Thursday, January 19, 2012

I Asked One

The Abbey of St. Wandrille de Fontanelle
I asked one of the monks how he could sum up, in a couple of words, his way of life. He paused a moment and said, "Have you ever been in love?" I said, "Yes." A large Fernandel smile spread across his face. "Eh bien," he said, "c'est exactement pariel..."

- Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time To Keep Silence

* * *

Have you ever been in love?

What kind of question is that for a monk to ask?

The only question worth asking and, consequently, the only one worth answering.

* * *

I have written here before of my deep affection for the monks and lay-brothers I met at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane in Bardstown, Kentucky. My affection, the deep sense that I either belonged there or had once, in a past life, been among their number, has never, ever left me. I wake at 4 in the morning - the hour of the first office of the day (Matins) and prize the darkness before dawn above all else. The quiet is a tonic to all that will follow and should I sleep in my day is off-kilter and I am in a sour mood until I can sleep and then wake in the darkness to begin my day.

The vast majority of my writing is done before 6:30 in the morning and the rest of the day moves in anticipation of being able to sit at my table and put one word after the other in silence, in the surrounding darkness.

My answer to the question is the same as Fermor's: Yes, I have been in love. Waking in the darkness of morning not yet light and searching for words is one way I express that love. For it is what I have to give, and after much heartache and loss and ineptitude and desire and longing and just fucking it up in general, this is all that love asks of us: to give away what we have.

For you, my brothers and sisters in the holy order of fucked fuckers, we get it exactly backwards and wonder why things never work out.

* * *

It doesn't matter how you express the love you have. A monk's devotion and submission is no better than knowing how to satisfy your lover, to knowing how to express your love physically. The form is immaterial, what matters is the fact of expression. If you so love another - be it God, a lover, a friend, a child, a cause, an idea - that you are moved to act to express it and that expression is from the inside out, then you have unfucked your life.

It is love, the selfless expression of it, that cures the fucked life, that redeems what you've fucked up. It is here that meaning is created. It is here that your life becomes something more than the combustion of energy required to travel a lifetime. It is here that death is matched - not overcome, but equaled, wrestled to a draw.

Mortality fucks us. We pay attention to clocks. We look in mirrors to gauge the effects of time on our faces. We stop looking at scales as our middles thicken. We are haunted as time passes that we have not used our time well, or worse, give no thought at all to how we have lived. The thin ice of our days eventually breaks and we are taken under, drowned in the eternity that will not know us. To this unshakeable inevitability we respond by spending our days on amusements, distractions, escapes so that we never actually look at our lives, and by extension, our deaths. This is where sex passes for love, where attending church and mumbling prayers passes for devotion, where children rear themselves because their parents are having affairs, or botox treatments or are zoned out in front of the TV - too tired to give a fuck.

Welcome to the fucked life. Welcome to not knowing shit from shinola.

* * *

Have you ever been in love?

If so, then you have the key to unfucking your life, even if that love was long ago, even if that love is unreturned, even if it was a fleeting moment, you now have something to give. Love prompts action and it is action born of loving something beyond yourself that meets death and says, "Fuck you. I've got love."

Death cannot be vanquished, but acts of love, acts of a life come alive, slip the bonds of death and live on in memory and story, in works and in our children. These are the products of love expressed in time.

The defining characteristic of love is the will to express it. So, I ask you, can you sum up, in a couple of words, your way of life?

The only answer that matters is: "Have you ever been in love? Eh bien, c'est exactment pariel..."

* * *



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