I'm still puzzled how it all broke down. It wasn't always like this. I can remember when the experience of living was unimpaired, intact. The whole world trembled with light and figures drifted through a seamless present. But it wasn't an undifferentiated blur. Everything was distinct and recognizable.
What I'm saying is, although people and things remained distinct they were also somehow contiguous with one another. We all touched, and were not repelled. Nobody tried to
take over or secure themselves at the expense of others. One might counter by saying
that I must have been shielded from these things. Of course you're right. Even then the world was riddled with what is foul and for awhile I was protected from it. But this is beside the point I'm trying to make. Even now, after I've had the time to discover how divisive human beings can be I still contend that there is - that there has always been - a greater reality, and that each of us has always shared an equal part in it.
My earliest memory of this radiant continuum is of the seashore. I am lying on a blanket at the bottom of a warm concavity of sand. The air is bright and caressing. My eyes are closed. I hear the soft muffled roar of waves. The swirling sound reaches through the sand bank comforting me completely.
And then I remember music bright and deep washing over me as I sat in church on a sun-warmed pew. This thing music was very much like the variegated sunlight streaming through a tall stained glass window on my left. It danced on the pages of the hymnal in my lap, and filled the whole room with color. My first experiences of God and of music were one and the same.
My openness to God is centrally linked to the magnificence of my father. On that day I sat listening to the familiar richness of his voice. He stood before the congregation on an elevated platform, booming out. Then I heard all the voices in the room singing together and I realized that what people were singing related to the dots arranged up and down and across the pages in front of me. I started to whisper in imitation. Then haltingly I began to sing, my voice joining the others circulating about the high-ceilinged room. I heard echoes of this music deep inside me, resonating like the sound of waves.
Every person's voice was different and yet every voice sang in concert with every other voice - simultaneously, in various directions all-at-once. It had a profound effect on me. Then I had an experience that remains the bedrock of my life. There was a presence in the room, a sublimity making itself known in a language deeper than words. It affirmed that I was loved, that existence was a good thing.
I had found a home for my heart, and I've never met a reality that could take its place.
Time passed and I continued to grow up. Besides the realm of light, I started to notice that there were also dark things in the world. Sad, painful, disturbing things. And people began to surprise me. They were much more conflicted than I'd previously thought. Why were they constantly striving to establish a footing for themselves? I couldn't understand it.
I started to notice a widening network of cracks in the seamless world I had once known. And then there was the strange phenomenon of distance. Suddenly I was here whereas others were over there. But the idea of there meant something singular to me now. It meant separation. This was an alien notion.
I used to stand next to my father, sidled up close to his soft black robe as he greeted people coming in or shook their hands and wished them well when they stepped out the door. To me every person was a familiar. But now everything was changing. All of a sudden, a person could be directly next to me, yet somehow far, far away. Know what I'm saying?
Here's an present day example of what I'm talking about.
I'm still put off when people greet me by saying “ Hi, there.” I find myself thinking “What? I'm not there, I'm right here !” The situation makes me feel like a yawning gulf has suddenly opened between us, and is a distance somehow strangely and purposefully maintained.
When I was a boy these distances between myself and others were only vaguely disconcerting. Back then my memory of a greater, all-encompassing reality was still strong.
I have continued, down through the years, to reach for that remembered undergirding reality whenever I feel daunted by the fragmented world, to close the gaps through unifying creative work.
Oh by the way, I just couldn't keep from growing up. And the world continued to atomize. But it's not like I didn't enjoy life. It's been a great and marvelous adventure. But my enjoyment of its beauty also brought an increased awareness of its painful side. Something terrible had begun to eat away at the connective tissue of the world I knew and loved. I'm still puzzled the way it all broke down.
As for the ultimate gulf, death, allow me a few last words. Let it be known that I totally reject that loathsome, oft-floated adage death is a part of life. Is it supposed to be a comforting statement? Are we supposed to just accept it as inevitable? Not me. Death was not, is not..has never been invited to the party. I'll have no truck with it.
Notes on the vicissitudes of the creative life.