- The last words of RL Stevenson
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In 1894, on the island of Samoa, Robert Louis Stevenson struggled a bit to pull the cork out of a wine bottle. It was the evening. His wife was with him. As he managed to free the cork, he looked up at his wife and said, "What was that? Does my face look strange?" and then fell to the floor. He died hours later from a hemorrhage that flew through his brain. He was 44.
I was put in the mind of this story yesterday when a strange flutter, an angry tremor danced alongside the right side of my head and a whanging headache roared instantly to life, encasing the right side of my head in a vise. I was instantly nauseous and light headed and all I could think of was RL and his wine bottle. Without meaning to, I asked myself, "What was that?"
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We take our days at a gallop, then believe they cease to move. We become stuck in our miseries, trapped, and we come to believe that time, too, is stuck, trapped, stoppered like a wine bottle. Except, invariably we are jarred by circumstance and we wake to see the calendar has fled. Why is this so common a thing as to be a cliche: yes, yes, I know, time flies, etc, etc. I think it has something to do with forgetting. We forget our histories. We forget our wild, unruly dreams. We forget our silences and the deep well that surely exists inside of us: the reservoir of our soul, the umbilicus to the mystery of our existence. We trade it for such passing things as a mortgage, or a promotion, or a partner we've come to believe we cannot exist without. That's fine. We all have holes to fill, but unless we remember ourselves, our central self and try to build a life around the message of that self, then when the cork gets stuck a bit and our face becomes strange what will we have done with this one chance to know the world?
Against forgetting. Let me stand here, against forgetting. Let me stand against the unnoticed drip of days, the unnoticed sun. Let me stand against the tide of commerce and work as a free man. I will stand against forgetting the line of light, the limb of a tree, the sweet line cast out, the line of fathers and mothers stretching back behind me, the line of lives that bent and turned and were broken and healed and shuffled off and brought forth until at last I took my place and replaced myself with another. I stand against the forgetting, the abdication, the fear that whispers futility in my ears and I stand for the deeper well, the well spring of the driven green fuse. I stand with my brothers and sisters who dare to not forget themselves in the crush and welter of politics and instead work and live and create lives of integrity, which is to say lives of beauty. This is where I'll be.
And you, my best beloved, where will you be? Where will you stand?
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The work of our days is to discover this well and never lose sight of it. It can be discovered in the dreams we have. It can reveal itself in the work we are drawn to. It is always part of us, even when we refuse it or ignore it or deny it. Regrets are illuminations come too late. Do not refuse, ignore or deny what is essential in you, whatever that may be. It is different for each of us, but there are echoes and rhymes that help us to feel less alone, part of a larger body than our solitary one. We know this is how love works–we are less alone and more willing to be our true selves. It is the mystery of religion, scholarship, craftsmanship, care-giving. It is what is best in us: to be known and a little more. It is found in respect for the other's journey and the compassion that attends such acknowledgement.
Joseph Campbell said that all of his work, all of writings, all of his scholarship was intended for artists only. He could care less about academia and its ilk. He wanted to get what he discovered into the hands of those who lived out those myths on a daily and hourly basis: those who create. I have always loved that about him. It is frank and telling and willing to stand where he saw fit. I have come to realize that this, too, is my work. I have tried to imagine this page as open and broad enough to take in all who aspire in any manner to find a bit of solace and encouragement. I hope that has been the case. I hope it remains so, but it is well past the time to be honest with myself and you. I know nothing about money or politics. I have opinions, but no knowledge of their workings. I know nothing about religious life. What I do know is the will to sit and write. What I do know is the impulse to create and that, at last, is where I'll stand.
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CAT scans, blood tests, EKG, etc., all came back unremarkable. No change in my face. But I am pulverized this morning. It is the feeling the day after the car accident. On my way to the hospital, my son at the wheel, all I could think of was all the work that remains. Unremarkable tests tell me I have at least today to work at my work, and not at anything else.
I wish you well.