Posted by: Jewelie Dee | August 2, 2015

A Truthing (5)

I believe in absolute truth. I have never been a fan of situational ethics or in “all people believe in the same God, no matter what they name Him (Her)”. The idea of relative truth offends logic and rationality. It feels like a large grain of sand in the Great Oyster of my underwater existence. I don’t like reasoning that bends itself around corners or forms itself around desires and hopes.

(And yet I can be accused of something very akin. But I will address that soon.)

Here’s what I think about absolute truth. There is an absolute truth about everything that exists. The difficulty is in DISCOVERING IT. Therefore, in this world, in this existence, we all end up living, inadequately, with relative truth. In fact, I think that people who think they believe in only relative truth are really looking desperately for the absolute truth in everything!

When I was in college, I had an amazing modern philosophy professor (Descartes et al.). She was an indefatigable challenger of all things purported to be truth. I felt a deep kinship with her. The most interesting thing to me about Mary Ann was that, with all of her insistence on rationality and logic, she was a born-again Christian. (At that time, I called myself an agnostic.)

Her conversion story fascinated and illuminated me. She had found an argument for the existence of God that she could not refute with her arsenal of tools of logic. The argument was that of Thomas Aquinas who, according to Wikipedia:

…synthesized Aristotelian philosophy with Christianity. He believed that there was no contradiction between faith and secular reason, but that they complemented each other epistemically. He thought Aristotle had achieved the pinnacle of human striving for truth apart from divine revelation and thus adopted Aristotle’s philosophy as a framework in constructing his theological and philosophical outlook.

One day, as I was walking the halls of the philosophy department, I overheard one of the other philosophy professors making fun of my favorite professor. The gist of his discourse was the flawed nature of Thomas Aquinas’ arguments and how stupid MaryAnn was to accept them. He, of course, was an atheist.

It felt to me like a moment of Supreme Clarity. We believe what we need to believe, or what we have been environmentally or biologically prepared to believe. I could not accept Thomas Aquinas’ argument. He appeared to me the same as Descartes, as Spinoza, as Leibnitz. In my book, they were all eminently honest seekers who came up with radically different “truths,” some of which (the monads of Leibnitz) kept my head spinning long after that chapter was done.

(“The more rigorously the mind seeks, the more elusive truth becomes,” I thought, as I broke open shells to retrieve pearls from the oysters at the bottom of my water world.)

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Posted by: Jewelie Dee | January 28, 2013

A Loving (4)

As I have said, my grandfather lived “tactilely” in the world with all his might. I wonder if that is why he was better at loving than my father. He saw people rather than just their meaning. When I was a kid, and Dad came home and said, “We’re going to Virginia!”–my heart would swell with excitement. At the end of I-81 was someone whose world would light up when I (and my sisters) came into view. He’d tickle us weak with “sugar,” his word for kisses, scrubbing our tender cheeks with his day’s growth of beard and making our hearts soar with the certainty of being loved.

When my daughter, Lara, was to be born, Grand Dad was ill and closing in on the last days of his life. His voice box gone several years from cancer, he had long since given up croaking out words by pressing an electronic device against his throat. The restless man who loved to preach salvation to everyone he could buttonhole had settled himself into silence and semi-serenity. And he was in no shape for a trip, I knew. But Dad said that Grand Dad was determined to be there for the birth of my daughter. And he made that dreadful trip, staying in a motel, so that he could spend five minutes holding his new granddaughter in his arms.

Why did he care so much? I couldn’t wrap my mind around that much love, but I pondered it in my heart. Among my most precious possessions is the photo of an old and failing Grand Dad holding in his arms a new and tiny baby.

Yes, that was love. If it were not for Grand Dad, I might never have been sure that men can love. He showed me that they can sometimes love even more than a woman can. I like men because of my grandfather, because, upon meeting a man, I know there is always the possibility that a love the size of my grandfather’s could be “in there.”

(Grand Dad allowed me to stand on dry ground once in a while.)

Posted by: Jewelie Dee | January 28, 2013

A Repeating (3)

We are stories that repeat themselves over and over again throughout our lives. I am a quiet person who doesn’t talk enough for most people but prefers to listen. The exception reveals itself when my mind is fully engaged in a study group or class.

I love this quote by Jack Kerouac:

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

In everyday life, I fear saying commonplace things and boring interesting people. In a study group, however, I am mad to say things and mad to have someone come back at me with something else, so that I can respond. Once my mind is deeply engaged, my mouth follows. When I entered college at age 34, I discovered this situationally specific trait. My anthropology teacher asked me to stay after class one day so that she could admonish me not to contribute so much in class. Evidently, I was overwhelming the younger students and keeping them from participating. My face flamed with a familiar shame.

I belong to a small study group now, and I continually find myself talking too much, trying to talk over other people in my excitement about the subject; in short, being a real bore, self-absorbedly so. It is one of my repeating stories.

“I am seven years old, and my favorite number is seven!” she thought, skipping down the tall curb, across the narrow street and up the curb of the triangular city block that held one of her favorite parks. The coincidence of her age and her number made her happy.

It was a late spring day, warm, and the birds were chirping. Her long red-gold hair, held back in a tight ponytail, shone in the sunlight. She glanced at the old stone water fountain at one corner of the park as she passed, wondering if it was had been turned on yet for summer. But she couldn’t stop to see because she didn’t want to be late to school. The thought of being late sickened her stomach in fear. That fear reminded her of another fear, the fear of the disapproving look on her teacher’s face.

“I won’t raise my hand at all today,” she vowed. But she could never help it. When the teacher asked a question, she almost always knew the answer, and her arm shot up in the air, her hand waving frantically back and forth to catch the teacher’s attention. “Ask me, me, me!” her little white face pleaded, some of her freckles disappearing in the wrinkling of her nose. In the beginning of the year, the pleased smile of her teacher had always been there when she had known that George Washington was the first President or had recognized that the word chalked on the blackboard was “America.” When the teacher was happy with her, a warmth spread over the little girl’s face and her heart sang. But of late, the teacher didn’t want her responses.

“Give someone else a chance,” Mrs. Lally complained, frowning at the little girl’s frantic attempts to be noticed. And then the little girl’s little face flamed with shame.

Some of our repeating stories seem to be impervious to improvement.

(I am still trying to change this one thing about me, but some faults are deep as the deep blue sea in the core of who you are.)

Posted by: Jewelie Dee | January 28, 2013

A Restlessness (2)

My grandfather was an eternally restless man. Change was his joy-giver, and he was continually running from one venture to the next. A competent carpenter, he built one house after another, living in each long enough to escape the charge that he had only built the current house for something to do. In his younger days, he was a horse trader, and later traded vehicles as often as his finances allowed. When he was not trading cars or trucks, he was altering them. He added wooden railings to his truck so that his grandchildren would not fall out on their trips to Sunday School. (“These are my grandbabies!”)

I never saw in my grandfather’s eyes, though, the same kind of inward turning of my father. Dad had a restless heart, too, but Grand Dad lived “tactilely” in the world with all his might, whether he was planting a garden or nailing boards for a pig sty. His restlessness was a doing kind of restlessness. And he found inspiration for life in the world of senses. When he looked at you, he really saw you, and active loving was second-nature to him.

I am like my father. I have an intellectual restlessness, and my inspiration comes most powerfully from the thought world. People like Dad and me cannot cleanly separate our inner and outer worlds. Some people live mostly “out there,” and some live mostly “in here.” In here, we are sometimes too preoccupied to love, and it is my greatest regret, this feature of inward Restless Heart Syndrome.

One of the ways I am most like my Dad is that my true home is the open road. I am never as happy as when I am traveling the back country roads of Pennsylvania or the coastal roads of New England. Road life is a thinking life, and the panorama of nature passing is inextricable from the landscape of the soul.  If my Dad had wanted to be cremated, I would have spread his ashes along a country road in Floyd County, Virginia. I have already told my daughter and husband that I want mine scattered on a country road in Pennsylvania. The thought of the wind catching up my ashes and swirling them restlessly along the road forever is joy to me.

This inner restlessness means that to have any stability in my life, I must exert a huge act of will to stay with something. In the early years of my marriage, I began to feel smothered by the “stay-here-edness” of my husband, who loves to put down deep roots. I love that about him now because it made him stay with me all these 20+ years. But in the beginning, it was like an iron chain around my ankles. I wanted to pick up and leave every few years to see new environs and experience radically different things to feed my thought life. His immoveable wall of immutability stood in my way. He has taken small trips with me, the longest to France for 18 days. As time goes on, his roots go deeper and deeper. These days he is supremely content to stay in his chair except for forays to restaurants, automotive parts stores, and church.

Looking back, I understand that I let go of what I loved to stay with him. I guess I wanted him more than I wanted to wander. Or maybe I am like a toddler who takes three excited steps out into the world, but then has to glance back at Mom to manage her insecurity.

(Just being there, my husband is the anchor for my unsteady steps in this water world of mine.)

Posted by: Jewelie Dee | January 28, 2013

A Drowning (1)

When the doctor told my Dad that his heart was so weak that it was barely beating, and that it would just stop its tired ticking one day, a question thrummed in my head. “Dad, what does it feel like to be told that you are going to die?”

“I don’t believe it,” he answered wryly, peering up at me from his lowered head, with his sly, sideways grin.

He didn’t believe it, and I understood. He had missed so many bullets: his first heart attack (at the house of a doctor whose wife put nitro under his tongue), open heart surgery (I’ll never forget the waxen sheen of his skin when he emerged), and drunken binges followed by episodes of DT’s (it was horrifying to watch him pound on his own chest to keep his heart beating).

No, he could not wrap his mind around the probability that life would end. It was out of the realm of experience.

He did die, just as the doctor had predicted. One night, he made love to his wife, got up from bed and went into the bathroom for post-coital ablutions . . . and his heart stopped. It stopped, and he slid down to the floor, where his wife found him minutes later when she started wondering what was taking him so long.

I sometimes try to picture what it was like for her. In the blink of an eye, a yawning black hole of dark space loomed where the universe of another human being had been. The world was suddenly devoid of anything that really mattered and facing her was a world that cared only in passing. Alone again. Nevermore.

When I was a little girl, I used to stare at my Dad and wonder what he was thinking. I can see him standing in the kitchen, eyes gazing far away into space, leaning on the left forearm pressed against our small refrigerator. His right hand absent-mindedly picked his teeth with a matchbook cover. Rolled up, hillbilly style in his t-shirt sleeve, was a pack of Camel cigarettes. He looked so handsome it took my breath away.

Dad, like myself, was not a big talker. He was a big thinker. A starer into inner space. A traveler into inner landscapes. A dreamer of dreams. A rememberer of memories. He, as my nephew Gabe would say, had a very rich inner life.

But in his outer life, also like myself, he was always walking under water.

We are people who find our waking world the dream, and our dreams more vivid than anything we experience with our senses. I would often wonder, “When will I awaken and my real life begin?” The outer world was muffled and blurry. Truths were cloudy, and emotions were a tyrannical climate in a land where nothing was clear. The world of senses was, well, senseless.

I had heard people use the phrase “my moment of clarity.” I waited with bated breath a long, long time for mine.

(It is difficult to breathe under water.)

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