Monday, June 1, 2020

Death has no Knees: From the Covid Diaries, May 29

From the Covid Diaries, May 29, 2020

Yesterday I thought and wrote about the Mediterranean, the deep blue and green colors that the ocean holds within its heart — a reflection of the depths of the universe and the same intuitive, yet unknowable, color of the sky. Water reflects the heavens; and somewhere in the fluidity and density of water there’s a mirror of flexibility and spaciousness, an echo of the medium the stars exist in. 

It’s not necessarily the density of matter that determines the nature of existence; it is its quality. There’s a finer quality in the nature of vibration that arises across the spectrum. It concentrates itself both in the dense and the rarefied.

I myself am pretty dense. I’m dense in terms of matter; my body is much heavier and thicker than the air I breathe in. But I’m also dense psychologically; I live in a thicket of emotions and thoughts that it needs more than a spiritual machete to cut my way out of. I can’t use the brute force of self-help to find my way into a clearing; yet I need to see where I am, and with all of this undergrowth around me, that often seems difficult.

Instead, I try to relax inside myself and sense the depth I live in, the colors around me. Like quicksand, it sometimes seems to me that the more I struggle in my psychology, the deeper I sink in it. Maybe you know what I mean. Our thoughts and our emotions are a viscous material; we get stuck in them and no matter how hard we try, they won’t relax their grip.

So instead I just sit here and let go. 

I exhale and let go. 

The birds are singing. 

I’m dictating this text. 

There is a goodness that flows into existence quite naturally in the simpleness of just being here. It brings a different intelligence into life. Yet no matter how much I am here, no matter how deeply I come into relationship with the unknowable colors of Being that exist in me, there is always a beyond into which I can’t penetrate.

From that place beyond, which is even more unknowable than the color of time and all its depth, comes a force that meets me. 

This force is so much greater than I am that it beggars the imagination. I see that even my imagination is a tiny thing, despite the expanse that it imagines it makes available to me. I come up against the unimaginable; it’s an unknown that I didn’t know I didn’t know about. From somewhere in that place, an emanation arrives: a love that flows into me which isn’t my own love, but the gift of life itself. It’s the source of the real, I know at once in the place where it so gently touches me; and I have the privilege, if I wish to exercise it, of carrying that in me during the day. 

So that’s where I’m starting this morning. At the point where the unknown touches my being from within in the darkness.

Yesterday, the news about my mother was relatively grim. She now has pneumonia, which the medical establishment — meaning well, and in its mindlessly infinite lack of mindfulness — is treating with antibiotics, even though we know it is Covid19 and thus viral in nature. We have to do something, apparently, even though there is nothing to be done. 

One option would be to wait quietly for the next truth; but our way as human beings is to always try to force the truth to come to us on its knees. Death, however, is the one truth that always comes to us erect and looking at us right in the eye. 

It has no knees.

I have to find a way to give this moment its dignity, regardless of the forms that surround it. It’s not, after all, even here yet; the doctor has advised me — based on her own real experience, which I also need to respect — that my mother could still recover. This is equally true; and so I spend each day balanced, from the emotional point of view, between many conflicting impressions: preparing for my mother’s death. Preparing for her to live. Wishing that she could be released from the limbo she has been in since her stroke. Wishing she would stay with us so that we can spend more time with her and the gentle charity of her simplicity and positive attitude. 

It turns out you can wish for someone to live and to die at the same time. They didn’t write about that in the novels; they didn’t teach it in college or in church. The very idea itself is as vast as the unknowable colors we dwell within. It brings a depth of feeling, which is different than the emotions and more objective. 

It just tells me that I am here and will need to move into the next moment with as much compassion and intelligence as I can muster.

I get a lot of advice from friends that love me, some who I haven’t heard from for several years. These are amazing people; I love them as deep in my heart as I can love anything, and yet they can’t really help. Even though it’s impossible for them to help me, or for me to help others emotionally, I have a duty to receive their offer of help and respect it. Maybe the most important part of that is to be there with the love that’s offered; it’s one more manifestation from the unimaginable realm where love flows into being, and I need to turn all of the force in my own being towards a better respect for that gift. In the end, after all, it’s the quality of the people that colors the universe around me; and I have been blessed beyond measure with the quality of the people in my life who I love and who love me. I see as I grow older that it’s functionally impossible for me to bring enough gratitude and thanks to my life and to God for the life I have been given and the people that have been put in it. Even the worst of them have been the best of teachers. 

When I pay attention, that becomes much clearer.

Now this place between life and death is the teacher. It’s interesting; when you are caught between deeply conflicted feelings, you have no choice but to surrender. To feel has its own rationale within it; it is powerful enough to defeat my wish to do anything with it. I just have to be here and accept.

I remember going away to summer camp in 1968. We had just returned to Hamburg and moved into a large house which befitted my father’s lofty position as the general manager of Colgate-Palmolive Germany. The house was haunted by a profoundly terrifying and deeply disturbing poltergeist which had, it seems, taken up permanent residence — according to reports from friends, it was still there many years later, long after my parents had moved into the suburbs, where the only spirits haunting the far newer house were the alcoholic ones. 

Getting me ready for summer camp was uncharacteristically disorganized. Despite the rivers of booze eroding the family riverbank, my mother usually had about 90% of her shit together. 

Not this time.

The summer camp was in Denmark, and I had to go up there on a train. I was to meet the other campers and a counselor in a group on the train. 

Somehow, trunks were not packed. Cars weren’t ready. The traffic was bad. 

Did I mention it? Does it even need to be explained?

German trains always leave EXACTLY on time. 

All of these facts militated together and produced panic. We ended up racing to the train station in a mad rush, got out of the car while my father tried to find parking, and made it to the platform in that exact scene from the movie where the train is pulling out of the station, people are waving out the windows, the conductor is scowling from the door at the late comer, and there is no time for goodbyes. We had zero time to find the right car; we only knew it was the right train. My trunk wasn’t with us. It was back in the car with my father, undoubtedly resigning himself to some debilitating form of blameful ass-kicking from Helen once the initial act of the fiasco was over.

My mother had her imperious, on-a-mission-from-God cloak drawn around her like a shroud. She looked me in the eye and said, 

get on the train. 

It sounded ridiculous; we didn’t know who we were looking for or where they were. No handoff had been effected. She knew it was ridiculous; there was a look in her eyes that was a mixture of both desperation, confidence, and trust. I think it somehow embodied this present moment of being between life and the unknown— and having to trust them both. 

I got on the train. 

There were tears and a hint desperation in my mother’s eyes. For me, there was nowhere else to go but forward. 

The conductor, who had developed a minor sympathy for this American kid that got shoved on the train by his objectively insane and irresponsible mother (sie sind aber verr├╝ckt, die Amerikaner), led me on a lurching exploration of car after car, until we stumbled into a car with a small group of American kids. 

I was saved.

The summer camp was populated with Americans from all over Europe. Hippie counselors sang Peter Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan songs to folk guitar, introducing us to innocent versions of the subversion and revolutionary spirit we would later adopt as we grew our hair long and swilled psychedelics that ripped the unknown open like a gift box on Christmas morning. My footlocker didn’t show up for three days, during which I lived in the same clothing and played soccer in my good shoes, which did not survive the experience. The counselors told ghost stories so horrifying we were afraid to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I learned how to sail. We went on a 50-kilometer bike trek and slept in a barn on bales of hay. All of this from an experience that I was thrown headfirst into with no preparation to speak of.

I suppose, in the end, that it was an analogy for everything life is about. 

We’re forever getting shoved onto trains that are leaving the station, arriving at the last minute and having to take a leap of faith in order to find our future before it leaves without us. 

There are always ghosts in the basement and the attic. 

The hint of revolution is always in the air; it comes in innocent clothing, smiling and singing, and we forget how prone it is to smashing things in the name of goodness.

Somewhere in all of this there arises a great cry of anguish in me. I do not love enough; and I don’t know how to. 

Only that love that comes from the other side, from that place that I do not know and cannot understand, is truly real; and it seems to have put me on the train without the footlocker.

As always, I'll just have to work it out. It has to begin with faith and the trust that I am in the right place, and have been given the responsibility to meet the moment and to figure it out.

Go... and sense, and be well.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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