By Harry Cummins
In matters of final consequence, we seldom escape much in this life - not the least of which is ourselves.
Like countless Americans during this past year of social unrest and pandemic, I have tried many things in an attempt to do just that. Looking far and wide for easy formulas for what's real and what's not, I have often missed the meaning of this masked and muffled 'aloneness' currently covering my face...and yours.
It is not easy to find sufficient seclusion to simply uncover clarity of thought. We are surrounded by a loud world of suffering, injustice, disease and impermanence. In the midst of all that, we are called to fully comprehend our own precious place in everyday life. There are so many distractions that conspire to derail us from that important task. Covid has perhaps helped diminish a few of those distractions.
Through my own litany of personal failures, I have concluded that without an inwardness amid the din, human thought and human nature seldom gravitate toward good daily habits, which taken together, equal the sum of our lives. The events and circumstances of each day are, thru the filter of our right minds, the only means by which we hope to approximate authentic lives.
In search of our own transformation, there does seem to be far too much missionary spirit afield these days, venturing into our neighbors, co-workers, even family members' brains. Left brains, right brains, even comfortable middle of the road brains. I am trying instead, to regard myself as a free-will agent and those around me as components of my destiny. I need to be alone to know what I think..and I also need to be with others to understand who I am. Thus is the paradoxical teeter-totter in the tilt toward self-discovery. Alone and together in tandem.
We all need to believe not what we feel like believing, but what we come to believe through honest and hard examination. Such scrutiny may point to a divine presence in both soil and flesh, sky and soul. Trying to get at the truth of one's self, to find your own "true north", involves sorting thru an overwhelming array of conflicting messages. It can be terribly difficult to abandon society's traditional highways of ease for the unmarked roads of your own mind.
In the end, it is all about taking yourself more seriously. Not with some unrelenting, egotistical, humorless notion of importance, but with an urgent and sacred sense of responsibility toward every day and every life.
In the final chapter of her 1992 book Migrations To Solitude, we find the writer Sue Halpern alone in a rowboat with thoughts of her blind grandfather. Halpern describes how, even when he couldn't see a thing, her grandfather would go to Yankee Stadium and sit with a transistor radio plugged into his ear, just to cheer. Halpern also recalls when she was 6 years-old, holding a newspaper in front of her grandfather's face, then taking it away so he could see the light.
What do you and I hold in front of our faces every day to block the light?
What do we cheer for... when we cannot see?
Questions marked 'urgent'.
photo: Monhegan Island, ME