ah, yes

The power of accurate observation is frequently called cynicism by those who don't have it.
-George Bernard Shaw

What a cynical thing to say...


an excerpt

From Gilead by Marilynne Robinson:

That mention of… joy reminded me of something I saw early one morning a few years ago, as I was walking up to the church. There was a young couple strolling along half a block ahead of me. The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl sweeping water off her hair and her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn’t. It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth. I don’t know why I thought of that now, except perhaps because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash. I wish I had paid more attention to it. My list of regrets may seem unusual, but who can know that they are, really. This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.


what i really meant

Looking back over my last few posts I realize that they don’t seem to resolve. There doesn’t seem to be much of an arrival or satisfaction to my thoughts, which seems very strange to me. And yet it doesn’t. I feel like there is this mass of thoughts that seems to be bubbling to the edges of my mind and spilling over like there isn’t enough room for them all. Right now, it’s Monday night and the rain has stopped, but the world is wet and the smells blowing in my window are fresh and damp. Colours seem exceptionally vibrant, even though they are blanketed in darkness, and despite the breeze everything seems very still. It seems that nighttime is usually full of quiet and calm, and that’s why stormy nights have that eerie quality; they seem abnormal, uncomfortable. The night almost seems to have this dampening effect on the world, when snow falls softly and rain rolls through easily. And all seems quiet and somehow peaceful. But occasionally there’s a booming storm, full of thunder and lightning and terror, and the trees seem to bend in half and reach for the ground before bouncing back and over to begin again. Or there’s a wind such that beats against the walls of your house, and you can feel its power through the wood and plaster and stucco siding, and the windows rattle in their frames. And that’s the time when something inside feels both free and scared in the wildness of it all.

A couple of posts ago I quoted a D.H. Lawrence poem called “Song of a Man Who is Not Loved,” which I think is a bit of an unfortunate title (but who am I to say such a thing?). In that poem there is a line that says, “I feel myself isolated in the universe, and wonder / What effect I can have… / I hold myself up, and feel a big wind blowing / Me like a gadfly into the dusk, without my knowing / Whither or why or even how I am going…” I never really talked about that quote too much, but it seems to me to be a description of the human condition; all of us feel a little isolated and confronted at times with our own inadequacy and ineffectuality. Whether it be a simple accident or sudden circumstance or raging tantrum or something as simple as having to wait an extra twenty minutes at the bank, it’s especially in these little things, things that cause us to sputter and complain, when we begin to understand that we aren’t in absolute control. I guess it’s the times when things don’t go my way that I begin to see what kind of condition my soul is really in. Every once in awhile it feels like I’m being swept along at a pace, towards a place, that I never could understand. It almost seems like the simple events of life conspire around me and compel me towards something “without my knowing.”

Well, it seems a little like that with my last post on community. I guess I was kind of wondering why and how and where community seems to form, especially in light of the individualistic mindset that prevails in our culture. If I am number one, then who cares about forming community? Who cares about including these people in my life? The easiest and most pessimistic answer is that I open myself to a few people because the pain of being alone far outweighs the pain of a few friends, and in a lot of cases, despite including other people in my life, I feel a little like I can control them, in some sense. I don’t mean that I can make them do what I want, but rather that I can keep them from knowing me in certain ways. “Knowledge is power” is a pretty common concept and I wonder if that isn’t the only way that we can come to know people, that is, if we feel that we know more and have more power over our position. (Incidentally, I’m listening to Ben Lee right now, singing: “Woke up this morning and suddenly realized that we’re all in this together… Long division doesn’t matter, because we’re all in this together...” [By the way, just for Jeff, I’d kind of forgotten about G-Chuck and long division until just now, and I think long division does matter, and it may even be an indication that we are all in this together...])

I guess all this is to say that community is a bit of a miracle because it is a group of people who are attempting to let go of their own lives, disentangle from their closed and distracted selves, and experience the spooky openness and otherness of people. It's like Steve said, in his comment on my last post: "there is a great deal more risk, choice, and richness to be found in actively pursuing other people as well, if we could only rid ourselves of our fear of being rejected. Then maybe we would be more free to bring ourselves honestly into all of our relationships with our primary motive being not to be accepted and affirmed but to know, respect, and love others. True community is being vulnerable and authentic with others while remaining free of fear, pretension, and self-consciousness. And while I agree that often the thing that holds a community together is some common element or characteristic, wouldn't it be powerful if the main common motive was to simply know, care, and love others." And it’s a dangerous proposition because there is no return — not, that is, without some amount of pain and regret and feelings of isolation. It seems a small wonder, and maybe this is a mother-child thing, but upon entering this world, we seem utterly immersed in other people. We are born into a little familial community, and indeed, are even formed within another person. And then we seem to grow up and grow out. Thinking about Sunday afternoon when I dropped in to see Tim and Chandra and baby Arlo, I feel a bit of a heartache to remember holding Arlo: the beautiful miracle of new life; the palpable love in the room for this tiny little bean of a person who will sprout and grow with life; and looking into his eyes, his little foggy eyes that are just seeing all this for the first time. And I thought a lot about how moms and dads begin as babies themselves and about how much of our development is relational. And about the absolute freedom a child has. It just doesn’t seem right to consider a person apart from the fullness of their being: their freedom, choices, beauty, wisdom, and foolishness; their pride, anger, love, fear, loneliness, and peace; the isolation in the universe and the yearning to do something that matters; the absolute, stormy depths that they descend to, and the infinite heights they soar in... Well, I guess we’re in this together. It might be a little painful, it might be a bit rough, but I think we’re screwed without each other. I think that’s what I was trying to say about community.


thots on community

“Community” has become one of those very popular words. It’s used a whole lot and, if you really think about it, it’s not hard to see why. It’s used vastly and variously to express so many different situations, and to look at the way it’s used is to see its wide appeal. Community can be all the people who live together in a common place; or it can be the people of an area considered collectively in the context of social values and responsibilities; or a group of people who have a particular characteristic in common, such as religion, race, or profession. (I suppose I should cite the Oxford American Dictionary for these definitions). “Community” has its root in the word common, which does indeed seem to make sense. After all, it is common characteristics that seem to gather a group of people together. And there is something particularly beautiful about this because it may only be one or two commonalities that can establish a community. Such as an AA meeting, which is a community that gathers together in need of support and understanding for the particular addiction of alcoholism. I don’t think it matters all that much once you get there whether the other people in the group make the same amount of money, live in the same area of town, hold the same political ideals, or even believe the same things about God that you do. What matters is that they have been where you are and that they are not judging you; they are able to understand you in a way that a non-alcoholic does; they are able to help you gain your footing on a slippery slope and walk alongside you, even as you help them get their feet about them.

In some sense, you are able to choose your community (or at least whether you will become an active participant in a certain community), but a community must also choose you. There are certain circumstances and commonalities that must already be present for community to exist and those cannot be forced. To some extent, they are natural characteristics and there is little choice (on your part) as to whether a community will open up to you; the decision is out of your hands. The beautiful thing about a community though, is that it seems to imply inclusion. Particularly, a communal familiarity with an individual seems to be enough, in many cases, to include you within a community. Look at the way you make friends, the way a neighbourhood community works, or the way a faith-based community works. In some sense, there needs to be more than simple familiarity involved in the process, but it is certainly very important.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the opportunity to decide whether you wanted to be someone’s friend. Maybe you keep running into X all over the place, in a coffee shop and in the street and outside your apartment, and you’ve just been introduced briefly, but you decide that, yes, X will be a friend of mine. I think it’s probably a little like deciding who you will marry – or maybe there is merely a passing resemblance that I can’t understand at this point. But I have heard a few times from a few different couples that there came a point in their relationship when they looked at their girlfriend/boyfriend and decided, yes, this is the person I am going to marry. And I suppose this could be a little like when people say that love is a choice, although I think it’s more complicated than that. Well, that’s kind of like the mutual decision for community, I think. Commonalities only take you so far, and then comes the decision, then comes the commitment...