Saturday, March 22, 2014
things move away
Last night, because I had not seen it in a long, long time and because my younger son said he had been touched by it as he plied his course in the Army National Guard, I rewatched a movie called "Full Metal Jacket," the tale of a group of Marines, from basic training to the ground battle that was later to be called the Tet offensive of the Vietnam war.
Vietnam was a war of my time much as World War II was a war of my parents' generation. Whether close at hand or merely forming a background melody, Vietnam was a part of my time and thought and emotion. The movie was pretty good, but of course these days there are new and improved conflicts that weave a consciousness. Vietnam is "back in the day" no matter how hard anyone tries to remember or suffer for it. The Holocaust that the Jews can enshrine is similar ... no latter-day woven horror or sorrow can match or depict the sorrow and horror that was. The screams, the wounds, and the 'unspeakable' horror that is now merely spoken of ... has moved on.
Many years after the fact, I once read a recollection of a World War I veteran who said simply, "I arrived back home on Saturday. On Monday, I went back to work." Would that life were so simple and in accordance with facts. But it is not, and what went unspoken in his words beggars the imagination. Things move away and yet ... and yet the scars, sometimes 'unspeakable' scars, remain.
Nor is it just the horrific that lingers and inspires and perhaps cripples. Wondrous experience is much the same, clinging like warm bubble gum beneath an inattentive shoe.
Once, early in my Zen Buddhist training, I was enveloped by an experience that blew me away. It wasn't entirely pleasant and yet it wasn't unpleasant either. In words, the best I can say is that things disappeared ... I was looking down a rainy Manhattan street; I could see the street lights and taxi cabs and people walking beneath umbrellas ... I could see it all and yet I knew -- knew beyond the shadow of a doubt -- that it wasn't there. I went home, sat on the couch, and for the next several hours was wracked by alternating fits of laughter and tears. When I told my Zen 'teacher' about it, trying in vain to transmit how compelling the experience had been, he said abruptly, "Forget about it." My mother, who was more attuned to human nature, told me, "The ego is scared. Take back some dirt. Watch TV or something."
Wondrous or horrific or somewhere middling and muddling in between, how much like the teenager who has just discovered love is anyone ... using ornate or pleading words like, "I love Suzy! No wait! You really don't understand! I really love Suzy! No wait! I really, really love Suzy!!!!" Anyone might chuckle at the foreigner who is convinced that if he just speaks English louder, surely these Frenchmen or Germans or Chinese will understand! But where is the chuckle when the one that lacks understanding is staring back in the bathroom mirror?
Wait, Adam! Let me tell you how horrible it was! Let me tell you about the sheer, soaring wonder of it all! No, don't give me those sympathetic eyes waiting to be crowned with 'empathy' laurels ... listen to me! I'm trying to tell you something serious, something horrific, something soaring ... seriously, this is serious! I want you to know what I know. I want to be confirmed. I want company.
In saying that things move away, I am not suggesting, as many spiritual persuasions may seem to suggest, that there is an improved perspective that can be put into play. Improvements suggest that there is something awry or amiss or less worthy or less happy somehow. But that, to my mind, is not so much the best approach. Relying on negative observations or relying on positive ones ... it's not so much the point... and it's a little like trying to escape the breath that is breathed. Saying "all things change" is pretty much the same as saying, "I love Suzy." The 'unspeakable' nature of things does not mean they can be spoken.
But it also doesn't mean it cannot be noticed. Blue sky is blue: Who the hell could speak of it, let alone improve or elevate or debase it? Blue sky is blue. Things move away. Noticing what may have gone unnoticed does not necessitate claiming it is therefore noticeable.
Noticing that things move away is enough. Notice as you might stroke the soft fur of a kitten's belly. Stroking, purring, enjoying ... until things move away and it's time for lunch ... another kitten's belly in the making.
Things move away. The sky is blue. It's unspeakable ... which makes this blog post too pushy by half.