Monday, December 23, 2019

An AGAPE (Ah-Gha-Pay)

            Immersed in his painting, twenty-five years ago, his inclination was to be dismissive of the unexpected visitors. In the hot August sun of a Canadian afternoon, on the front-deck of ‘Kluane,’ (a friend’s residence on Denman Island,) the young South African had sought refuge in more ways than one. Next to his own property, up the road away, the neighbours were boring a well, and the persistent thump-thump of the machine was simply too much for focus. Besides, he wanted no distractions while working on his large 6ft by 3ft6ins oil painting, minutely detailed and surreal in its contrasts of historically garbed humans, each plotted on the squares of a chess-board, with greater than life depictions of ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ in a wood-panelled train-car observing the game, all passing through a sylvan landscape, and all, progressing through a desiccated one. The still-wet canvas had the painter deeply involved in the yoking together of the variables of his past.

            And then, she stood there. Instantly, as they looked at each other, there was an accord, an understanding that there would be unconditional, utter, and complete acceptance. Thirty years his senior, she was a sprightly and altogether younger looking sparkling blue eyed blond; he a bearded and rugged thirty-something. And the year was 1993. And the years, twenty-five of them (at the date of this writing,) were yet to pass. Indeed, their friendship was instant.

            That late afternoon of their first meeting, while she stayed on the coast-side property of her war-bride cousin, a few kilometers down of the artist’s own property, he kayaked to her vista, and she saw him from the cliff top, and he parked the kayak up above the tide-line, scaled the rocky cliff, and sat in the lawn-chair, chatting. And she loved him, and he her, in the way that people do who have an instant sense of their commensurate way of being, their connection that goes beyond age, or sex, or even background. The details of each other’s lives slowly filled up conversation, filled up their constant letter-writing, filled up thought and care and became a constant stream of consciousness that filled up much of their continuing history. He was, indeed, twenty years later, to fulfill his promise to be her amanuenses. Her colourful, painful, and rich Memoir was fundamental to their communion.

            We each have friends like that. We each have experienced that Greek sense of AGAPE, a love that “embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance.” It is an entirely selfless feeling at best, wanting nothing but the best for the other. While the details of the other’s life can be intriguing, interesting, absorbing, we care more for the very spirit of the compatriot. While age, and looks, and circumstances of wealth and possession can be attractive, we care not so much for these things as we do for the feeling we experience with the other. The connection runs deep in the veins, in the arteries, in the very soul.

            Twenty-five years later, that friendship not only remains, it has grown and evolved, deeper than a well, more reliable even than a well, it proves to be the very life-source of a sense of profound accord and care and compatibility. And so it shall always be. It is a persistent thump-thump revitalizing the heart’s core. Always, so long as either shall live. By it, the yoking together of the variables of one’s past is a constant; we each grow by the years, and although there may be fulcrums around which we turn the pages toward new chapters, we know, always, that the footnote to our progress is made up of the love we experience along the way. Such is the power of agape. Such is the beauty of a pure and Platonic and everlasting love.


Saturday, December 14, 2019

Christmas Conciousness

As the season draws nigh we begin the clothing of it. Decorations. Lights. Trees. Cards. And presents. It all becomes a part of the make-believe of Santa, yes, but for many of us it is imbued with the spirit of giving. It is a giving of the self, beyond the self. And it can be in the small pleasures of glitter and baubles that we take delight, a sensibility of something ethereal made real, tangible, and shared. Yet, knowing lots of people gives much concern at this time. Who does one forget? Whom do I consciously overlook? After all, signing, and then sending cards can absorb very many hours, cost much in postage, and feel somewhat compulsory, obligatory, rather than providing a sense of generosity and clear-headedness. After all, if I send to so and so, then should I not also send to him or her, who happens to know so and so too?

Women, it appears, feel more stress at Christmas than do men. Apart from having the house all decked out, and the tree ‘just right’, there is the meal to prepare, the consideration of whom to invite, and all the appropriate presents to give. Then too, the present wrappings need ‘be right’. The man, by contrast, generally tags along. Some of us may grumble at the time of putting up lights, and decorations, and at the price tag of purchased items, but we do get to enjoy the basic magic of Yuletide. And the extra treats of chocolate and eggnog and... well, being at liberty to treat the self more than usual can be pleasant, for those of us who can afford it.

Much of the world cannot. Much of the populace at large is so desperately impoverished and unable even to find a piece of paper, let alone a glittery card, that Christmas may indeed come and go, and be just another day.

Just another day. We tend to make of our days something special, where we can. Born in an African country where no commerce whatsoever was allowed on Sundays (not even petrol-stations were open,) it struck me as unfair, odd, eventually, when that law was relaxed, that some people had to go to work on a Sunday. Not everyone gets the weekend off. And then, as far as special days go, in the North American calendar, there is a holiday every month. A holy day, off. That sense of taking additional holidays, of having time and space to relax and do what one wants sure can drive the weekdays to an anticipated special day; a special date. Yet Christmas, one can aver, is hardly relaxing.

Perhaps the worst Christmas I can recall happened when I was about seven. We had a tree. We had presents. And by about 6:30a.m., wide awake, my two younger brothers and I were in the living room, taking it upon ourselves to rip into our presents, with exclamations of some dismay (in my recollection) as I unearthed a small-child’s gardening set: the little shovel, the little fork , the little rake. But suddenly out guardian father was upon us, and we each in turn were yanked into the air, our backsides walloped, our ears boxed. Summarily, we were ordered back to bed. So much for Christmas. Then too, when I was nine, there was the time I peeked into the corner of my present, when I’d been warned not to, and got charged with doing so, and lied about it, and... well, many of us have sad stories. At issue is not my own sad tales of the past, nor even of yours, but of the sad tales that are happening now, all around us, and into the future too. Our world is in a sorry state, indeed. And doing what we can for some other individual, each by each, surely simply has to help.

But why wait for Christmas? After all, much of the world is not Christian. And much of the world does not subscribe, even, to a holiday ‘season’ at all. But to be sure, at any time, at any day, every little girl and boy appreciates tokens of care and consideration, love and warmth, and an honouring of their very existence. So too for each human being. We may not all know how to express gratitude, and some even how to feel it, but the hobo without socks or shoes is better off for them; the addict somewhere down deep understands a direct look into the eyes, with a ‘hang in there!’ And even the spirit of Santa, large as he is, appreciates the clothing of care and consideration and the generosity that some of us, more privileged than others, can bestow. After all, such is a consciousness of Christmas, indeed.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Interesting Interests

Entirely self-involved, we hardly but can see things from our own perspective. (Does compassion come ‘only’ because I feel good about being aware of practicing it?) Our own perceptions do govern our apprehension of life, and the Oscar Wilde statement, “I’m only interested in...” strikes me as a symptom of our human condition. We are raised to respond to external stimuli. Something or someone outside of ourselves needs elicit our interest. Flowers, bees, spiders, and snakes! Beauty, ugliness, accidents, and loud bangs! Something grabs the attention. And as judgementalism goes: “Inferior talk is about things; mediocre talk is about other people; and superior talk is about ideas.” We are given to absolutes. We are governed by the majority. And we certainly also have a collective common sense. It is those who break the code, who betray our common values, who step out of the box that we find ‘interesting’. After all, the poor bird that bashed into the window, lying now upside down but moving, remains more interesting than those flying freely around. And since it is outside, we may watch with interest sufficiently long enough until the concussed thing flits off again. For some brief moments, in all of this, we forget about ourselves, entirely captivated by the drama without, and in that catharsis we experience but brief surcease from the perpetual self-involvement that inhabits our own corporeal state of being; release is a feeling we instinctively seek, again and again. And finding something to interest me, as the acculturation of my learning has established, becomes a lifelong pursuit. After all, that which you find so interesting, indeed, may not much interest me.


It is a phrase often heard. Our ‘taking’ an interest in something seems to elude us, generally. Were we to suffer solitary confinement, be penned up in some dim cell with virtually no outside stimuli, we might begin counting the cracks in the wall, the number of tiles, the threads in our clothing, the.... we might ‘make’ something interesting. After all, as the poet Earl Birney has it, (in the poem David) “caught on a cliff ledge, our frozen fingers and boot-nails clung to the ice, we recalled the fragments of poems”. That is, from inside the self, there is best to come that curiosity toward life that precocious children tend to exhibit. Questions. Observations. Arrested interest, yes, but then a readiness to find almost anything else also worth examining. We are better off “to take an interest in,” than we are to have something “make us interested”, indeed.

And yet...

Real life, lived life, is about hierarchies. Preferences abound. This is better than that. More is often more desired, than is less. Our five senses guide our sensibilities. Our moral rubrics; our acculturated physical codes; our liabilities and consequences; our sensitivity, and productivity, and our very inclination is driven by our proclivities born of a lifetime of acquisitions. We may indeed accrete, but do we do so entirely horizontally, ever expanding our knowledge and reach, or do we consciously go about improving vertically, enhancing our enlightenment and intuition and comprehension and integration? The questions are not always rhetorical. The choices are not always a simple uni-dimensionality of left, or right? ‘Less’ is decidedly not necessarily worse than is ‘more’. And in our every encounter on the road of life, as we, like any other vehicle, are contractually bound to obey speed laws, are necessarily subject to the traffic around us, and are indeed contained in the vessel transporting us, we are subject to things being interesting, (and may as well also take an interest in that which is all a real part of the ongoing journey.)

“Are we there yet?”

The same road, travelled very many times over, perpetually reveals something not seen before. It is because of the light. It is because of the focus given in a moment. It is because of others who point out things one has not hitherto noticed. It is because life itself is so very rich and vibrant with change and possibility and potential and interest (that word) that we can always find things to be interesting. At issue is, how ‘to make things interesting’, and not to be dependent on things interesting me; that’s how to be invigorated! (Or do I hereby speak just for myself? Hm?)