Monday, June 18, 2012

Here I am

Letter to Jack
17 June, Sunday

I am the consciousness that dwells within this instance of an individual that has just wakened from a most fitful sleep.  I am the consciousness that has chosen to put into words the thoughts that have mysteriously revealed themselves to me as though they were my own.  You, on the other hand, are the particular consciousness dwelling within another distinguishable, finely tuned, entity that has been led along by circumstance and twists of fate to come upon and read these rather odd thoughts captured in this string of words.  You and I both share the sensation of peering through windows within a swiveling home of a head, sitting atop an elongated form capable of movement that proceeds either this way or that.  You and I are now in the act of making contact and that makes us now both we.  We are involved in the act of being familiar as one is to another when the words I choose are words you know.  Of course, the words I see and speak and hear have not quite the same weight and meaning that you choose to give these very same words that are now seen and heard and felt within yourself …yes, felt, but let’s hold that thought for later.  Actually you and I don’t puzzle through words as though they were a concept new to us.  No.  Individual words seem mostly a blur, having only the faintest register on our consciousness.  Instead we bundle the simpler ideas of singular words into somewhat grander, more sprawling and, probably, more arguable thought.  I can amuse myself by thinking I, as representative of this particular instance of a consciousness – I am clearly expressing to you now what is being made aware to me – me, once again, being a name much like I that has come to act as a pointer to this one particular instance of consciousness.  In fact, though, I would be wrong.  Your understanding of what it is I now write is probably somewhat different than what it is I have intended.   Now! there’s a word for you – intent.  Actually, whatever intent there may be is most vague to me, as it appears I have no understanding, none, of what it is I say before I say it.  Should that revealed truth alarm you and discredit me?  How am I so different from the lunatic that rambles on before you with no particular object to his discourse?  What I now say to you may well be thought of as the ramblings of someone having been twirled about a few too many times.  It is all so like the dream from which I woke tonight; I was much surprised by the twists and turns of the story recounted to me even though the story could be said to be my own invention.  That would be curious if we didn’t already know that that statement is absolutely false.  Who could believe I am capable of weaving tales with such imagination and, if I may say so, a tale filled with instances of implausible gibberish.  I would only flatter myself in thinking I could be so creative in recollecting a world having so little basis in the physics and psychology of our shared reality.  I would be more truthful by saying that I am only the recipient of the story that was related in this dream.    Maybe I should take it one step further by saying I have been the recipient of the memory of the dream that was related while I was absent.  Believe me when I tell you the details of this dream have no importance, no bearing on what it is I say.  Still, I will give you a sense of its flavor because your mind wants something here to grasp.  Quickly picture yourself a stranger among very strange people.  You have no idea how you arrived here but you are clearly discomfited by your circumstance.  How have these deeply shadowed forms any meaning for you?  You push your way through the gathered looks and murmurs until an exit appears and you quickly flee.  Soon you are driving through the darkness and, you discover to your horror, incriminating evidence lies on the seat next to you.  There follows a long journey down a nearly deserted road into the dead of night.  The headlights capture a rural mailbox and you pull up, get out, and stuff the evidence into the box.  You exhale with relief.  You’re safe; wait, no!  You’re startled to find you were never alone.  Inexplicably an individual of quasi-legal status has made his loathsome presence known.  He wants you to identify yourself.  That’s it.  It’s all about your identity. 

Did this help you?  I think not.  Remember, I am but the mere consciousness that inhabits this form that I have come to think of as being comfortably mine.  Yes, if nothing else, I am emphatic that this one thought be treated as fact... for now.  This form from which I peer should rightly belong to me.  Were that not the case and I should be displaced then… where would my place of residence be?  I am lost without my form.  There can be no residence waiting for me in oblivion.  Were this most intimate habitat within which I reside to become nonfunctioning - a post-biological structure decaying under the pleasant sun of our heartless physical realm – well, I can’t imagine how I would proceed.  I cherish having awareness of my own particular instance of consciousness.  It seems so inextricably wrapped with this organic form, chemically optimized to stir life from the otherwise remnant molecules of unspectacular odds and ends.  After all, if consciousness alone could see why is it we have eyes?  If consciousness alone could harbor thought why is it we rely on the mind generated by this brain of which I confidently feel I now inhabit?  A brain, mind you, built atop a foundation left by reptiles, amphibians and the humbug likes of insects.  And now it seems an appropriate time for me to also insist that you share this concern of mine.  You are not only fondly attached to your own consciousness but you also believe that your own consciousness is, in fact, the real you - the very limited extent of all that there is to just being simply you.  You of the no frills you.  You without the calliope serenade… you, you, you are just you.  You are a separate consciousness from me.  What purpose does consciousness serve, if any, in this realm of existence?  I have no idea.  It appears it didn’t seem fit that I should know.  Instead, I am left with the belief that I am a singular identity, separate from other singular, isolated identities, acting out their own existence before me just as I proceed with my own favored act before them.  Why is it we should so strongly feel this to be true?  Is there benefit to believing an illusion?  I believe that illusion is a fundamental part of our experience with existence.  The question I would like to ask is just what that illusion might be?  I have spoken as though I am a consciousness inhabiting a particular mind, but that I may also be an entity separate from this brain, separate from this physical form.  Yes, I have expressed my fear that I am too intimately linked with a fragile physical being, destined eventually to break down, cease functioning and eventually to disintegrate into some organic ooze that becomes an enticing soup of nutrients for our simplest life forms.  Can it be that my illusion is that I only inhabit this form and that, truth be told, I am but one and the same as the form itself, a mere expression of an instance of biology, and that my sense of consciousness, my sense of identity, is but a misunderstanding?  It is an unintended consequence that results from our  degree of self-awareness which, incidentally, is not shared by other animal types that inhabit this earth.  By the way, who says consciousness requires specific identity?  Let’s concede for the moment that consciousness survives physical death.  The need for the survival of a corresponding identity that was associated with a particular instance of a species at a particular point in time seems irrelevant to consciousness.  It might just bring all sorts of useless baggage into the spiritual pool. 

What meaning have these thoughts for you?  Have they touched you?  Earlier I said that we not only see words and hear words but that we feel them, as well.  I believe that you, like me, share an emotional reaction to most every idea formed by words.  That is not to say we share the same emotional response to an idea, but that we do react emotionally, and not just rationally, in our understanding of ideas.  Ask yourself why.  Why is there no purity in our reason?  That is a different question as to why we are fallible in reasoning through facts.  We are ever companions with our emotions.  Doesn’t it seem obvious to you that we are more likely to corrupt our own reasoning ability when the result leads to something that we believe violates our own self-interest?  So now we tread upon the idea of self.  I think my belief that consciousness is my identity is rather incomplete.  How can I hold onto the belief that I am an expression of transcendent consciousness harbored within a physical form when my actions are so easily influenced by feelings of desire, fear and need?  These emotions are responses defined by physical reality and require no conscious thought.  They strongly suggest that if you want to survive you behave in the proscribed manner.  Thank God for that.  As I said, where would I reside if this form I inhabit didn’t have an opinion one way or the other regarding its continued presence.  Of course, given that I am the resident decision maker of this habitat it seems natural I should consider existence important to me and my body a necessary prerequisite to my further existence. 

I can safely say I have resolved nothing.  Still, what a refreshing stroll I've just had.  The puzzle remains out of my grasp but I feel I have added some clarity for myself by nicely organizing the puzzle’s pieces just a bit.  Also, there are a couple of new topics tempting me to ponder despite the fact they have no chance of being answered.  How inscrutable is the Western mind.  Did you just say the more appropriate word might be confused?  I remain a consciousness, startled by a dream and wakened from a fitful sleep.  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

In Sickness and Health

Letter to Jessicca
Sunday, 10 June

I was doing a bit of grocery shopping late Saturday when I ran across a woman I hadn’t seen in at least a couple of months.  She was carrying a snack tray of cheeses, pepperoni slices and the like and all the things you’d need to share a weekend movie at home with your three kids, two small boys and a preteen girl.  It was the beginning of a rare full two weeks being home and she and the kids had some catching up to do.  Her youngest was starting kindergarten in the fall and he resented her being gone most of the time.  Her other son was close to his dad and kept his opinions to himself.  While she was away she missed a band concert that was a very important milestone in her daughter’s life.  It’s a crazy time for all of them right now what with Dad getting his own apartment during the spring and, of course, all the tense back and forth that goes with a long time couple trying to disentangle a relationship that has unraveled to the point of hiring lawyers and filling out legal documents.   You hope to remain civil for the sake of everyone but the trauma felt is right up there with the death of a loved one. 

Recently I heard it said that love is easy but living together is difficult.  Love is mostly fantasy while the effort at holding a relationship together is real work.  I think that’s true to a point but it would be misleading to assume commitment alone can make for a successful pairing.  The anthropologist Margaret Mead believed life too long and humans too complicated to reasonably expect most marriages to last a lifetime.  There’s plenty of evidence to support that view but, for me, her opinion only enriches the value of the rare couple that remains intimate and mutually engaged through the course of their lives.  Love alone does not conquer all.  The obstacles that must be overcome are many, diverse and, sometimes, totally unexpected.  The give and take required of individuals to keep a relationship on the tracks will include incidents of bruised feelings and ego deflation.  Any one decision has the potential to drastically change the nature of the relationship.  Let me provide for you the dilemma faced by another couple I know.  Both the man and the woman had very successful, lucrative careers.  After many years the husband’s firm decided to relocate many miles away in another state.  It was decided Dad would give up his job rather than uprooting the family from a place and circumstance they loved.  Mom continued to grow professionally and prosper financially but the husband’s field was very specialized and career opportunities for him in the area were nearly nonexistent.  His various efforts at restarting a career were disappointing and the resulting imbalance in the relationship helped to create an insurmountable barrier that led the two one-time lovers to eventually call it quits.

I admit my view of romantic love between two adults is mostly based on biology and the intense attraction experienced at the time of falling in love has little to do with civilized human reason.  How can anyone expect to make sound judgment decisions while under the intoxicating influence of being in love?  How often is it that people choose as a lifetime mate someone hopelessly unsuitable for them because to do otherwise is like swimming against a very powerful current?  We truly are swept off our feet.  Even when that special someone seems thoroughly compatible it can prove to be illusionary to think it will always last.  People have a remarkable ability to grow and change with the circumstances of time.  Two people starting life together thoroughly in love may find themselves growing in different directions and in ways that, horror of horrors, they one day discover they are strangers living under the same roof.  Nature has a way of making folly of our best intentions.  I am not arguing against marriage or other less formal human relationships.  What I suggest, though, is that when happiness dissolves into bitterness and the resulting hurt leads us to lash out at the crimes perpetrated by our partner, we resist our urge to feed anger and hate.  Life makes fools of us all.  We don’t conquer it.  We abide.  We learn.  We live another day.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dog Walk

Letter to Justin
Sunday, 3 June

The old dog named Jake arrived late Friday giving me time enough to assemble his new kennel and wooden doghouse.  He’s eleven years old so that makes him eligible for any senior discounts available for the canines among us.  His best friend, Keith, has had to move to a place far too civilized for any dog to enjoy with the possible exception of a poodle trained to dance for doggie hors d’oeuvres.  First thing Saturday morning Jake and I went on a long, brisk walk.  We avoided the tidy neighborhood nearby and, instead, followed a path that initially paralleled the northbound tracks of the Norfolk Southern.  We came upon a road that once had only three houses along it.  Now just two remain as a ramshackle residence, providing a home to two kids and a dog, burned to the ground one night shortly after Christmas.  Everyone made it out alright but among the debris left scattered out front of the charred crumble the next morning was someone’s collection of NASCAR toys.  They’d all lost their race car shapes when they turned gooey from the heat.  The remains of the home were quickly bulldozed and everything was hauled away.  Spring rains quickly turned the lot green and as Jake nosed about the area no one would easily guess people had recently lived here. 

Near the Le Bleu Tow Truck building residents of the neighborhood cross the tracks to get to the small business area on Midway Boulevard that includes a What-A-Burger.  You can eat inside or you can order from any one of a number of stalls that are each equipped with their own intercom and menu.  There’s also a pawn shop and a snug convenience market next door where the signs are often in Spanish.  It was here it was said the high school girl was headed to buy a pack of cigarettes one school day last fall when she was hit by the morning Amtrak headed north to places like High Point and Greensboro.   The small wood cross and plastic flowers her friends left at this fateful point to commemorate her life endured the winter cold and a couple of snowfalls before eventually being carted off when the railroad crew came through to refurbish the track with new wood ties and steel rails.  When crossing the tracks it’s always best to keep in mind that freight trains trundle by while passenger trains barrel through at what seems about twice the speed of freight. 

Jake and I made our way through a gathering of folks taking advantage of the still cool morning air while they browsed among the items being sold at the benefit yard sale held out back of the Midway United Methodist Church.  We crossed a couple of grassy open fields and skirted a small community garden sponsored by the local Baptists, all the while Jake pulled me along with his eager, impatient gait.  I began to wonder just how much steam the old dog was capable of generating so when we reached the Anointed Touch Barber Shop, a natural turn around for home, I decided, instead, to continue in the direction that would take us to the center of old Kannapolis.  We walked in the shade of a line of trees that kept us within sight of Dale Earnhardt Boulevard, named after the local boy who made good.  If we followed it all the way we would eventually arrive at Dale Earnhardt Plaza where park benches surround a magnificent bronze statue of the home town hero, standing there with arms folded in his iconic Levis and cowboy boot, mustached stance.  The surrounding buildings are mostly vacant these days and it seems only the movie theatre can make a go of it in this part of town.  The Gem Theatre is old enough to have a balcony and its been a community fixture since Kannapolis was just a company town for the once dominate textile factory, Cannon Mills.  The old black and white pictures of the installation on display at the local library give me the definite impression that this place was once the General Motors of the cotton kingdom. 

We won’t make it all the way into town on this day.  Jake’s leash begins to show some slack well before we reach the outskirts of the old brick village and there’s still quite a walk ahead for us to make it back home.  Jake’s a good dog, a good walker.  He responds to the slightest tug of the leash indicating my intended direction.  When he was young and headstrong he got himself into some serious trouble for killing the neighbor’s ducks and chickens.  That’s all long behind him now.  He barely acknowledged the taunting squirrels Saturday that ran close across his path.  I’m thinking the dog will want a long, cool drink when he returns and it would be good to get him a bone for an afternoon snack, one that he can busy himself with licking the moist marrow from the bone’s center while resting himself in the shade.  It sounds like the perfect treat for a dog’s life.