Tuesday, December 24, 2013

no one knows

Once, as an average neurotic sixteen-year-old, I would take myself on occasion out to a nearby college athletic field at night. The grass was as soft and well-kept as only a field at a well-heeled college might be. The sky was black and huge and twinkling with stars. The silence was all over me. And there, where no one else could see, I would extend my arms -- open the tender places of the armpits -- and then close my eyes and turn slowly, slowly around on the ever-so-soft grass.

I was alone.

If there were no way to assuage the loneliness I felt as an average neurotic sixteen-year-old, then I would go out and meet it as best I might, enter what I could not escape, and see if somehow, somehow, there were meaning and peace. I imagine I just wanted to be loved. If I could not find love or meaning or peace in day-to-day affairs, then perhaps the gnawing loneliness itself could be my friend. There must be peace somewhere, mustn't there?

It never worked, but I honor the small, desperate and mildly-insane efforts of that average neurotic sixteen-year-old. Where were the hand-holds and reassurances of a life without handholds or reassurances? Where was the peace that existed when no one else was looking, no one else was around. Literally! Literally, after all the other empirical evidence was set aside. Where was the meaning when there was no one to soothe and cuddle and proclaim meaning? With the tender armpits opened to the stars and proclaimed as much nakedness as I could muster ... well, what then was the response I longed for?

I went to the lush athletic field because it was open and soft and if I fell, I would not hurt myself too badly. I had enough hurts and was in no need of more. Turning, turning, turning; eyes closed in the dark, dark night where the stars twinkled; in a place where the make-believe solaces could not follow. Now, just this once, I wanted to get things straight and be at ease.

And it never worked.

In the culture I live in, it's a dicey business to mention someone like Jesus. Christianity is so woven into local lore. Jesus is a big man on campus, whether for believers or disbelievers. And so, when I say that Jesus went alone into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, there is a woo-hoo factor that kicks in -- the kind of factor that diminishes and blurs the facts. Heroism or idolatry is not the point. The point is an average neurotic teenager whom anyone might know ... intimately. This is serious. Jesus is just a binkie.

And so, setting the culture-kool, keep-my-distance Jesus gently aside, I think rather of some darkened night where an exhausted parent rises for the umpteenth time and holds his or her child or spoons out a single, dribbling spoonful of pablum and ... no one knows. Praise and blame, gods and devils, perfection and imperfection can kiss ... my ... grits! This is it ... and no one knows. The desert is dry, the stars are just stars, and the grass is soft.

Short of illness, I never heard of anyone who had callouses on his or her armpits. For all the use they get, you might think that armpits would develop callouses, but they don't. They remain soft and tender and an expression of wide-open vulnerability. The aborigines (I've heard) and various martial artists count the armpits as potential kill zones, the targets that, when open, lack all protection or countermeasure and lie close to the heart ... and the heart of things. Even when closed, the armpit is strangely tender and new and naked... tender and naked and new as forever.

How nice it might be to write some happy ending here, some "do this or that and they all lived happily ever after." Alternatively, perhaps an abstract gloomy diatribe about the "meaninglessness" of things might be consoling in some binkie fashion. There are some wondrous binkies out there. Really, they're pretty nifty and I'm not against them: You've got yours and I've got mine.

But since, I suspect, everyone's got an average neurotic 16-year-old near at hand -- the one who cries out because no one knows -- maybe there's something to be said for the soft grass and the night sky and the tender, honest armpit that illuminates without any back-talk. Even now, no one knows about the pablum dripping down some distant or present chin. Maybe there's something to be said for that ... or not.

All this typing has made my pits sweat.

Better take a shower.

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