“. . . so we can renew time in all places . . .” (Ibrahim Nasrallah)

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The sky at Susiya (Photo: Harold Knight, November 2015)

(Please note: Writing with serious intent is the work of a lifetime. I’ve begun much too late,
so I don’t do it well, but I will continue to try as long as I can.)

This morning in my email one of the daily “meditation” messages I subscribe to was the musings of the author about his sense that there is always something left to do ― something is about to happen ― that will make his life complete, or happy or fulfilled or . . . I have forgotten the words he used. He seemed sad or a little put out, of course, that details get in the way of the big accomplishments or realizations or successes of his life. And then he realized that the details are his life.

I don’t really meditate, and most of those daily messages seem pretty sappy and not of interest to me, but I subscribe to them to get myself to start my day by taking a moment to slow down and read something someone else finds important or inspiring, as a sort of personal discipline.

I liked the meditation this morning. It was a bit ironic in a gentle, almost humorous way. But as the day went on, I liked it less and less.

I don’t think the details such as going to Kroger to get the coffee I forgot to buy and the kitty litter I didn’t realize I needed, or making sure I’m signed up the way I need to be for Social Security for the coming year, or answering non-personal emails, or practicing the organ to be ready to play at the big church on January 1, or teaching my GED class are my life. They may be something of the glue that holds my life together day by day, that gives me a sense that something is happening, that time is passing in a purposeful way, but they are not my life. Not even the organ playing that I love so much. Those details get in the way of my life.

My life, my reality, happens when I am doing nothing.

Every day I look through the headlines of about a dozen online news sources from Palestine. I find four or five items that seem to belong together, either about similar events, or about the same event from different points of view, or some other connection that only my unconscious mind understands. Eventually my bewildered brain lets me know what it is seeing, and I begin to fashion a blog post around an idea. Then I log on to the university online library databases to which I have access and search for academic journal articles that might somehow present background for the nebulous thread of an idea I have ferreted out from the day’s news. Or I look for a poem by a Palestinian poet that seems to go with the news. Then I put together the day’s post and upload it.

Isn’t that odd. I say my reality happens when I am doing nothing, and then I describe a complicated, detailed process I go through almost every day. It certainly seems like doing something. The fact is that I am in a way doing nothing. I do not have to do this. No one is expecting me to do it. I derive little if any personal satisfaction from the blog. I almost never put a word of my own in it. The work is simply there to be done. It must be done. Note the passive verb: it must be done, not “I must do it.”

I have been to Palestine three times. I have friends in Palestine. Traveling there does not seem to be nothing. When I have been there, I have been overwhelmed with a reality that I have experienced nowhere else. Time for me stops ― certainly not for the Palestinian people. Their lives are as complex and busy and fruitful as anyone’s, and they live in a crushing reality that would, I am sure, destroy most people I know. And they keep on with the details of their lives.

Their details reach back into the history of mankind and yet are as immediate as human existence can be, and more difficult than I can imagine. When I am among my friends, my good fortune, my wonderment, my incomprehension is that, when I come home, I bring a bit of the eternity of that place with me and none of the modern horror.

My life has details. Preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Attending the opera. Tutoring university football players. Those common things. And I am awed and delighted to travel to the mountains, the beach, my sister’s and brother’s homes, even to downtown Dallas.

Those details are not my life. Standing still, breathing and feeling my body, calming my mind, giving myself to nothing, waiting for ― for what I do not know. All of that comes easily standing in the Negev Desert near the homes of new friends in Susiya, in a place where much of the thought and belief of my people originated, and where my friends can trace their ancestry back millennia, standing, at one with the unpaved, untilled ground and at one with the sky, the infinity. This seems melodramatic, or at least like a Hallmark card. Or one of those meditations I think are sappy.

I’ve seen places where, even if one does not believe in God, one knows what “Be still and know that I am God” means.

I do not mean to argue with the writer of this morning’s meditation. But the details ― this computer, the undeposited paychecks sitting on my desk, the sandwich I’m about to prepare ― the details are not my life. The wonder of nothing, of the sky at Susiya, even of sitting in my living room alone and still, that is my life.

“Shadows,” by Ibrahim Nasrallah

Our souls have become shadows in the dust,
so who will circle around us
after they leave?
Who will visit us on a pilgrimage
so we can renew time in all places?
Shadows might have shadows:
Them . . . us . . .
you . . . and you . . .
and me.

From Rain Inside: Selected Poems by Ibrahim Nasrallah. Willimantic CT: Curbstone Press, 2009.

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The desert between Jericho and Jerusalem, (Photo: Harold Knight, November 2015)

Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom

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A new-fangled cream bottle dressed in environmentally dangerous plastic, nearly impossible to tear into.

There’s a funny thing about getting old(er). Just one for today, at any rate.

For 35 years of teaching college writing, whenever a student began a sentence with “there,” I patiently asked them if they knew about Richard Nixon. An expletive, I would explain, is “an interjectory word or expression, frequently profane; an exclamatory oath.” Anyone old enough to remember 1975 knows why I always used Richard Nixon as my opening example for a lesson about writing expletives. What many people (most people, even college graduates) don’t know is that “There is” and “It is” and their various tenses are “expletives.” They hold the place of a real subject in a sentence. That is, they are profane substitutes for telling your reader what you’re talking about. I told students that they did not need to vent their frustration at the writing process by swearing at me.

What is the subject in my sentence about a funny thing?

My subject is “a funny thing” although it is obscured and delayed so you would hardly know it by my use of the expletive.

Never mind. There’s a funny thing about getting old(er). The subject at hand (pun, I suppose, intended as you will see below) is what happens to your fingers as you senesce. They begin to balk at doing small jobs that they have done all your life. Buttoning the top button on a dress shirt, for example. This morning it was getting hold of the “pull here to open” tab on the half-and-half bottle to cream my coffee. Turning pages while playing the organ is simply impossible. And pages in books present a challenge, too (Nook Books are cheaper, anyway).

And then there’s the iPhone keyboard or whatever you call those little squares with letters on the screen of my phone. But I won’t even begin with that frustration.

There’s a theory that fingerprints wear off as you age, and you don’t get as much traction when you try to do something requiring dexterity. My dermatologist said he didn’t think that was true, and then he looked at the ends of my fingers. He wasn’t convinced, but he wasn’t so certain he was right, either. The ends of my fingers are pretty smooth.
There’s also a theory that your joints get creaky―not necessarily arthritic, but not as flexible as they once were. I don’t believe that. Last Sunday I played the big Bach chorale prelude (really a fugue) on Wir glauben doch all’ an den einen Gott, and my fingers moved just fine; my musical brain may be slowing down, but if I practice, my fingers aren’t.

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My smooth old fingers.

There must be lots of other theories.

I have my own theory. (Subject, “I,” verb, “have,” direct object, “theory;” no swear words.)

My theory: almost always when I have trouble doing some little task because my fingers won’t cooperate, the trouble is really caused by my mind. Not that my mind is slowing down (it is, of course, but that’s not the problem here). My mind goes immediately to someone’s idiocy. To put it plainly, opening the half-and-half bottle should not be difficult. I mean, it SHOULD NOT BE difficult. What idiot made these things so you have to have either an 18-year-old brain to figure out or 18-year-old fingers to cope with it?

Milk is supposed to come in glass bottles that the milkman picks up when you’re finished with them. And they are supposed to have little paper stoppers in them with cute little tabs that you pull to open it. And the whole affair―for all you young environmentalists―is biodegradable. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

I know I am turning into one of those crotchety old men who just wants to Make America Great Again―great as in uncomplicated, easy, natural.

Natural. It’s not natural to know all about the billionaires in our midst. It’s not natural that there ARE billionaires in our midst. It’s not natural to think you’re better than someone else just because of your skin color. It’s not natural to want to keep out of the country people who have lost everything they own to a war they didn’t start and don’t want. It’s not natural to substitute fake news for real news. It’s not natural to think your religion is better than someone else’s religion. It’s not natural to hate someone who loves someone of the same sex. It’s not natural for you to hate people for any of these reasons (and a lot more) because, actually, who they are and what they need and want is none of your goddam business.

There. You were waiting for my expletive, weren’t you? Well there it is. It’s none of your goddam business. Hardly anything that someone believes or thinks is any of your business unless they’re family. Oh, and if you happen to be a Christian (or some other religion―Christian is the only one I know about), and they need something like food or a decent place to live, then it’s your business. Then the king will say unto you if you take care of them, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom. Because you took care of those refugees, and those homeless folk, and those kids without enough food. That’s the only way you inherit the kingdom” (whatever that is, but it sounds like something I might like).

Choose your battles. Stop fuming because you can’t open the milk bottle. Be thankful you have one. And stop getting mad because someone wants to move in here after their home is bombed. Be thankful you have a home. And share. “Inasmuch as you do it for one of the least of these”― one of these whom you despise the most ― “you do it for me,” says the King.

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Milk bottles the way milk bottles are supposed to be.

Note: I would be pleased and honored if you would check out one of my other blogs. Thank you.