Thursday, April 30, 2009

Yahrzeit of my mother and father, 4/25, 2003 & 2009

This might be the beginning of a Kaddish for my father, may his memory be a blessing.

I sit in my father’s house the day after he has died, and I confess I feel, at this moment, no connection to his house or anything in it, but for a few books and a picture or two. Thus, for the house I grew up in, and since leaving home, have been visiting for 41 years. In like measure I sit in this world. I feel no attachment to it, but for a few people. What is there to be attached to here?

All that I see with my eyes and sense with my other four senses I do not believe. I do not believe it and I do not believe in it. Falsehood, illusion, misperception and partial perception is all that we see. We have access thru our senses to only a part of the picture, and we have access thru our minds, shaped by and shaping these senses, to conceptual tools that are incomplete, at best.

Let us not even begin to address the morass of ethics and human behavior. Just look out of any window (as we are reminded by the Gratefully Dead). It is a world framed by solid walls, impenetrable to light. So it is with our senses. We peer thru cracks, like those frustrating and fearful dreams where we struggle to open our eyes, as we stumble thru a dangerous world, almost blind.

My father’s body lay on the hospital bed, his mouth agape, jutting like a ledge on a chalky cliff. He died, and this same body that for me embodied my attention, love, and all the complexities of a full relationship, this same body that for my 58 years, almost 59 now, that was for me My Father, was now an empty shell, not My Father at all, but something, indeed, that was utterly without value, but for the illusory memories that tied it to a living past. (This may not accord well with Jewish burial practices and beliefs, but that is another matter entirely.)

We all stood in the room. His current wife – my stepmother, leaned her forehead upon his shoulder and grieved. My sister Marge sat behind her; Elliott, Dee Jay, Margie Beth, Gert, Cal, myself; we stood or sat variously crying or pondering in emotional poses like some Delacroix painting, Cal on the computer filtering the scene further thru a keyboard.

I don’t know when My Father left that room. Perhaps by the time his still living, but rapidly dying body had been brought to the hospital, he had already ceased to inhabit this world.

We ascribe his death to a stroke. I don’t see it that way. I ascribe his stroke to the departure of his Soul. He had to tear his way out of this world, and the stroke was the tear. Perhaps it is thus with every medical issue, as our Souls struggle with the constant decision to remain here or break out.

Ruth told me: Friday morning at around 5:00am she saw him standing at the foot of the bed, wobbly, yawning, but not really yawning. Perhaps he was trying to cry out, but by then he had already lost the ability to talk. Perhaps in the minutes prior, My Father had left this world, or was rapidly leaving it, so rapidly that his body had already lost its ability to speak. For a few more hours he would respond to stimuli, and then even that, largely, ceased.

What is this body that cannot speak? What is this world we see thru narrow windows? What are these narrow windows of “sense” or partial sense, these constructions of reason, the illusion of reason?

I sit in my father’s house. It means so little to me, compared to what my Father means to me.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Yom HaShoah, 5769

An essay for Yom HaShoah, first composed for the commemoration of Kristallnacht, 1999, and edited today, Yom HaShoah, April 21, 2009 (27 Nisan, 5769).

A delicate, an exquisite vase, once upon a time, fell from a high window, and broke on the sidewalk. Some of the pieces were swept into the gutter. Many more were trampled underfoot. A few were picked up and analyzed, and then set aside. One or two became the central objects of a lifetime of study and devotion. The original vase could never be restored, but perhaps a new one, sometime, could be created up from the earth. What genius and what expertise would be required: to re-envision the original and understand its purpose; and then to recompose the shape, the design; and then to carefully pick the right clay and the perfect grains of sand and the pure minerals to recreate the brilliance and clarity of that one which was lost. But... who is qualified to begin such a work?

The great rabbi of Kotsk, Menachem Mendel once said: “Do not be satisfied with the speech of your lips and the promises and good sayings in your mouth, nor all the good thoughts in your heart. Rather, you must arise and do!” Well, this is all well and good, but tell me, dear Rebbe, what am I to do, and how am I to do it?

A delicate, an exquisite way of life, once upon a time, was cast from its high vantage point, and destroyed. Its individuals were swept into the gutter and trampled underfoot. Afterwards, a few people began to collect small fragments of what remained of those lives, unique shards, hoping a master artist could somehow bring them back to the fullness of their lives.

A strong, a greatly exulted culture, once upon a time, cast itself from its high vantage point, and committed suicide. Rejecting its central values, it turned monstrous and contemptible. To avoid seeing itself, it shattered every mirror. But the conscience is a mirror that cannot be shattered, and cannot be avoided. The gun aimed at that mirror will surely destroy the one that pulls the trigger.

What can we learn from this broken vase and this broken conscience? First, I believe we must understand that those that hate us Jews (and that includes those that hate our Jewish nation) are people who also hate God. They would like God removed from this world in the same measure as they would like us Jews removed. This is obvious because anyone that exults hatred and seeks genocide must also want to drive out from this world the God that will judge us for our hatred and genocide.

Second, we must realize that, so long as God is in this place, we Jews will be here too. We have been invited into the Monarch's castle, and a place has been set for us at the table among all the other peoples and nations. And having been assigned a permanent and an honored seat, we deserve to be welcomed here. But I also want to say that we Jews, like Jonah, had best defer a vacation in Tarshish, and devote ourselves to our assigned tasks: to be a priestly and a holy people, and to be a voice for justice and compassion and moral responsibility.

And finally, let me repeat: we have all been invited to the Monarch's table. Each of us is supposed to be here, and each of us has a particular, and holy, mission. Some few of us are already very clear about that. Many more of us are aware that we might have a holy mission, but we need a fair amount of help remembering it on an hourly or daily basis. There are very many of us here who have never imagined their life is of value and that they have a purpose. This world anxiously awaits their awakening. As the Kotsker taught, for them it is not enough to think good thoughts. We must arise and do. There are some of us who have lost or abandoned hope. What healing must they experience, and how can we help them? And finally, there are some who live primarily in defiance of goodness, kindness, and justice. What is the path out of such defilement?

A vase has fallen and is shattered. It can never be restored. But, everyone that is here has come with unique and special elements and tools. So let us begin, together, to create a new vase worthy of the Monarch's table.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Transmigrant Journals, 2

Here's something raw from the jungle, another scene in Tranzmiegren Jernelz, a prose poem I began this winter. You can find the first post Dec. 25, 2008. That scene was entitled
Door to a Room
Mysterious Tale of the Beloved Son

I have no idea of the writing quality of this new scene. In fact, it's still in the editing process. You will notice parenthetic and bracketed text. They are unresolved alternatives I am considering, but they also mark potential segue and lacuna issues. I would love your feedback -- general, technical, detailed.
I call this one:
Door to a Closet
The Strange Tale of the Girl in the Amulet

... O, I hav had my share ov wimmen
who walked out on me [for one reason or another].
One moved out while I was [hitchhiking to Provincetown and back][hiking on Cape Cod]. I had no idea why she left.
Another got involved with a friend of mine and for awhile we lashed ourselves together in a love triangle, but it was more like a tesseract among higher dimensions of perversity and insanity. Strange tortures we give ourselves, after which we measure the scars, show them off in public, compare them to previous disasters as if they were some kind of trophy.
Yes, I know. There are some people who hang their scars like secret amulets in locked rooms and become obsessed. like cult members,
Like aenshent Kananniets hu, beneeth karvd poelz, tare thaer skin in ekstattek aggoneez.

Recently I began making the rounds with a [new] woman(.)( named Venus. I met her in a Shell station.) She’s a dancer who studies architecture. Lithe and graceful she is, with her hair cut to just below her ears. It bounces and gets tousled but falls (out)(back into place) like she’s always put-together. She’s a dancer. But for me she was like a cloud whorling in mythic shapes.
But like ennee uther klowd, she chaenjd in blu awway.
Now she is an hour, and a lifetime away. It didn’t happen suddenly, but I understood suddenly – she had moved to another town, not just for the job, but to leave me. Maybe there was another man.
A Kanannite preest sharpenz hiz nife, massojjez hiz skin...
All I knew was I was stuck in my apartment, the one where I slept on the long, low, slanting staircase so I could have a place to write. I realized she was farther away than I thought, so I left everything and hitched a ride to her new place, not so far south.
I was still on the road when I realized it was futile, that she had left, not for the job, but because I couldn’t find a way into her (ancient ruins)(dreams). Or maybe she was just a short-lived downpour I got caught in.
She was a gilt-edged cloud full of turbulence and she blew away. I guess it was really me that got blown away. When my ride arrived in Providence, I stumbled out of the car. It was an hour and a lifetime later and I hardly had the strength to walk. Each thought was a thunderstorm, eroding [my (energy)(will)][me in stark gullies][the clay off my faces], and my gut was tied up like some [sacrifice on a Mayan pyramid][torture victim in Teheran or Guantanamo].
That was the first hour and the first lifetime after the myth of her departed.

But here’s the strange part. It was just a dream and when I woke up I couldn’t remember ever knowing her, or ever having a girl leave me like that. And yet it was all so familiar. What kind of dream is that?
A rume full ov ammulets and meererz;
A rume with onlee wun dor
But wen I left, I kame owt intu difrent plasez.
I was tied up in knots, and all day I kept thinking I had just climbed out of that car, or I was still heading south when I realized the truth.
Maybe this detail is somehow connected: yesterday I was reading Amos, Ch.7, v. 17, “Your wife shall be a harlot in the city...” and now I feel like I am chasing after her. And then I remember... it’s only a dream.
Oenlee a dreem...
I passed through a room of amulets. She was one of them, a tiny dancing figurine hanging in front of a mirror painted with stars.
I wen in thru her iyz
An kame owt thru a berth kannal,
Krusht and krying.

I walked into a room of talismans and charms. She greeted me like the Hindu goddess Parvati, wearing a low-cut, satin dress embroidered with her sexual exploits; gold bangles up her arms, and tiny silver bells around one ankle. Her eyes were lined in kohl, and a mysterious henna pattern, like a Celtic knot, encircled her face.
“Du yu wont opeyum,
Or du yu wont me,
Or du yu wont the passijway owt ov yur littel werl?”
“All of them,” I answered, and looked down at her jingling bells. I saw that her feet were clay. I looked into her eyes, fell into a dream, and woke up in a car heading south.

Well, not exactly. I went to bed last night and dreamed of bygone days and long lost friends. Galvin, and Louise, and her. I met her in a bar drinking shots of tequila. I offered her a cabochon of turquoise that I bought in Meshad (near the forbidden shrine where I got stoned by the devout)(na).
I can’t remember the first time she came home with me, but I recall sleeping on the stairway, piles of blankets beneath us. When did she take the job in Providence? I’ve forgotten so many crucial details that I’ll never be able to analyze this properly. No wonder the only thing I could do was wake up and start again.

Now she is an amulet locked in a room.
Gashez on my armz, (like an) serpen tattuez;
A krouked kee iz in the lok.
Shall I (go in)(tern it) and [try tu (fien revive) her?][see if the ammulets ar still willen tu tok.]

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Science Adrift, 2

Responding to my "Science Adrift" post of 4/8/09,
god-free morals said...

I think the problem is just that science does not only focus on matter. That is, what it can actually make statements about. It tries to apply itself to all aspects of humanity; religious, social, even artistic.

"People today believe that scientists are there to instruct them, writers and musicians to entertain them. That the latter have something to teach them never occurs to them." Wittgenstein

Dear Chris, god-free morals:

Thanks for helping to align the focus of this post. Your Wittgenstein quote was brilliant, pointing exactly to my intention. I am not speaking about scientific inquiry itself, which is often poorly conceived, sloppily done, and opinionated in its interpretations. That’s the nature of this (hopefully) self-correcting beast. I’m speaking about public perception and public education in the West, which is now based on scientific triumphalism. Religion is imagined to be outdated, primitive, and worse. There was a time when religious institutions controlled education (and it still does in some schools and many countries in the world), and that surely carried/carries its own set of problems.

However, my concern here is that our wholesale abandonment of religion and religious education is seriously, if not fatally damaging us. The trajectory of our secular culture was set in motion in an era in which religious/ethical values were foundational to our thinking. The democratic revolution begun 200+ years ago carried with it the ideals of universal freedom and dignity, and leadership based on merit and accomplishment; in short, an attempt to create a human-authored utopian society. But, as with all revolutions, there were other sides to the story. One of those sides was the power struggle with religious authority. The secular/scientific school has not merely won that battle, but routed its opponent. And we are left with a one-sided, materialistic focus, dominated by “number, weight and measure” (Marriage of Heaven and Hell, proverb 14), which is to say, an educational focus bereft of ethical values and the skills to develop psychological sensitivities.

Look at the curriculum of any high school (gymnasium), college, or university. Engineering is our obsession: mechanical, chemical, biological, electronic, ecological, nuclear, corporate, financial, medical, legal. We are fabulous at teaching the skills to build ingenious tools, models, historical scenarios, balance sheets, and other Rube Goldberg constructions, be they physical or mental, but how many course offerings (much less course requirements) are offered on practical ethics, conflict dynamics, life dilemmas, real-time ethical decision making, the conflicts between self and society, or identity building and religious tradition? We are taught professional skills but not how to live.

I sat in on a Sabbath morning study session with Rabbi Mordechai Finley last week. He asked us how we, as a society, define “the good life.” It was widely agreed that it means lots of money, leisure, and sex. But Finley’s definition, without denying the pleasure of money and sex, was very different. For him it means:
- learning how to endure existential despair with dignity;
- including people of all faiths, creeds, nationalities, and social strata among one’s group of friends (which means inviting them into one’s house regularly;)
- learning how to effectively engage with political diversity;
- taking time on a regular basis to pray, meditate, explore one’s inner being
- making learning an essential and regular part of one’s life.

The promulgating of meaningful values was once the provenance of our religious communities. In our secular societies, however, religious communities have become nearly vestigial. We need to revive those communities or replace them, because, assuredly, we cannot continue on a trajectory towards utopian ideals without a commitment to the values that will implement those ideals.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Science Adrift

It is taught,
We have become wise in science
And cast off the superstition of religion.”
If you have been taught thus,
You have been taught poorly.
We have become skillful in manipulation,
And cast off the constraints that guide our Soul.”

For science is but a process to observe carefully,
But in this era that process is only applied to matter,
And as for matters of conscience,
And the transmission of values, we are woefully careless.

We have become crude in our sensitivities,
Blind to our Soul, arrogantly so.
I refuse to consider the knowledge in religion;
Nor will I constrain my desires.

I louk at this kine an I despaer.
Neether past nor prezzen ar dezerven ov onnor,
And az for owwer fewcher,
We ar on a ship, asael in daenjerz,
And we kaer not ennee mor ov kapten or krew.