Saturday, December 01, 2007

The sweetness of a thing averted


On Thanksgiving my little brother saved us from buring down our studio. A candle caught the tablecloth on fire and in just a little while the whole dessert table was aflame and smoke poured out of the open studio door. My bro came in and alerted us and my dad and I managed to drag the flaming table outside before the building caught fire.

Right away you are grateful for the near miss. Grateful in your very bones for what you came near to losing. Epictetus says to keep always in your mind your own death and the loss of all you love, for this will keep you from harboring small-minded thoughts.

It is the near-miss that makes life taste sweetest.


But underlying that or overlying it perhaps is the sickening feeling that everything, everything is built on a house of cards. One puff of breath and it all collapses. Pema Chodron points out that we fear that feeling of groundlessness above all, and yet it is essential to our development and our happiness to come to terms with it. Not to asuage ourselves by allowing the curtain to fall again and cover our eyes, but to see what is and to accept it.

We do live in a house of cards.

It is just a matter of time before someone jostles the table and we all fall down.


I was reading Laurence Gonzales' Deep Survival last week, a good solid read about who lives and dies and why. What makes the difference between someone falling over dead with a survivable wound in battle and someone who survives adrift in a makeshift raft for sixty-three days. That kind of thing. One thing he found in studying all these cases is that one big factor is an eye for beauty.

That guy in the life-raft, he's dying of thirst and exposure and lost and still he can look around himself and marvel at the amazing beauty of the world.

That's key right there.


But in the end, we are none of us survivors. Despite any strength of mind or fortitude of body. Everything will fail us some day. D.H. Lawrence said we all pass one anniversary every year of which we are unaware: the anniversary of our own death.

Death, death, death. Loss, loss, loss. Vanity and depair. Gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. Perhaps my melancholy soul makes me vulnerable to Terrence Malik films. I see the world every day like one of his wandering, blithering idiot protagonists-

Who made this world? In all its beauty? In its individual and peculiar glory? And what am I in all of it? Why do you fill us with such longing and then refuse us?

Voice over while the camera pans across some wild south pacific beach overrun with naked native children playing in the surf and singing angelically.


Or of Werner Herzog and his hellish visions of man raging against a natural force bent on his own specific destruction.


Or Cormac McCarthy and his scared/brave stoic men and their headlong falls from grace. How man gives himself up to the mechanisms of his own undoing as if he is compelled.

He is compelled.


All I have to be grateful for, and still there is this. Bitter feeling and lost. Mad at everyone, myself esp. Self-pity. Self-loathing. Wrapped around my own axle. It is a shameful, pitiful thing.

Yet it persists.


I persist in it.

At any rate. I am gnawing on the bone-end of my own dissatisfaction and like any dog I find it hard to quit the endeavor.


Here's hoping you are more at peace than I know how to be right now. And don't fret for me, this will pass like any weather does.





Blogger LKD said...

Have you read Into the Wild by John Krakauer?

If not, you should.

That boy, even as he was starving to death, lost out there in the Alaskan wilderness, saw beauty, felt beauty, was beauty.

Gosh, I wish I still had my copy, that my father gave to me that my older brother gave to my father. I'd give it to you. But I gave it to a friend. It's the kind of book you want other people to read when you're done with it. You want to pass your copy on, to keep the beauty going.

I've been rereading Salinger these past few nights to remind myself what I keep forgetting:

We are all the fat lady.

We are all the pieces of orange peel floating on the waves' surface, unseen.

I'm glad I came here tonight. I feel almost restful knowing that I'm not the only person struggling through. Thanks for making me feel a little less alone.

10:42 PM  
Blogger d. chedwick bryant said...

life is sweet, we do need a wake up call to that every so often.

flaming dessert table. a picture!

9:05 AM  
Blogger james said...

i'm glad you got into mccarthy. there aint no better. been thinking about you, so much lately. hope the work continues apace, and that you and yours are headed into the season well and together and holding on. coragio, jim

1:27 PM  
Blogger 21k said...

I'm so glad I found this just now when I did and I wish I knew how to link to it because it's Christmas day, not even morning anymore and still waiting on my son to arrive staring at the foolish stockings

needed this

12:10 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home