His mouth, a small megaphone,
Hazardous to his own waning strength,
Fatigue encircling him,
Certainty losing its balance
Against weightless cells
The final silence.
The Timelessness of Classic Characters
There are some literary characters who never seem to grow old. Oedipus continues to remind us that unbending pride—what the ancient Greeks called hubris—is still with us. Othello will not let us forget that jealousy, the “green-eyed monster,” can still take us down. Ibsen’s Nora Helmer from A Doll’s House is still a beacon of feminine independence.
And Hamlet can still send shivers up our spines in his relentless pursuit of revenge, clearly telling us that there are tragic consequences to such an obsessive pursuit.
The timelessness of these characters is not just because they continue to be mirrors of humanity’s universal flaws and aspirations. Often, they leap out on the page or the stage to reveal some nuanced shift away from the predictable psychological traits that many of us could easily identify on a literature multiple-choice exam. Continue reading
Free from desire, you realize the mystery
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.
The Temporal and the Eternal
Okay, I think I get it. The opening poem (or chapter) of the Tao Te Ching is telling me that there are two worlds: the temporal, where words (names), “manifestations,” and “desire” exist; and the “eternal” where the “nameless,” the “mystery,” and serenity (free from “desire”) inhabit.
Just when I think I have nailed it, the Tao then tells me that the eternal and the temporal come from the same “Darkness,” or, better still, “Darkness within darkness.” Continue reading
I have been designed for death,
Cordially aligned to destiny,
Tempering my heated wanderings,
These lungs still full of fresh air,
The treads of my pumping heart
Firm against your warm back.
One lane still open
To a slumbering apple,
An unweeded garden,
A tired August rose
An ample sun
Dipping its spotted arms
Into the sleeves of the
Cool, patient night.
Growing Up in the 1950s: Be Vigilant, “Watch Your Step”
I was a teenager when I first saw and heard the adage, Semper Paratus (“Always Prepared”), the official Coast Guard motto. My two brothers joined the Guard back in the 1950s, and the motto became a kind of meme of the 50s culture.
Of course, those were the times of the Red scare and the Cold War. It was a time when school kids were trained to duck under the chairs during a nuclear air raid drill, and Catholics prayed every day to “save Russia.”
I was taught early in life that I had to be vigilant. I had to “watch my step.” I had to avoid temptation or, as the Catholics of my generation used to say, “the near occasion of sin” (Over time, I desperately searched out those near occasions as an antidote to my increasing repression).
And I was always told to “look both ways” before crossing a street. Continue reading
Mystery and the Legacy of Christianity
I continue to be grateful for my Christian heritage. If I can thank that heritage for nothing else, it has deepened my affection for mystery and my need for the transcendent. Granted, I still may be experiencing the collateral damage of that heritage by holding on to a need for the inexplicable and the otherworldly. Perhaps I was conditioned all to well.
And yet, I truly believe that mystery and the transcendent can be experienced without the access to a panoply of myths and rituals that feed into what can’t be explained as natural phenomena. Continue reading
If Life is Impermanent, Why Bother? Seize the Day
The reality of impermanence has always seemed a no-brainer to me. People and animals come into existence; they live out their lives; and then they die. Or, in the words of the bumper-sticker, “Life’s a bitch, and then you die”
More importantly, my own experiences with memorial services, funerals, hospice, suicides, emergency rooms, psych wards, and drug and alcohol rehabs have helped me to understand the fragility of life.
On the other hand, I was recently confronted with someone’s concern that, in being aware of life’s impermanence, there may be a hidden agenda to “glorify” it as a license for moral relativism, an excuse to bow out of commitments and responsibilities. After all, if nothing in this world is permanent, why bother to be loyal, to love, to be grounded in anything?
The ancient carpe diem (“seize-the-day”) philosophy was certainly based on the notion that, since the world and its pleasures are finite, we should wring from life every moment of pleasure we can get. Continue reading