31st December, 2011
I watch a lick of neon orange sunlight glowing on the glossy white paint of a window frame. It deepens, intensifies, becomes a metallic, fire-light my camera cannot capture. The wall behind me is also cast with the light of the setting sun, a ghost window, whose pink panes disappear with every second, all of it coming and going. Such beauty of fleeting existence, gone now, with these last words, yet still imbuing me with a sense of well-being that I know I cannot hold onto, for to even try would be to fight against time.
Time. The great illusion. Of course it exists, but I think not in the way – or limited to – how we mortals understand it, as if it were an infinite tick-tock handily delineated into seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries and on and on like a never-ending stretch of taffy.
It’s New Year’s Eve, or the last day of 2011, if you prefer, and most of us are caught up in its treacherous significance: the taking stock of the the year, the resolutions for the next. I succumb to the romance of it, hence our having shopped for some of our favorite foods today which we will assemble, chop, dice, marinate, sauté, steam, dress and thoroughly enjoy. We’ll raise our flutes of non-alcoholic champagne at midnight and take a moment to think of loved ones.
Yet as I pass through time I increasingly sense the absurdity of it. One of the things I love about Europe, – Provence and, particularly, Tuscany – is the sensation of all time existing all the time. The accumulation of it. Not specific historic events, but more the scent of it, the look of it, the whisper of it in the wind. The way a field, tilled for centuries holds every print of man and beast that ever toiled there. The way an old door reveals its incarnations in the layers of chipped paint. In these moments I experience time as the great mystery; inevitable, unavoidable, unknowable. And I like it that way.
I turned a corner a few days ago. Nothing changed out there in the universe: I still have ailing relatives, politicians are still terrifyingly laughable, Broadway @ 100th Street is still seedy, I still need gum surgery. I didn’t change either. I just woke up one morning and nothing was such a big deal.
I have some of you to thank for this. My last post seemed to have touched a spark in some of you and I received comments and emails that encouraged me. What a gift that is…to encourage each other. I like that word, encouragement. If you believe, as I do, that courage cannot exist without fear, then one can see how important it is to summon one’s courage to slay fear. Of course, fear is seductive; to succumb to it is to absolve one’s self of self-responsibility. So a good nudge from a fellow human being when nearing the pits is much appreciated.
One such nudge came from a dear friend in Tuscany. I’ve always felt him to be a kindred spiritual warrior, i.e., someone capable of taking a hatchet to pseudo-spirituality without needing to abandon the observation of modest ritual. Thanks to him I just started reading the first book inTed McKenna’s trilogy: “Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damndest Thing.” After a rollicking introduction on the uselessness of following any path, god, guru, or religion he talks about the “black diamond of fear” which he believes every human has and that is the fear of “no-self.” So I think between him and Proust, who it seems to me suffered from this fear, writing from it, into it, and perhaps out of it, between these two writers I think this writer is nicely set to endure and recover from a few weeks of gum surgery.
I’m looking forward to the gas. Not looking forward to the pain. Fully intend to use whatever medication alleviates it and am grateful for a loving husband, a cozy couch, a fireplace and the Hudson River doing its tidal thing out the window. Which makes me think of the expression ‘river of time’ as one of the more adequate metaphors to describe this thing we cannot grasp.
If I were to sum up 2011 I’d say it was a year of letting go, leaping into the unknown, feeling deep contentment and high anxiety. The contentment came from letting go and taking the leap. The anxiety came from the fear that I wouldn’t be rewarded for my courage, the need for which came from the fear of no-self.
Self-responsibility, it turns out, has no time limit. It is ongoing, but not, as I once thought, relentless. Neither is it infallible. And I have no idea if it is possible to keep up infinitely, although perhaps self-responsibility includes taking responsibility for consciously not take responsibility. But I’ll have to think about that a bit more; that may be just a fancy way of letting myself off the hook.
So, I guess that’s my resolution for 2012: self-responsibility regardless of time. That and some more time in Provence, and back to the farm in Tuscany.
In the meantime, or let me re-phrase that: we are infinitely grateful for all of you, our dear readers, family and friends, for journeying through space with us. And we wish you all an expansive and truthful 2012. With love and thanks.
Last light, 2011