Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Carousel of Time

how much time has passed?  keeps passing.  passes without us noticing.  

passes with the simple acts of taking our children to school in the morning, watching the monsoon rain splatter the road in front of us, listening to a favorite cello sonata in the evening or spending another lengthy day in the office.  

do we all feel that?  

do we all feel time's gentle, remorseless pitter patter against the window panes of our lives?  

like dew dripping off our brows?  

so mild we hardly notice it ‘til we feel our shirts drenched in sweat and a rough night's sleep troubled by the passage of those silent hours immersed amid chaotic, half-remembered images entwined in a vague sense of loss.

i still wonder...  do u wonder at times?  

it's a wonderful life, for sure.  but no less disorienting, as well.

i read today that scientists  found some particles that travel faster than light.  do u believe that?  do u believe what's in the newspapers any more?  did we ever?  

i know for me that was one of the reasons why i left america three decades ago.  i didn't trust the tv news to tell me the truth.  even with fatherly walter cronkite on cbs news.  maybe it was the vietnam war or watergate, but there was too much missing in those condensed vignettes of events, parades and speeches.  

as much as i tried i couldn't find the curtains on a tv to pull them back to reveal what was behind the screen or on the edge of the camera where the real people, like you or me, stood to gaze curiously back at us in our worlds so distant from theirs.

i read a lot of books at that time -- although not all the academic ones that i was supposed to read for college swarming with new words related to ontology, teleology, theology, philosophy, carvakans and advaita vedanta.  

but, to be honest, i needed time for simpler living amid my youthful friends to balance the intensive required daily reading, writing and pontificating.  as much as i loved them, not even absorbing novels by tolstoy and dostoyevski or dh lawrence and thomas hardy could do justice to the real world around us.  

i needed my own personal 'reality' show for that.  time after college meandering the globe, traveling on the hard surface of the world, meeting people, hearing their stories, encountering their lives, seeing the small worlds that weren't on the tv screen, but were the core of human culture and expressions of love and survival.

possibly scott and i were ahead of our times.  travelling the world in the late 70s when most of our college friends were in graduate school pursuing a more linear and accomplished career path.  

while we were spending easter in a carthusian monastery near grenoble in 1978.  then, a month later, climbing jebel toubkal above marrakesh, the highest point in the atlas mountains.  before transversing the lush landscapes of west africa en route to our first muslim ramadan on lamu, a sleepy port town on the kenyan coast.  an introduction to the gentler islamic culture that we were about to encounter in a variety of forms for the next year as we meandered from the nile river to the euphrates on the syrian-turkish border to the wide indus plains in south asia.  

far from our tvs and newspapers, we had time to sit for a few days on the roof of the ferry from port sudan  under the azure sky reading a history book while waiting for the ancient temple of abu simbel to appear on the horizon.  working on an archeological dig of a nabatean amplitheater in the negev before crossing the jordan to sleep in a bedouin's cave in ancient petra.  and admiring the ancient byzantine churches become mosques in damascus or the ancient roman ruins of palmyra in the desert.  before we reached stamboul where we found a passenger ship sailing from byzantium to trabezon in eastern turkey.  from where we could admire the magnificent mosques of esfahan, iran, before riding on the top of the mercedes buses through the wilds of baluchistan to mother india...

we weren't traveling anywhere near the speed of light.  in fact, no matter what the papers say this week, i don't  believe that particles can travel faster than the speed of light.  do u?  more hubris!  like using a man-created word for the noble, immanent idea of g-d.  simply makes no logical sense.  how can a limited word you can find in the dictionary symbolize the eternal, everlasting, ultimate, mysterious truth of our existence.  isn't that an oxymoron? 

some qualities of life should be respected.  kept in their original shape.  'inviolate', i believe, would be the word.  we can deprecate everything else, but the speed of light and g-d, at least, should be left on the sidelines of our materialistic, secular, ironic, post modern minds.  at least that's what i think...

although, there is something about memory that does move pretty damn quickly.  life swirls by faster than a carousel at the speedway.  bonnie raitt realized that.  so did joni mitchell's circle game.  those musical muses were on to something years before us.  

we did have a suspicion that there was something curious about life that we weren't fully aware of.  something more sprightly and yet deceptive than even prof. kennick's light-hearted stroll across campus.  maybe, in our twenties, it was seeing our parents age.  time was at it, again, we knew.  

so we play-acted those self-proclaimed 'death drills' as summer approached when our campus life was bundled up and put in the attic -- until it was brought out again in september tempting us with the thought of an easy rebirth, renewal amid the magical cycle of new england life repeating itself anew in a generous, playful way.

but, we're older now.  more aware.  more experienced in the ways and illusions of the world. 

the world, possibly, to our hoary eyes, a bit more transparent than years before.  we've seen these changes  a few times already.  we're not so easily fooled.  we have observed longer, more deeply and clearly with those cold eyes that yeats spoke of.  ‘under ben bulben’.

             "Cast a cold eye
              On life, on death.
              Horseman, pass by!"

those eyes that see within or through the simpler realities of our own youth.  

we see those youth around us now.  but we are in a different place, a new plane, an older orbit.  rather than feeling ourselves the center of the universe, as we may have when we were younger.  we've edged out toward the outer rings of solitary solar systems.  gaining some perspective with all this living.  some sense of the fragility and loneliness of the spaces in which we inhabit.  the perpetual still darkness of the world, the rich, black vastness of it all.  not just at night time -- though that too!  but even during the light-hearted days, we know that silent black empyrean surrounds us.

we've seen it.  haven't we?  death coming again and again.  if it's not one thing, it's another.  if not our friend, someone else's.  if not our neighbor, then someone else's.  if the war isn't on our soil, we watch it take place on someone else's.  if the fatal accident didn't occur on our road tonight, we'll read it in tomorrow's paper.  if the terror killing innocents at prayer isn't in our country, it's nearby.  if it's not my father or mother today, we know it's someone else's.  even without meeting them, we know someone is crying tonight with that unredeemable pain.  if not our brother or sister, there is someone weeping softly in their bedroom having lost one they love who will never return.  if not our child, someone not far away has suffered the worst form of human pain the world has to shame and defeat us, the death of one we lusted into this world; of us and yet gone from us.

such pain, bodhi, it's all around in this floating, inconsequential, deceptively agreeable world.  we have seen it so many more times now than those youthful days when we were up late smoking, dreaming of a better world while listening to grace slick sing ecstatically, transcendently (we thought...) of the elusive, mirage-like 'white rabbit' leading alice away, like us, from one world and into another.  

we had small tastes then of disappearing grandparents who seemed, too, to follow that iconic white rabbit places none of us could go.  or inspiring political leaders brutally removed from our hopes and futures.  

but we felt we held the long end of the stick those days.  we could laugh easily about the vast possibilities yet uncertainty of the world around us.  we were fortunate.  we had dreams and each other.  we had caring, kind and generous families.  we still had our parents and our many siblings.  we didn't know how these peels of the onion would one day start to strip away from our core.  

we didn't truly know how steadily time had us floating out toward the edge of our individual solar systems.  

we couldn't fully see.

"whole sight or all else is desolation."  from 'daniel martin' by john fowles.

it's a right funny old world around us.  we wake up and take a shower, have some breakfast and head to work.  but it isn't the same day every day, is it?.  that's what the sacred souls try to tell us.  their perpetual philosophy, as huxley described it.  

'anicca' -- all momentary sensations passing, impermanent and yet to come, as eliot and the theravadans have said..  

we simply don't take enough moments each hour to notice how far apart those days are becoming.  

how much time has passed already between them.

because it's only when we put joshua on the plane friday night for his junior year at soas in london that i suddenly realized how much time has passed and how far i have traveled through time from when we used to bathe that adorable, beloved baby son in a blue plastic bucket, when we took such simple joy in his easy laughter and quick unreflective smile.

it's not quite so simple now to give that last big bear hug, pulling our bodies tightly together, then step back, steadily look each other in the eyes, then, unable to grab him, hold on to him, feel that i can protect him as i watch him walk alone into the dull, unglamorous glow of the kathmandu airport without us.

not easy, at all...

that's the real mark of time in our lives.  

the darkened orbits that we can't follow.  

the rabbit hole ones we love disappear into...

almost imperceptibly...

leaving me feeling as vulnerable as i've ever known.

knowing, once again, in this stage of life, how much time and physical distance has passed since i set out to my own 'ithaka', away from our loving parents, natal families and protective nations...  

until that distant day when my own children were born to me...

when they were so petite, vulnerable and dependent, now 

he is gone by himself to london last night.

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