Friday, March 12, 2010

The Meaning Of Life

There are no plots in real life; so said Henry James, only fabrications. He ought to know, he concocted some of the best. His animated inner life seems to us where his life was lived.

What I think of as the story of my life is most probably a series of vignettes strung together into a working myth. Delusion, erasure, randomness and revision have become my narrative. If the chapters aren’t actually true, at least, they feel true. Facts and big truth are trumped by a good story with its own small emotional truth.

So I look for a coherent chronicle as a way of finding meaning in life. Meaning is the ah ha we get by taking the risk of investing ourselves. This is the sum of all my wisdom to date.

I have a long and vivid memory for events that probably never happened. My first love occurred at age nine or was it ten or not-at-all during a spelling bee.

As if in a slow dance we faced each from across the room; the only ones left standing. She perfectly dropped handkerchief while her eyes spelled boyfriend. I sailed past island and rhythm buoyed by my mastery of silent letters and their hush that drew me closer. Flushed as if stung by the bee, no misstep could break the spell. Syllables swarmed in that 5th grade room. Both bitten, we dueled each other with bouquets of words. Her pauses were offerings. Non-verbally I shouted her a kiss. When the bell rang we were tied having left the class behind, off to a new country of forbidden words.

From back then to almost now….

No other restaurant promises so much at the end as our local Szechwan. For all my gluttony there is always room for a fortune cookie with its strip of wisdom inside. I never give up hope that Lao-Tse will turn up. Instead I generally get some Chinese version of Have a nice day which I would never settle for on an empty stomach. But that night’s words. a few months ago, could have come from Rilke (or my eye doctor). You will see beauty where others see nothing unusual. Is it any wonder this is my favorite Chinese restaurant?

As the tea steeps I am drawn into the wallpaper where a foot bridge spans a stream in a hill town along the Yangtze, soon to be dammed and the village flooded. The river is a dragon whipping its tail through the mountains swallowing the landscape with its unseeing eyes. Beauty seen and beauty erased but with its residue left within.

On the way home I am suddenly fluent in the language of roots, how they slither under the fig tree half in, half out of their mind doing their fancy dancing. What does it mean? Nothing and everything depending on how much we give ourselves over to it.

What's it all about, Alfie? He never did figure it out but when I see him I'll tell him it's about spotting Peggy in a market far down the aisle by the way she moves and the warm glow of destination she engenders in me.

1 comment:

  1. Ah! First love. A time of in the past when life was different and we knew so little. That first kiss. That first breath. Dare you find it again in this place that we have come to.