Thursday, October 9, 2008

Proposal for the World Trade Center Site

What should have happened after the attacks of 9/11—the first thing, a child could have told you--was a dedication of some part of the Trade Center site to a center of faith, a humble building that would house together in some peaceful tranquil way the religions of the world, of the holy land and those of the East. The work of religion is akin to that of science, an attempt to figure out and then explain in terms the nature of reality. (Rightly so is a philosopher of a religion called a doctor, as Saint Jerome is regarded in the statue at the end of my street, ‘greatest doctor of the church.’) The work of holy men, Saint Francis, Buddha, for instance, is to work toward advancements on understanding the nature of human joy and sorrow, what the meaning of self is, what selflessness means, and so on and so forth.

Religion is not about enforcing an archaic scientific understanding that has long since been proved at great odds with logic and fossil record and geological understanding. Too often those thoughtful poetic suggestions from a time past are rigidly held to, when they were with self-acknowledgement but the first attempts at math, primitive, grasping for terms. And often, there is the simple poetry, as in God creating and seeing that what he had made was good, which is as poetry does, attempt to arrive at a truth through suggestion and proposal.

Religion, the point needed to be made, and can still be made, cannot ever be associated with violence and attack. It is rather about us helping ourselves, and in turn helping other people, and that sort of stuff. All parties could agree that it isn’t wise to stuff something down someone else’s throat.

Religion is about the happy poetic philosopher, the gentle peaceful being within us, coming out to say his word, and wish himself and other people well. And after 9/11, some place where people could come under a roof, or without a roof, as in a quiet garden, to commemorate the good, the positive, the friendships and advancements offered by religious thoughts would have been a fitting tribute to what was attacked that day.

At the core of any economic enterprise, remember, there is the attempt to figure out reality, to find useful ways of dealing with it, treating it, cooking it so it tastes better, making it more comfortable, basically making happiness attainable, even if that might ultimately mean turning convention on its head and making plentiful sorrows into a kind of joy earned and worth sharing. So would it be appropriate at a place called World Trade Center to have a shrine toward peace and the different ways peace is celebrated.

And who knows, maybe allow for a stage, with musicians, restaurateurs, comedians, athletes, writers, scientists, survivors of difficult things, the high, the low, the in-between, even atheists, general people of peace, to stand and say a word they thought might help. Maybe even leave it empty of clerics, lest they tend toward partisan ways.

But instead of that, we were led to rebuild without much thought to the basic purpose of any building so constructed, to posture, to say nothing about peace and turning violence away from the world, to go and start a war, attacking, fighting back at what we couldn’t even grasp at. And a child could have told us the consequences of acting so.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The world will little note, nor long remember...

The keystone of the beautiful arch that is the Gettysburg Address, making the whole thing possible, is the small self-conscious note, ‘the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.’ It has the ring of a politician grown tired of trying to please public opinion, of a man who has found it’s simply easier to do his job, both professionally and personally, putting himself aside.

Lincoln invested his small speech with the meaning he had found in the overarching ideals behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He regarded them as pure documents by which to measure the national course, finding within a cause to be joyful, a salvation from acting on selfish interest in a merely capitalist society, as slavery had obvious economic sense to the plantation owner. Professionally, such ideals had given him purpose where he had struggled in his career and found himself lost. And now he brought the delivery together with the ideal so that there would no longer be an interference pattern between speech and thought, but a deep sounding harmony.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”

No wise thing, independent of topical commentary, one can say before putting himself aside. Every man knows, he, being himself, such as he is, is not wise enough, that wisdom must come, if at all, from beyond his own driving personal concerns.

Any book then, if is possesses any dignity at all, must be so written, without a celebration of powers to add or detract. He who has channeled the book from his own experience and wisdom would crave a fitting dignity for his work. He would wish for it a proper burial, like the Marquis de Sade wished his body left in the woods.

Contrary to any marketing plan, a man desires no dust jacket blurb of praise, no reading at Books-A-Million, no word of approval. A book comes about like a tree and does not live for any praise. He would wish for his book, quite honestly, to be forgotten, tossed into a gutter, fireplace, into a stream, page by page, in accordance with the science by which he worked. Then will it receive the dignity that speaks of the selfless beyond from which it came.

Marketing invites consumerism and interest. A poem exists independently of such concerns, being a thing of nature. Poems work because of the thoughts and recognitions that readers bring to them. A poem sounds good when it is a truthful observation, a comparison that works, that has a fitting harmony to the world as it is, even as the poem is purely a work of the imagination and the mind.

Lincoln stood there at Gettysburg, finding the words to speak of an unspeakable situation in those that came from beyond the situation itself, a small short poem that bore some truth as best could be known. He came up with some gently dignified, fitting and proper words, along with a small eulogy for the very words he had found, before burying them gently in the national ground.

He had figured out the physics, put an equation on a blackboard for a time to come, smiling, perhaps, as a small bit of science he felt he’d gotten right, having been an observer of nature his whole life, strengthened for it by the stream, by the pig stuck in the mud, by the fallen bird, by his own hand upon a stone, feeling its weighty lightness and how all things fit together, hearing his father calling him from thoughtful bookish reverie even as knew his work when he saw it.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Wild Ideas

Why is it that a leaf resembles a burst of energy,
A tree, the collective flickering of a candle’s flame,
A blade of grass, the flash of a spark,
The flourish of a falling star?
Why does a volcano look
Like the power and energy
From Above pouring into the world below?
Why does rock feel solid
In its cooled state,
As if the steady energy
That runs through the Universe,
Turned into matter, to stand upon,
Were the most stable and steady thing of all?
Why was there nothing to fear of the waves
That tossed the boat upon the Sea of Galilee?
How did one man, a simple teacher
Of nothing in particular,
A gifted amateur,
Have the light within
To give to all?

Why does the butterfly resemble the leaf,
The walking stick, the twig?
The fish have their shapes too,
Suspiciously like something of physics,
A body of flame, a tail of heat,
To say nothing of a starfish
Or the octopus,
The dragonfly’s spin, the cricket’s leap.
The energy behind all
Is cut into patterns when it turns
To worldly matter, created to form.
Not from within, as in DNA, which merely apes,
But without, by choice of the fiery
Dancing source coming through a window
To leave a living shadow of its inner mystery.
We too were cut from some pattern,
Like a fearful symmetry,
But in the form,
For example,
Of the fallen leaf, the tree,
The blade of grass, the rock,
And also of the simple unselfish teacher
Who pointed out the way the world works,
Shining, through simple homily.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

e equals mc squared

One cannot help but be the message he is. Equal parts beatitude, Corinthian charity, joy. A physical law that applies to us as salt of the earth, the mix giving us our particular identity, our humor, our wine, no side negated, if one were to speculate, to project how to be aligned as a being.

Chekhov was good at catching this mix in people's lives, like the sorrowful, tender, problematic coupling that is the story The Lady With The Pet Dog.