jaelmara (jaelmara) wrote,

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Bittersweet Symphony...

I want to share with you, one of the most poignant things I've read lately, "The Measure of a Man" by Sidney Poitier. This selection reduces his life experience into a nugget of pure philosophical gold, and I produce it here at length for its brilliance. Afterwards, the juxtaposition of the People of African Descent conference at MCC in St. Louis (it gets good several minutes in, so fast forward), to illustrate the path that Poitier sought with his career to avoid. At least, from his memoir, he seems to have avoided a fair amount of anger, and come to a truer understanding of the nature of things than those who are too beholden to the "identity". And now, without hesitation, I bring you Mr. Sidney Poitier...

... that big answer that we all seek is even more complex than it appears to be. More than a value system and its opposite held in degrees by various people, more than the vague but persistent sense that somewhere inside ourselves lies hidden such answers as would be appropriate to questions that we are not yet fearless enough to ask. Questions like, for instance, how much truth is there in the lingering suspicion that nature is playing with us? Are we principle players with pivotal roles in her scenario, as we ferverently hope or merely inconsequential afterthoughts with not the slightest impact on her agenda as we often fear
why do we spend most or all of lives searching for balance between the bewildering variety of opposites designed in nature's nature? Why do we struggle so hard to find a comfort zone between: up and down, in and out, this and that, him and her, us and them, high and low?
Ever present is this duality and ever present is our need to articulate ourselves betwixt the various poles.

I concluded finally that in the juxstaposition of energies nature's intent was major. *The idea of the other*, the definition of self by its opposite -'I am not that'. I further concluded if such duality in so many aspects of her being was necessary to nature's sense of herself, her sustinance, her continuance, her survival, then duality must be a fundamental circumstance in her overall design, it must represent a basic, basic truth - that collision is essential, that opposites create an energy and that maybe nature has no preference for either of the opposites. What arrogance we possess then, to think that there is a preference in favor of our side?! Instead, nature waits for us to discover that her focus is on the energy which ensues from the coming together yin and yang, and the coming together, and the coming together of high and low, and the coming together this and that, and the coming together of us and them -all that blood on wild kingdom. We accept it in the animal world, in our world we say it's dog eat dog world, and it sounds like a bad thing but we talk about the food chain on the Serengheti plain, and give it civilized acceptability with polished terms like zoology.

During a bull session one evening wrestling with this issue over after dinner coffee, my buddy charlie blackwell said to me, "you know, we're not just talking about a process in nature we're talking about a process that may be nature itself."
I took this to be a warning for us to not take ourselves too seriously. We were after all jsut two guys with little more than a fair amount of curiousity, trying to stretch our minds by chewing on an issue light years bigger than our bite. He seemed to be saying.

I signal my accord with that cautionary sentiment, and also its use as ground rule to cover the deeper discussion that was likely to come. At that point he reached in his knapsack and hauled out his trusted little tape recorder positioned it on the table and said, "O.K
let's look at where this 'nature's use of opposites thing' leads?"
"you first", said I.
"ok" said he, "lets look at it in the same light as if it were the new testament, frank kapra, USA, judaeochristiandream that sustained us growing up and for a great deal of our adult lives. Then we found out that the dream was a dream, that it was inaccurate and incomplete, but we also discovered that that dream and the inaccuracy of it kept us alive and allowed us to survive!
All of us believed in John Wayne, later on we said, well he's a conservative, but the essential, winning through, and by God we'll get there, and over the hill huh, and hard work and we'll get there! And be true and loyal, and all those other things, that's what kept us going!
Now, knowing that that, that A) the dream kept us going, and B) it isn't true, What do we tell the children? Do we tell them to keep the Capra, let them find out the truth for themselves, or do we tell them...
Here I interrupted, "would what we now perceive as truth be so tough for them to handle", I asked, "Why not share with them what we've observed, tell them that it appears that nature doesn't give doodly squat about the whites and the blacks, and the browns and the blues, that on the evidence she looks to be operating in her own best interest and we as best can be told, are a part of how she operates, and not visa versa. That we believe her to have no preference between opposites, but feel focus falls sharpest on the clashing of opposing forces in mutual annihilation -if we speak of facts, truths, constant realities that are forever there- then of course a lot of dreams will be stripped away, sending Capra and John Wayne right out the window, but how bad is that? If the children hear our thoughts, about opposing forces in mutual annihilation providing energy by which nature perpetuates herself, and they learn thereby, that the browns, the blues, the whites, the blacks, and whatever combination there are will continually go clash, flash, slash, wham, bang boom boom, and not know why. Then the children will be the better for it. Otherwise they will grow up to hear each other exclaim 'oh my God, these people don't understand why cant' we get them to learn, why can't we get them to see, we've got to show them!' and they would remain unaware that nature sees all, while her interest encompasses only the sparks that fly."
"Right," Charlie conceded, "but if you'd known that truth, when you were a kid, before you left Nassau, would that have taken away from the hope that kept you alive, what we're really talking about it Santa Claus. We know that there's no santa clause, but we're grown up. We're talking about when we let the children become aware that there's no Santa Claus."

"Hope charlie," I said "is always borne out of the same womb, it doesn't matter what your level is, if you're a child your hope comes from the place where your imagination and your little bit of knowledge tells you that things are most favorable. where you get comfort, warmth, kisses, where you get cared for, where you get fed. You're hope is intertwined with that, with the people who do the feeding, when they feed you, how they feed you, how they protect you from the elements, and so on, but take the child at 10 or 12 and share with them our adult speculation about what nature does and how it operates, and that child then, would have to begin to articulate his or her hopes or dreams on the basis of that understanding."

I paused for breath, "in other words, hopes and dreams are necessary tools to the survival instinct, with the acceptance of new truths, hopes and dreams become subject to rewriting according to the needs of the new reality. On the other hand, hopelessness sneaks about on the periphery of our lives waiting to close in on us behind certain truths, but charlie, it's watched and held in check at a safe distance by our instinct to survive. Of course when hopelessness succeeds in narrowing the distance enough to infect hopes and dreams and slowly sap their strengths, then the instinct to survive falters, yes, begins to wear down, and if it's ever subdued to the point where it can no longer churn out the stuff, where dreams are spun to give flight to hope, then one resigns oneself to what follows, and over time hopelessness lays claim to another victim, but as the old saying goes, 'as long as there's life there's hope!'"

"Is that an assumption?" charlie asked, "'as long as there's life there's hope?'"
"yeah well, you have to qualify the line," i said, "as long as there's a chance for the life you envisioned and so on....
"And hope isn't planted in us?" inquired charlie, "it isn't a vision given to us as we grow up by our surroundings such as movies, patriotic books, attitudes of people around us, you know, what Studs Terkel called 'the good war'?"
"Yeah, it's planted some, but it's there from the beginning too, I think it shares a primal bond with pleasure."
"I'm talking about general basic hope" said charlie, "hope 101, the hope which is a kind of belief that things, people, conditions whatever,can get better"
"that hope is constant charlie," but let's examine by what we mean by things and what do we mean by better, we have to define better as well."

I took a moment to marshal my thoughts, "lets go back to the time when we were unaware that nature might be operating the way we now suspect she does, at that point hope was quantitatively different, but now when we assume as we do, the possibility that nature doesn't give doodly squat beyond the flying sparks which are important to her sustenance, we then say, hey wait a minute! -what is it that I want?- to hell with nature, she's getting what she wants, what is it that I want? well, I want a better life."

o.k. I continued, "before you can achieve a better life, you've got to be able to spell out what a better life means, for you, not for your neighbor, or the white guy across the tracks, for you. You're probably going to say, 'a better life is more comforts', and those comforts are of a great variety: I wanna be more comfortable emotionally, i wanna be more comfortable physically,
i wanna be more comfortable psychologically... more comfortable with myself, with my neighbors
aside from comfort, I want to feel good in my consciousness of myself and my existence, I want to feel good about things.

charlie nodded agreement and poured another cup of coffee. "ok, what things," i pressed, "you might say, I want to feel good about what goes on around me, I want to feel good about the way I'm thought of, the way I think of myself, good about how my friends see me, of how they feel with me, and how they accept me. I want to feel good about the things I do for myself, my children, my wife, my friends, and my community... I want to feel good in other ways too, I want to feel pleasurably good, ideally I would like life to be as close to an orgasm as it can get, and who wouldn't. So my call is this, hope essentially is goal oriented, and however else one may define hope there's no denying the likelihood that comfort, feeling good, and pleasures, is basic ingredients in the stuff that hope spins into dreams, therefore, when hope attains an occasional goal, a dream or part of a dream is realized causing us to feel that much better about ourselves. How much you ask is due to hope implanted by books and movies, and how much to inborne urges and instincts whose natural orientation is toward the pursuit of pleasure? Well if a harder look at things and better doesn't provide a satisfactory answer it should provide a clearer view of how hope matches up to reality, and how dreams keep us keeping on."

Charlie looked at me a moment, and said, "now that we're here looking back across our years, the children... what shall we tell them about our journey? what shall we tell them about ourselves?"
"the truth," i said without hesitation, "that life is tough?"
"Life is Tough, damn right!"

Waiting to Exhale from MCC of Greater St. Louis on Vimeo.

April 20th, 2008 - 11:30

Luke 24:44-49 & Acts 1:3-8

Rev. Elder Darlene Garner

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