Saturday, November 20, 2010

Oh Not Because

Oh not because happiness exists,
that too-hasty profit snatched from approaching loss.
Not out of curiosity, not as practice for the heart, which
would exist in the laurel too...

But because truly being here is so much; because everything here
apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some
          strange way
keeps calling us. Us the most fleeting of all.
Once for each thing. Just once; no more. And we too,
just once. And never again. But to have been 
this once, completely, even if only once:
to have been at one with the earth, seems beyond undoing.

- RM Rilke, "The Ninth Elegy," Duino Elegies

* * *

In conversation the other day a woman said she still hoped to be a better person, that she had placed herself on "an affirmative path" to become that better person she imagined she could yet be. She sat, bird-like as if on a nervous perch, her eyes never once meeting mine, but always flitting to the ground or somewhere off to the left or right, but never at me as she spoke to me. I said, "For me I am done with trying to be a better person. It implies I am somehow worse, in need of fixing. But to what standard? No, I am done trying to be a better man. I am aiming for complete - no part left out."

The Self-Help Industrial Complex is made for fucked fuckers like you and me who know something is missing and assume something ain't right. There is a chicken soup for every sort of soul and gurus rise and fade and all profit from the fucked. But they, too, are fucked. Their stepping off place is the same as the woman perched on her intent to be better: what ails you can be fixed with a prescription, a course, a methodology, the power of positive thinking. As if wishing could make it so.

There is something wrong - you keep looking outside of yourself for answers. Kill the Buddha. You have work to do - not on yourself, but of yourself. What's been missing from your life is you.

* * *

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.

- Joseph Campbell

* * *

Budapest from St. Matyas Temple
She was beautiful in ways that I could not say were attached to her physical self. She was twenty years older than I was. Unhappily married. The mother of a bright and handsome boy of maybe eight. She was the first person I had ever met who was fully alive and that did not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, she was happy in the sense that most of us aspire to: peace, stability, a lack of problems. Her's was something else entirely - she walked with the hard-won grace of a survivor.

Borbala Szendro was my Hungarian language teacher in Budapest in 1984. I had a serious school-boy crush on her. She would take the lot of us exchange students on walking tours of her strange and tired city and always we would walk arm and arm. She never seemed hurried and delighted in sudden beauty: a grocer with baskets of warm, red peppers, a vine creeping over a wall, the quality of a light in the cafe she like to take us all to. She was at ease with herself.

I mistook that ease for sexual interest - and it may have been - but I was too locked into my blinkered worldview to even imagine pursuing it. Instead I simply loved being in her company. Perhaps she had witnessed enough deprivation, enough violence, enough man-made misery that having survived it she vowed to be live only as herself and take what pleasure and happiness that came to her. I don't know. We never spoke of any of that. We simply walked together: a middle aged Hungarian woman who was born in a time of war and a punk-assed American born into a time of plenty and I knew then I was in the company of a rare sort of person - one who was alive in spite of being alive.

* * *

The answer to life is to live - completely, fully, to use it up before you lay it down. Do not die with gas left in your tank. Apparently, this world needs us to do just that in order for the next thing to arrive. Half-measures and false suffering - the hallmarks of the fucked - are worse than doing nothing at all for it taints the water with self-righteous victimhood when what is needed is the ability to walk arm in arm across the city and be delighted by prosaic beauty - the impulse to be alive right fucking now.

 * * *

Borbala, by the way, means "wine-dancer" in Hungarian.


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