10 days earlier with 2 cardiac stents implanted. In the bedroom, he turned on the flat screen TV, took his medications (all 23 of them) and hooked up his dialysis machine and his sleep apnea mask. In our big, squishy bed, we watched an episode of “NUMB3RS”, and then the movie “Regarding Henry” came on. I’d seen it before: Harrison Ford and Annette Bening in a good story about marriage, change and intimacy. It complimented the mood perfectly. We were feeling secure, companionable, close. I fell asleep beside him, holding his hand. I awoke at 6:30 AM. His body was still and cold.
That day was exactly four years ago. What did he dream about that night? Did he feel any pain? Did he try to get up? Did he try to call out or wake me? Did he see a brightness as his neurons flashed for the last time? Was it peaceful? I can only imagine.
I can imagine him firing up feelings of love and bathing in them, floating on a surge of endorphins while images of his babies rushed by. I can imagine him strolling an endless golf course of rolling green fairways, tree-lined and bright. I can imagine him soaring with the tenor section in an angel choir, his energy trembling and resonating with clouds and stars. I can imagine him satisfied and proud and smart and good and kind. I can imagine him wrapped in the embrace of the Universe…forever.
I can imagine him, but can I know him any better, any more? I still feel open to him, and as I continue to try to expand my awareness, I wonder about that. I know that I don’t know what I might be able to know. What is memory? What is sleep? What is consciousness? What is death? Are they ‘real’? I don’t know. What is ‘real’? What I know is that I don’t know. What I feel is that he mattered and still matters. I feel that he is.
I hate hormones. Why anyone would want to replace estrogen once she’s finally lost it is beyond me. The moods and emotions it produces are so murky.
I feel like I haven’t learned a damn thing about who I am, and I’m almost 50 years old. Aren’t I supposed to get this right, eventually?
Annie Dillard writes about awakening to her consciousness when she was about 10 years old. How do you do that at ten? And remember what it felt like decades later? The woman must have a brain six times the size of mine. Here’s a passage I read this morning, from An American Childhood:
“I woke in bits, like all children, piecemeal over the years. I discovered myself and the world, and forgot them, and discovered them again. I woke at intervals until, by that September when Father went down the river, the intervals of waking tipped the scales, and I was more often awake than not. I noticed this process of waking, and predicted with terrifying logic that one of these years not far away I would be awake continuously and never slip back, and never be free of myself again.
“Consciousness converges with the child as a landing tern touches the outspread feet of its shadow on the sand: precisely, toe hits toe. The tern folds its wings to sit; its shadow dips and spreads over the sand to meet and cup its breast.
“Like any child, I slid into myself perfectly fitted, as a diver meets her reflection in a pool. Her fingertips enter the fingertips on the water, her wrists slide up her arms. The diver wraps herself in her reflection wholly, sealing it at the toes, and wears it as she climbs rising from the pool, and ever after.”
Why do I feel like I never achieved this perfect fit, this awakened consciousness, not as a child and that I’m struggling to find it still? The idea of ancient grace that began this blog seems as ethereal and unattainable as ever. The clumsy truce I’ve maintained with myself wears thin.
Time to cocoon under the blankets and let the snow fall. Perhaps I’ll emerge as from a chrysalis and feel differently by supper.