Look To The Living Thing

my latest, as yet un-named, painting

Kerri looked at this painting and told me it captures how she feels when our daughter is hurting and calls home. “Describe that feeling to me?” I asked. She pointed to the painting, and said, “Just like that.”

Some things are universal and understood regardless of political affiliation or religious belief. What does a mother need to know to support her child? The political investments and religious doctrines are abstractions, separations. Motherhood is direct; it lives beyond the capacity of language to capture and articulate. It is the impulse to unity. It transcends all divisions. It knows nothing of conceptions like the rational and irrational.

Jim and I just had one of our famous phone calls. Our discussion romped through many fields but we returned again and again to the notion that the important things in life cannot be rushed. For instance, relationship takes time. Relationship takes attention and tending. It is fluid and dynamic so it is nearly impossible to slap a single word-label on it. It changes. It grows. In a single day it can pass through many descriptors. Dog-Dog can drive me crazy in one moment and melt my heart the next. The important stuff, like relationship, is not static or containable. It is not a concept. It is a living thing.

So What?

The best language can do is point to the living. Language can describe experience but can never be experience. Language, of necessity, reduces while the important stuff – like relationship – like love – expands. Language, as a tool of abstraction, can never be true. It can only point toward truth. Language separates. Truth is like relationship. Truth is a living thing, dynamic and changing. To be known, it must, like motherhood, be experienced directly.

Again, so what?

Direct experience is always (obviously) personal. Truth is not so easily captured. Is it exclusively liberal or conservative? Is it Christian? Buddhist? Is it unique to Islam, Judaism, or the Tao? Leave the city lights some night, take a good long look at the stars, and realize what you are staring into.

Last week we rushed 20 to the hospital. He couldn’t breathe. He walked to the edge of the abyss and looked into it. We watched him teeter on the edge. As we watched, all other concerns, pursuits, bills, frustrations, news,…, dropped away. The stuff of separations and abstractions went to dust in the face of the actual. Ask me what I experienced watching 20 grasp for life? There are no words. Ask him what he experienced in those long hours and he will shrug his shoulders. There are no words – but it is clear in his eyes.

The important stuff, the stuff beyond words, leaps the boundaries of separation and abstraction; all else falls away. The important stuff always leads to a universal place, a common ground. It is a beautiful paradox.  As a test, try this: if language can reach it, ask this very important and often absent question: Is it really true or merely another entrenched point of view?

a detail

Reach Through Time

TODAY’S FEATURED PRINT FOR HUMANS

Reach Through Time

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Return To Center

Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 5.16.04 PMMy sister posted some photos and a video of our father dressed as Santa Claus. He was playing the role for her grandchildren, his great-grandchildren. The photo made me smile and the moving images took my breath away. When he came in dressed as Santa he was mostly silent; his voice would have betrayed his true identity. His Santa was gentle and kind. Like every good Santa Claus, he took his cues from the children.

I did not have children, though, recently, there came into my life two amazing twenty-something adults, Kerri’s children, and I am learning the ins-and-outs of the role of parent. It is a complex and rich affair! On Christmas Eve, Kerri and I were up until 5am wrapping packages and hiding gifts for a treasure hunt (the wrapped boxes held clues and the gifts were hidden around the house). It was a riot of fun and gave me some small taste of what being a father must feel like. All night as I wrapped and concocted clues I thought of my dad: what must he feel in a room with his children’s children’s children? If my excitement for the giving of gifts on Christmas morning – also a new experience for me – is any measure, his heart must have been near to exploding as he pulled gifts from a red bag and handed them to his daughter’s daughter’s daughter.

During this season I’ve participated in many conversations about the loss of meaning in this holiday. As P-Tom said, this is the season that everyone seems to be telling us what we need and where we can go and buy it. And, there’s no denying that the commercial has generally overtaken the communal. Yet, when I watched the video of my dad, I knew that his great-grandchildren would someday tell the story of how once, long ago, their great-grandpa played Santa for them. On that day they would not remember what was in the presents he brought, only that he brought them. As I watched the video of my dad, I knew the essential thing was intact, the commerce had not touched the center: family.

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