On New Year’s Eve, I found myself rocking out to a Jamaican cover band who proudly embraced its mission of ensuring that we wayfaring tourists counted down the New Year right. As the music pulsed, we surrendered ourselves to both the night and the tomorrow around the bend. Earlier in the afternoon, I noted the massive tents going up and wondered about the considerable wedding party that must have ventured to the island for celebration. The eventual realization that the preparation was actually to ring in the start of the next great chapter was lovely indeed.
Jamaica became the first stamp in my renewed passport because of a wedding. A wedding chosen to be on that particular day when we officially shed the past and dive into the future. It was held at the local Catholic Church; a circular polygonal structure with exterior windows open at every side though noticeably absent behind the alter itself. Instead, a painted ocean backdrop flanked the sides of the monsignor’s chair. My friend, who decided a beach and a wedding were the perfect ways to ring in the start of 2014 and came along for the ride, pointed out that if the windows had been left uncovered or exposed, the congregation might have spent more time focusing on God’s oceanic masterpiece than on the words his representative spoke.
Nonetheless, what I appreciated about the church was its form and openness. My favorite shape has always been the circle. I love the idea of everything continuing until, one day, it meets its yesterday as it forges yet another iterative layer upon an already beaten path. The church, with its messages of forgiveness and rebirth, seemed a fitting programmatic answer to this particular building. With the sea on one side and the town on another, it was a lovely intermediary between God and Man.
I believe just over thirty of us gathered there that day. We ventured from across the US to stand witness as two people said good bye to a small part of their former selves and embraced the next incarnation of whom they knew themselves to be. To say that it was moving would be an understatement.
As the doors opened and the bride took her first steps into the church, I could not help but stifle a laugh as she noted a couple complete strangers sitting to the side, basking in the air of a tourist yet beaming with the pride of an old friend. I do not know how long they watched but there was something about their attendance that I thought to be rather perfect.
I want to believe that we can all understand love and that its appreciation extends beyond those whose presence is officially requested. Perhaps that couple returned to their home up the street and sat along the beach recollecting their own wedding day. Or maybe they traveled back to their home country and are sharing the story of the afternoon wedding they stumbled upon as a ‘travel memory.’ Might they actually not know each other and never speak of it again but find themselves years later smiling as they recall that pronouncement of love they just so happened to witness.
In Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, the stage manager puts out the following:
“I’ve married over two hundred couples in my day.
Do I believe in it?
I don’t know.
M… marries N… millions of them.
The cottage, the go-cart, the Sunday-afternoon drives in the Ford, the first rheumatism, the grandchildren, the second rheumatism, the deathbed, the reading of the will, – (…with a warm smile…)
Once in a thousand times it’s interesting.”
As I rocked out on that dance floor as the singer belted out that she had ‘a feeling…’, I thought of how fabulous it was that we were all there for that once in a thousand times.
Soundtrack: the sound of cars racing through slushy snow
Someone once told me that I am too idealistic. I replied that I much prefer that to the alternative.
I recently sat across from someone at dinner and listened to him tell me that we will one day destroy ourselves. Nuclear warfare will act as the proverbial nail on a coffin of humanitarian inquietude. People cannot see beyond their immediate vicinity and have neither desire nor need to truly consider the world at large. He summed it up by pointing out that the outcry surrounding shark fin soup is due more to celebrities shunning the practice and the masses rallying behind the celebrities’ causes than to people actually caring about the issue. And then ordered dessert.
But there are those in the world who see beyond one’s three feet diameter of personal space.
As an idealistic realist, I believe in possibility; that the world is more than the sum of its apparent parts.
I don’t know why people choose not to consider the person next to them. Rather, why people are afraid to consider the person next to them. Why tunnel vision is considered ideal.
It’s an interesting idea, you know. Going through life as though we are simply these nonsensical beings “engaged” in life without considering pretenses, repercussions or, um, reality; unconsciously living as though the person next to you is nothing more than a vacuous conglomeration of instigations and reactions…going along with no capability of actually being present to life and acknowledging the surrounding presences.
We attract those whom we feel mirror who we are and who we believe ourselves to be. When we despise someone, a majority of the time it is because we are afraid of the reflection that we see. We don’t appreciate seeing in them what we know to be true about ourselves…or having to reflect upon what our reaction to them says about ourselves.
Perhaps we don’t always realize it. Perhaps we do. I like believing that we are evolved creatures not only capable but willing to address and acknowledge.
I sometimes look around at the world and cannot help but feel an immense, overwhelming weight of sadness. I feel as though there is so much to do…so much to be…so much joy surrounding and simultaneously waiting to be discovered…and yet the world struggles. God only knows what the hell motivates Assad and I cannot wait for the day the wrecking ball kisses North Korea’s multitude of prison camps. I’d like to believe that one day an electoral race will have less to do with sexual proclivities and just plain stupidity and more to do with actual policy and representing the issues of constituents. I’d like to believe that dinner topics of nuclear warfare will actually be its own fantasy story.
I occasionally wonder how the world might be if the idealistic realists chose not to be. I think of the path I am setting in motion for myself and how I cannot imagine living a different kind of life. At the end of my days, I know who I will be…I am happy that I will be and am that person. And I try to live every day accordingly…meaning that I engage with those around me in a way that I can stand behind and claim and I force myself to be honest with myself even when it might temporarily be easier to not. It’s quite important.
In retrospect, I suppose my answer to the assignation of too idealistic would be, “I do believe in the Phoenix, you know.”
Soundtrack: Kings of Leon. My God, I do love them so.
A few weeks ago, I came upon my blocked off street adorned with orange and white police cones decorated with “caution” garland. Police cars lined the way and vehicles scrambled to find another route home. I asked a passerby what happened.
“A girl was hit by a truck. She died. It’s terrible.” He stated each line matter-of-factly as he looked over his shoulder. We stood there quietly for a moment.
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a dead body other than at funerals. I wondered if the tarps are standard issues.
“Well,” he said. I watched as he went on.
“Well,” I thought for a minute more as I stood.
I went on. I wondered about the family on the receiving end of that phone call.
I don’t know why any of this happens. I just know that it does…that life is, in a sense, the only constant in life.
I like to think that there are reasons…that we create our destinies and chart our own path. But, obviously, one has to allot for that which appears random.
I have friends and family getting married this fall and winter. I think of how happy each of them are…how confident they are about the journey upon which they’re embarking. I like to hear their stories. I wonder if one had chosen a different church group…if another had ventured into a different salon…if the other had stayed in that night. Would it all have turned out differently?
Ultimately, I think they would have still found each other.
Sometimes I entertain the thought that our lives have already been set in motion long before our time. Though, we rock on as though it’s a “choose your own adventure”, perhaps the guy who will be playing Monopoly with me as we age ever so gracefully is just cruising along until unbeknownst to us all, our respective cues are called.
And then I think back to this girl. I wonder what has been set in motion because of that night. Of course, there is more. So much more than I or you or anyone else, may ever realize.
Soundtrack: A little of this…a little of that
“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars…everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings.” Thornton Wilder, Our Town
And just like that, Death greets another.
But, this time, it was not quite Death making the call. That’s the hard part.
Time and time again, the indefinable truth that connects us to each other is the pervasive desire to love and to be loved…to know that we matter…to know that our existence brings joy to another.
I don’t understand Life sometimes.
I don’t understand the way in which things unfold, the way people react to circumstances, the way in which some choose to go forward. I don’t understand why the reality exists that not everyone in this world will find what they seek. That at the end of the day, the pain and angst will prove too much for some.
I don’t understand why love and happiness can be so elusive and how their lack can prove so unbelievably catastrophic.
At moments, I wish there was a way to turn back time…just for a moment. Just to ensure that the other realizes that they do matter. That the world is alight because of their presence within it.
I’ve spent the day pondering the hows and whys.
I’ve asked myself how it is that something as mundane as loneliness can be allowed such control. That instead of being relegated to the background with occasional fleeting moments across the stage, loneliness can command the spotlight in a way few emotions can. I’ve asked myself why it is that some, no matter how hard they try, no matter how hard they want things to be different, just can’t shake the loneliness off so that they are free to embrace the love and happiness that truly is around them.
I don’t understand.
There is a precipice that some of us will meet. I hate to think about that but it is a reality. When we do, perhaps we ask ourselves what this is all for and if we matter. And I suppose it is the answer we give ourselves that determines our next move.
Today I showered. I brushed my teeth. I checked the mail. I dodged an errant biker. I cleaned a closet. I ate lunch. I lied on the grass. I watched mesmerized crowds photograph a rare owl. I spoke on the telephone. I spilled soup. I typed at my computer. I thought about those not doing this…or anything like this, today.
Recently, I stood on the subway platform waiting for my uptown train, straining my ears for the last notes of Saint-Saens Le Cygne – a beautiful piece I can play and listen to for hours. My eyes wandered through the crowd of people transitioning from day to night and I lingered on some, here and there. I often think of how we know nothing of each other but we share these few minutes of our day together. Perhaps our eyes cross paths for a brief, lingering moment before we quickly kick ourselves into formality and focus our attention straight ahead…above the head of the guy next to us…beyond the train car to the whirling subway walls racing by…
I laugh sometimes at how hard we silly people work to maintain a disconnect.
Last Sunday I sat at brunch and unconsciously found myself in a stare-down contest with a toddler. This baby had me pegged but she had no idea with whom she was dealing. “Alright, kid,” I thought, “two can play this game.” I failed to take the typical course of action and subvert my eyes to ignore the child. And this poor little girl had no idea of how to handle such a thing. She defiantly stared at me, she shook her head, she banged the table, she screamed out. Her mother apologetically mentioned that her daughter wanted me to hold her. Perhaps.
There are some lovely social conventions that we as a society hold dear. I must admit that someone staring at me can send shivers down my spine. But, there is also something to be said for being open and actually seeing what is in front of you…holding someone’s glance long enough to say, “I see you. I know that you are here.”
As I linger on the subway platform listening to the local artist hawking his wares, rocking out to the genius kid who realized being a DJ in Union Square is beyond brilliant and stealing glances with my fellow riders who seem to share my same quest for a little more conversation, I wonder if it all just comes down to that driving passion of mine to understand humanity as deeply as I can. I want people to come together. I want us to realize that a shared beauty envelops us and that we can help and encourage each other with the only motivation being that it’s the right thing to do.
The whole concept of connection blows my mind. It’s just so simple and yet…it’s sometimes more than I know what to do with. We steal glances…we banter…we share smiles of common experience…and then we keep going. For two or three days, two or three hours, two or three minutes, two or three seconds…we dance in and out of each others’ lives.
And then again…maybe not. Perhaps we decide to not be afraid of realization and acknowledgement.
We let go of supposition and predisposition and everything of yesterday.
We join hands with the person standing beside us and say, “Hello you. Hello world. Here I am. Here you are. Here we are.” We smile at each other, squeeze our hands tighter, laugh in shared joy and then step off together for one helluva ride.
And beauty happens.
Soundtrack: A little Radiohead sprinkled with Smashing Pumpkins and silence.
I have been in desperate need of a jolt.
God knows that monotony and I seldom see eye to eye.
I feel him creeping up behind me and I take off in a frenetic sprint darting in and out of perceptions and expectations. When I feel his breath along my neck, I shiver. I shiver and turn to blast right through him. He is gone.
The next thing is calling my name. Actually, it’s not quite calling. It’s screaming out sporadically from a crowd of competing energies smothered by deafening noise and maddening silence. And in that annoying manner that fails to concretely say anything of easily understood substance, it taunts. It taunts and I turn to confront it head on. It is gone.
Patience and confident perseverance are weaving along beside me. Sometimes, it drives me crazy that they flirt in and out, pulling me back and forth. But, the small voice inside reminds me that they are necessary. I glance back at them from time to time. Other times I trip over them as I run headfirst as fast as I can towards anything and everything.
As monotony and the next thing engage in a deliberate battle of wills where the end is more than a simple routine game of chance and circumstance, patience and perseverance temper the overworked exhaustion and serve as fascinating reminders that tomorrow is today.
Soundtrack: Antlers and Lana del Ray battling it out. What can I say?
“The noble soul has reverence for itself.” Nietzsche
“…it is a confirmation of the spirit of youth, proclaiming man’s glory, showing how much is possible.” Rand
In high school, I stumbled upon The Fountainhead – a book that has profoundly influenced the way I choose to live my life and interact with the world around me. I remember the black letters of its title staring at me from an alphabetized list of “The 100 [insert appropriate adjective] Books [insert appropriate time frame].
It was next.
I knew nothing of it but found it hiding beneath a sterile heavy duty green book cover; its title spelled out with that now beautiful library type that seems to be going the way of libraries. It was just another book on just another shelf.
I skipped the introduction and read the first sentence. I sat on the step stool and read the first chapter. I flipped back to the introduction and had tears in my eyes by the end. And here we go…
I’ve been reluctant to write about this book. In fact, to say that I am hesitant to speak on Rand, her writings and philosophy is a great understatement. They are deeply personal to me and not something I generally want to debate. I am not sure that I would have liked Rand in person. From what I know of her, I don’t know that she actually personified everything that she wrote and purportedly believed. But the recent election and the simultaneous praise and vilification on all sides of the political spectrum of her mindset have prompted me to do so. Many people seem to have an opinion on either the book or its author…often both. At times an informed one but, there are those times when I find myself asking my conversationalist to come back when they’ve actually read it (for starters) or read a little more of the author’s work in order to engage in an actual conversation.
“So, you work in architecture. Have you read The Fountainhead?” When I hear these words, I typically cringe and pause a moment to observe from where they came. “Yes.” I realize that I probably reply slightly stilted but, at this point in my life, I am never quite sure of the motivation behind the question. “It’s not about architecture,” I often inevitably can’t help responding. And at some point in the ensuing conversation, I will undoubtedly reveal that I first began designing houses when I was seven…long before I could handle a 700 page philosophically based tome.
Regardless, from the moment I read the first line this book overtook me. I could not put it down. And when it was not around, my thoughts were consumed by it. For the first time in my life, I was reading what I believed. Someone had put on paper everything that I knew to be true. Everything that I believed but did not know the words to express. Here it was.
I understand that there is much criticism of this book and its philosophical counterpart. And, my answer remains the same that it is for most critiques on philosophies and religions: people perverse philosophies…people perverse religions.
I feel very strongly that politicians of all sides, among others, have manipulated the philosophy behind Rand’s work without truly understanding it simply to justify their own agenda. And this post could be a discussion of the economic and political principles Rand introduces in The Fountainhead and explores further in Atlas Shrugged. Nearly everyone I know assigns all meaning of these books to those concepts. Does Rand have strong views on economics and politics? Undoubtedly.
However, at its core this book addresses what it means to be human. What it means to live with full understanding and commitment. Through this book, I realized the importance of actualizing. And in actualizing, I saw the importance of being honest and true.
In this book, I read that life has meaning. That living has meaning. That choosing this way or that way has meaning. That believing and doing are inherently intertwined … and have meaning.
I began to understand choice. I started to realize that everything in my life is based on how I choose to interpret the events around me. It became clear to me that I assign the meaning…that nothing is what I don’t make it to be.
I am who I am because I have made that choice.
I could go on and on but I think I’ll stop now. There is the part of me that simply says it is what it is…a is a.
Soundtrack: The National