Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I Am Stunned

I am stunned, from time to time, by the elements in my life that make themselves known in ways I could not imagine, or hope for. Coincidences, rhymes, echoes fall through my days and I am saved time and time again by one or more of these elements. It is unseemly to the cynical or modern or fucked mind to believe in anything let alone these resonances that buoy me, that will not quit on me though I have quit on them a hundred thousand hundred thousand times.

If that is the case, then add unseemly to my roster of failings.

It has been the blackest of times for me. The unending waste and bile of the divorce after the divorce ground me to a point of despair I had not ever felt before because now I knew there was no end to it. Before I could imagine a day when I would be restored to myself, free of the trails of the past 15 years, able to walk upright and embrace the days before me. But no more. There will be no such day. The bile and venom of a meaningless war continues unabated and will not cease.

I allowed this realization to paralyze me, to cut off my connections with those I love for fear of them being hurt further by this senseless mess. Work shriveled up because I could not free my mind from the pall cast over my life. Dissolution was, and is, at hand.

And yet I persist in spite of the odds and in spite of the sure knowledge of the durability of this plague. How? I don't ask why anymore, but how is this possible?

Echoes and rhymes and coincidences.

* * *

I was born August 23rd, 1960. For the whole of my life I have wondered who else was born on that day, who were the famous ones, the ones someone would write about. Turns out I share that day with Gene Kelly, Kobe Bryant, River Phoenix, Keith Moon and Barbara Eden.

And William Ernest Henley.

Somehow he didn't make the list I just looked up. He's the chap whose likeness Rodin sculpted. His daughter, who died at the age of 5, was the model for JM Barrie's "Wendy" in Peter Pan. Henley himself, a pal of RL Stevenson, was the physical model for Long-John Silver, as he was a tall, broad shouldered man with a flowing red beard, and a loud, vital way about himself and but one leg. He was also a publisher, a critic, a playwright and poet. If you have ever used or mis-used the phrase, "my head is bloodied, but unbowed," you're cribbing Henley. That line shows up in his most famous poem:


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced, nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Lies but the Horror of the shade.
Yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me unafraid.

No matter how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate.
I am the captain of my soul.

It is told that Nelson Mandela found strength in this poem, this odd and old-fashioned poem of assertion, of insistence, of character. All that sounds so pathetic to our fucked ears. (Add pathetic to my list of failings as well.) And, yes, this poem echoes the same sentiment, the same thought as Viktor Frankl's exhortation that we are always free to choose how we respond to our circumstances - no matter how dire, and in so choosing be free regardless of circumstance.

It is a hard thing to do, and yet there is all this work that others have left behind to remind us to stand when we are beaten, to resist what we know to be false regardless of any other opinion. I hunt for them to leave here for you, and to remind myself to keep at it, but these are the blackest days of my life and I've been losing my way.

I recalled Invictus the other night and was comforted by the words. I've taken it to memory and use it as something of a prayer when doubt comes strolling by. But it wasn't the poem, or the movie that buoyed me, it was learning this one legged man was born on the same day as I was 111 years before that struck with the full force of coincidence, echo and rhyme.

* * *

I cannot see an end to this toxic wasteland that is the divorce after the divorce. I do not expect or hope for it to end, or to end well. But a one-legged Scotsman's got my back, a twin separated by 111 years, and that will do. That will do.


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