Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Good Reminder

It's close to a year since my sister died. This past weekend, I found myself in North Carolina, working to organize my elderly parent's house in the wake of an accident where my father sprained his ankle. He's now in a wheelchair, and in no shape to keep the grounds for the garage up. It falls to me, as the only remaining child, to do a good deal of work the parents in their 80s can't do anymore.

 I spent most of my life imagining things. I imagined, for the majority of my adult life, a shared responsibility between my sister and myself for my parents; I imagined us organizing things, discussing the past together, attending to the many basic needs our aging parents would have.

Yet none of that can happen now; in the end, despite my fantasies, imagination has no power over the real world.

Every single thing I went through this weekend was a subtle reminder of my sister, and the fact that she's gone. There is no single stunning grief to be found here; instead, there is the overwhelming but subtle sense that everything is lost: lost within time, lost within a series of events that can't be predicted and that no one really understands. I live, as we all do, in a world that churns out an endless series of interpretive mechanisms, all of which ultimately fail.

Why do our interpretations fail? Well, Ibn al 'Arabi would probably tell us that all things are lost in the Lord; he believed that there was an insurmountable separation between man and the Essence of God, which can never be known. It can only be described by negation — we can only know what God is not, and God is always not anything we can think of.  Not anything we can imagine.

The Names of God — one of al Arabi's  major points of discourse — are a very different question; all of manifested reality, including ourselves and all our thoughts, can be known. (or, at least, some parts of it can —al 'Arabi is rightly cautious in warning us that no man can know but a tiny portion of it.) We can only know God indirectly through these Names, however. Anything that can be named in any way; this is what al 'Arabi refers to as the Divinity, that is, our understanding of God, which is always insufficient, and merely an isthmus  that will forever stand between the Essence of God and ourselves.

This insufficient understanding is in me in regards to death. It is here in regard to the progress of daily life. It is everywhere, in fact; although I'm a reasonably intelligent man, and can understand many things, in the face of death, I am forced to recognize my own insufficiency. And I don't think I will ever approach life, or other people, with enough humility if I don't recognize this very deeply, very deeply indeed. So deeply, in fact, that it becomes a force in me that penetrates the bones and emanates from their very marrow.

 The sorrow I feel as I confront these circumstances doesn't seem personal. I sense a question that lies at the root of my existence itself here, yet it can't be described in words. It is mapped in the sensation of the body and the arousal of feeling; in other words, the majority of it is tactile and organic, rather than intellectual. And, really, if I admit it to myself, so much of life is like this. I'm called to invest myself in these tactile and organic qualities, and yet instead, I think about them.

Good, strong thinking is necessary; but if that's all I rely on, it's not enough.

As I grow older, I am increasingly struck with the impression that we are all lost in the wilderness; but not lost in a lonely wilderness, no. There is a lonely wilderness in me, and I am lost in it, but I am lost in the Lord, because the Lord owns even the wilderness I fear.

 Sometimes, along this path, I discover trust. But I need to discover it over and over again, because so much in me rebels.

 Death is a good reminder. It never goes away.

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