Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sketches of a Dream: A Free-Write from the Past

Cinderella and Prince Charming. The slaveholders exploit every opportunity available to spread the institution, proliferate its victims, prolong its perniciousness, protract its duration. Laughing, dancing in the limelight. Yet no one sees them. They promenade alone. They are invisible. An illusion. Unreal. Tis all a dream. Pathos fills the open air, emptiness pervades, lingering hope evaporates. Tis not meant to be, dreams are for others. Life is meaningless: Ecclesiastes spoke the truth. Reality sets in, another day of hard labor ahead, the fantasy a mere placebo, temporary and fleeting, ephemeral, evanescent. Not for the feeble, the weary, the weak, the downtrodden, the brokenhearted is escape, rest, joy, happiness, peace...of mind, of comfort, of love. Dreams are meant for sleeping. The cynicism, the nihilism, the doubt, the unbelief that inevitably accompanies crushed hopes, broken dreams, lost causes, defeated will, dead souls manifests itself through inanition, grief, angst, agony, estrangement, confusion, inquisition eventually breeding anger, indignation, a desire for confrontation, vengeance, repudiation, restitution, reparation, equality, egalitarianism, finally succumbing to disconsolation, forlornness, solitude. Contemplation provides no solace, clockwork silence no closure. Absence of realization, epiphany, redemption, solidarity, consolation, absolution. Chivalry, morality nowhere to be found, dead, leaving the town lifeless, without vitality, diversity, energy...potential or kinetic. "The three men I admire most, the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, they took the last train for the coast...the day the music died." All ignorance toboggans into know and back to ignorance again. Social, economic, political acceptance, civil rights, equality, liberty and justice for all. False pledges, blank promissory notes and checks, hollow promises, meaningless, unfruitful branches on trees cast into the fire like a spider held over the pit, trembling in the presence of His raging wrath. It goes on and on and on, unrelenting, neverending, indefatigable. A seemingly, no indefinitely, impregnable pass, a dead end. Why not a torpedo of doom or a literal fork in the road? A last chance, perhaps? One final, desperate, life dependent attempt to make life what you want and not merely what is parceled out randomly, without regard for effort, endurance, perseverance, silent suffering, humble patience, devout servitude, unconditional gratitude, heart. Just when the oppression intolerable, the hypocrisy unbearable, the adversity unsurvivable, the tears streaming hopelessly, uncontrollably, flooding every river and stream, ebbing with a desperate plea of divine passion, knowledge, wisdom concerning humanity...and then, sudden silence. One begins thinking, "This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whisper." Waiting, wishing, though for what one is uncertain...after an interminable hush, one recognizes the vital signs still operating, the heart still beating, the limbs and communication facilities still functioning, the outside environment still very much intact. The heart saved, the burden relieved, the struggle overcome as forecasted with odd prescience that it would be someday long time ago.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Art of...

The art of dancing in the rain, the art of war, the art of eating an Oreo cookie, the art of losing myself, the art of problem solving, the art of mending, the art of non-conformity, the art of innovation, the art of imagination, the art of possibility, the art of the photogravure, the art of farming, the art of chess, the art of strategy, the art of the prank, the art of modern mythmaking, the art of caricaturing, the art of driving, the art of storytelling, the art of botanical illustration, the art of computer programming, the art of medicine, the art of tea, the art of shredding, the art of Arabic calligraphy, the art of Asia, the art of Ancient Egypt, the art of the start, the art of questioning, the art of debate, the art of fugue, the art of rock n' roll, the art of motorcycle maintenance, the art of blogging, the art of writing, the art of slow reading, the art of conversation, the art of information, the art of failure, the art of discontent, the art of learning, the art of henna, the art of the Renaissance, the art of courtly love, the art of strength, the art of presenting, the art of memory, the art of translation, the art of illusion, the art of noises, the art of rhetoric, the art of sound, the art of sense, the art of travel, the art of worldly wisdom, the art of peace, the art of leadership, the art of making a difference, the art of changing the world, the art of choosing, the art of living, the art of action.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Doctor, Write Thyself

I recently read an article by J. Rentilly that began with the opening lines: "IT IS SAID THAT THE PEN is mightier than the sword. The larger question, raised by a long, illustrious line of physician-authors, including Anton Checkov, W. Somerset Maugham, and Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone, may be, is the pen also mightier than the stethoscope?" Verghese expounds, "I think the foremost connection between being a doctor and being a writer is the great privilege of having an intimate view of one's fellow humans, the privilege of being there and helping other people at their most vulnerable moments." His words could not more aptly express my own views regarding the benefits of the synthesis of different fields. I've often come to the conclusion that I was born in the wrong era, that I should have been a Renaissance man like Da Vinci, for I shudder at the thought of having to choose one field, one area of study to pursue. Rather, I liken my mind to a sponge, absorbing all the wonderful knowledge that is to be gained, all the while trying to evade the tragic fate of Faust or Victor Frankenstein. My passion has always been to read, to write, to analyze, to explore, to learn, to grow, to make a difference through my efforts. I desire to join Doctors Without Borders and administer medical aid in third-world countries. One student once wrote, "I should be a writer, but I will be a doctor, and out of the philosophical tension I will create a self." Complexity makes people interesting, just as struggles make people interesting, for adversity gives rise to what Sharon Creech calls "bloomability." I feel that the practice of medicine allows one to grow closer to his fellow brethren, allows him to fulfill the prophetic words of Countee Cullen: "Your grief and mine/Must intertwine/Like sea and river/Be fused and mingle/Diverse yet single/Forever and forever." Leadership fails to recognize this universality, this collective unconscious, this sum of experiences that unites humanity. The mediums, the materials, the roads are infinite, stretching on interminably until they disappear into the horizon. "Do not rush," advises the orchestra conductor. "A ritardando is like a yellow traffic light. When people see one, they try to rush right through it..." Take one step at a time; there is no need to rush. Savor the moment for all it is worth. Slow down..."Rushing and racing and running in circles, moving so fast, I'm forgetting my purpose, blur of the traffic is sending me spinning, getting head and my heart are colliding, chaotic, pace of the world, I just wish I could stop it..sometimes I fear that I might disappear in the blur of fast forward..." "SIMPLIFY! SIMPLIFY!" cries Thoreau. "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and to be able to give a true account of it." A voice in the night whispers, “Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime. And, departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time.” Legacy n. something that remains from a previous generation or time. "The powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse." Classic n. something created or made, especially a work of art, music, or literature, that is generally considered to be of the highest value and of enduring value; a piece or work that stands the test of time. In the quest for originality, creativity, innovation, inspiration, imagination obstacles consistently creep up. Solomon relates his nihilistic revelation that there is nothing new under the sun. Attempting to capture all experience, all existence, all consciousness, all being, all life and fuse them into one coherent theory of everything proves to be a gedankenexperiment. Trite, hackneyed, overdone, cliché...not to mention completely and utterly ludicrous, chimerical, impossible. Interminable internal struggle...“How I wish I were not a muggle!”

"For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Poet

Stressed…the task at hand insurmountable. O Fortuna …would aptly describe my plight. Blasting fortune and fate and destiny for their cruelty, their indifference, their icy hostility. Everyone weep with me!! William Ernest Henley's "Invictus" had a more galvanizing message: "It matters not how strait the gate/How charged with punishments the scroll/I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." Orff seems downright disconsolate while Henley wants to take control. Orff is reactive while Henley comes across as proactive (bonus points for Seven Habits of Highly Effective People terminology?) I should have been a philosopher…free-spirited conscious ether surrounds the world...washing over us all the time...and all sorts of messages are transmitted through the collective unconscious...the very meaningless of life forces a man to create his own meaning...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Reflections on The Shack by William P. Young

On page 40, the narrator observes: "It is remarkable how a seemingly insignificant action or event can change entire lives." I have seen this to be true in my own experience in several ways. A smile is contagious; smiles are often described as the universal language of mankind. Mary Christelle Macaluso once said, “If you have made another person on this earth smile, your life has been worthwhile.” I fully agree with this statement; the seemingly smallest of actions can make all the difference in the world. Mother Teresa said, “Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” Smiles always make my day; they fill me with optimism, hope, and sanguinity. The simple things in life make me the happiest. A euphonious song on piano, a canopy formed by crape myrtles and pine trees representative of the merging of cultures, the massive and infinite sky lay out like a painter’s canvas, “like a patient etherised upon a table.” A tree in my backyard, still, sturdy, strong, pure, broken, yellow, green, alive, vibrant, bona fide. A gentle breeze from the north carrying the flowers from the Bradford pears to the deep green grass like snowflakes, occulted from the naked eye. Monarch butterflies, dark, rich, luscious roses, tulips along the edge of the center, circular garden bed, bright red and brilliant yellow. Soaking up the sun’s rays, the feeling is evocative of God kissing his child on the cheek, embracing, enveloping, consuming like “a melody softly soaring through my atmosphere.” He is my stimulus, and I am his creation. 
At Missy's memorial service, the narrator tells us, people filed by her small empty coffin, "all sad as they paraded by, no one knowing what to say." I think the most helpful thing to do when someone is going through a tough time is to simply be there for him or her. Sometimes, having someone sit with you is more comforting than attempts to find the right words as words often fail us. I have found the presence of others to be the most helpful to me when experiencing times that try men’s souls. Pages 64-65 describe Mack's struggles with the "if-only" game. The “if-only” game can never be won because this counterfactual thinking fails to change current circumstances; this kind of thinking cannot turn back the clock or change the past. I wrestled with this game through a good portion of junior year when I fell very ill. Often I wondered if God was punishing me or if I should have lived my life differently. My mother figured I fell ill because God was testing me, testing my will, strength, and determination; in a way, I felt blessed to encounter this kind of struggle, but oftentimes, I only felt pathos, solitude, and isolation. I would continually pray for the light at the end of this tunnel to arrive, although exercising patience was difficult, but eventually this old life did crumble and fade away.
In Chapter 9, Sarayu shows Mack a messy, fractal garden. The garden is full of colors, herbs, flowers, plants. Mack describes it as a “chaos in color…confusing, stunning, and incredibly beautiful.” As they walk, Sarayu picks various herbs and plants and flowers, giving them to Mack and creating a bouquet. I love this description of the garden as a “chaos in color.” The second law of thermodynamics states that nature naturally tends toward a maximum in regards to entropy, or chaos. Later in the chapter, Papa arrives, and Mack remarks that he feels comfortable in the garden even though it is a mess. Papa and Sarayu smile at each other. Sarayu says, “And well you should, Mackenzie, because this garden is your soul—this mess is you!  Together, you and I, we have been working with a purpose in your heart. And it’s wild and beautiful and perfectly in process. To you it seems messy, but to me, I see a perfect pattern emerging and growing and alive—a living fractal.”
Despite the fact that nature may seem chaotic on the surface, much of the “chaos” we see behaves according to patterns detailed in the Fibonacci sequence. The limit of the Fibonacci sequence is the Golden Ratio, which is approximately 1.618. In nature, one can come across this ratio in many areas of art and science. The numbers of clockwise and counterclockwise spirals in the seeds of a sunflower are two consecutive numbers in the Fibonacci sequence. The shells of snails and pine cones are also well-known examples of the Fibonacci sequence. Sarayu’s quote reminded me of the interconnectedness of mathematics and nature and the belief among many early mathematicians that truth is beauty. As John Keats articulated in his poem, “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, —that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” In tenth grade, I presented a project on chaos theory and the Mandelbrot Set in which I discussed the applications of these concepts to ecology, blood vessels, internal structure of lungs, graphs of stock market data, and the human heart. In the words of Immanuel Kant, “God has put a secret art into the forces of Nature so as to enable it to fashion itself out of chaos into a perfect world system.” 
In Chapter 10, Jesus asks Mack where he spends most of his time in his imagination: the past, present, or future. I try to spend as much time as possible in the present in life, but most of my time in my imagination is spent in the future. Spending time in the future is good because it promotes habits such as planning ahead and learning to be responsible. Spending an excessive amount of time in the future is unhealthy, however, and Satan rejoices when we fall prey to this mistake, as The Screwtape Letters informs us. A persistent focus on the future is part of Satan’s overall plan for our undoing because constant focus on the future instills a fear of either hope or anxiety in us and can even fill us with dread if our expectations do not come to full fruition. On the other hand, Satan is also pleased if one is too calm and tranquil regarding prospects of the future due to a false sense of security, complacency, or too high a regard for his own abilities. Several sources of wisdom have warned us against this kind of nonchalant disposition. Phillips Brooks once said, “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men!” When one prays for virtues to meet the difficulties and struggles in store for him and focuses on the present where all consciousness dwells, he is out of Satan’s grasp. We must also be wary to not adopt a sense of complacency about the future because of trust in our own abilities. Proverbs 3:5 reads, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Leaning on our own understanding and justifying contentment about the future with this reasoning is dangerous, because as humans, we are fallible and can easily be lead astray if we do not look to the right sources for inspiration, which only God can provide.
We all have someone in our lives who we initially viewed as intimidating but later came to view as warm, friendly, and loving. Oftentimes, our relationship with God works in this manner. Sometimes, the hellfire-and-brimstone sermons like that of Jonathan Edwards, especially “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” cause us to view God as unmerciful, unforgiving, judgmental, and vindictive. Later, enlightening works such as Young’s The Shack and Max Lucado’s God Came Near can illuminate the truth about God’s nature and show us that he is a loving, wonderful, holy, heavenly Father who alone is worthy of our praise. Paula’s aphorism can apply to relationships other than those with God. I once found one of my math teachers intimidating, but upon discovering her love of classical music, I found that I shared a common ground with her, and she suddenly seemed personable and charismatic in my eyes. Sometimes, finding similarities with other people helps make them a little less intimidating. Similarities remind us that others are just like us. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Allowing ourselves to feel intimidated is a choice we make; alternately, we can choose to appreciate ourselves and others for God-given talents and refuse to fall into the trap of comparison by counting our blessings.
When Papa tells Mack that “faith does not grow in the house of certainty,” she means that the proud will not be able to enter heaven. While we should feel assured and confident in our expectations for the future, we should not presume upon God’s grace and assume that he will save us. Faith arises as a result of humility and obedience rather than pride and certainty. Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us of this truth, stating, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Certainty is in a way a false sense of complacency that arises as a result of leaning onto our own understanding; we must instead lean on the word of God because it is the ultimate source of real truth and understanding. For this same reason, we cannot trust our emotions more than we trust God. Emotions are capricious, often impulsive whims that arise without forethought or good judgment. Emotions would provide for an incredibly fickle foundation, and we would never find peace or rest because emotion would always upset us. God offers peace because he is the Voice of Truth; he reminds us that he has bigger plans for us than we could possibly conceive for ourselves. He takes tragedy and makes something good out of it. As children of his kingdom, we are like phoenixes that are reborn from the ashes. If we place our trust in him, he will guide us and act as a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.
Mack’s conversation with Papa begins to make him feel guilty, and Mack shares his sentiments. Papa responds, “Let me know how that works out for you. Seriously, Mackenzie, it’s not about feeling guilty. Guilt’ll never help you find freedom in me.” In Hosea 5:15 God is speaking and he says, “I will go away and return to My place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face; In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.” According to this verse, God’s only purpose for guilt would be to cause someone to submit to God’s will and turn to him as his guide. Guilt can be good, for feeling guilt indicates the presence of conscience, or the ability to determine right from wrong. Guilt can be destructive, however, if we allow guilt to consume us, for going down this path will lead us to the conclusion that we shall be forever unworthy of God’s love. God paid for our sins, so we appear perfect in the Father’s eyes. Romans 8:1-3 reminds us of this truth: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.
"You do not just live in a world but a world lives in you." This quote reminds me of 1 Corinthians 3: 16-17, which reads, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” While we inhabit the world we live in, God’s spirit inhabits us. While the Lord has been and will continue to be our dwelling place, as Psalm 90 reminds us, He lives within each of us. It is our job to try to remain pure so that God may inhabit our bodies. As a result we should be in the world, but not of this world. While we inhabit this earth, we must not conform to its ways and become enemies of God but rather be transformed by the renewing of our minds, as specified in Romans 12. Only then will we be able to test and approve God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.
“Forgiveness does not excuse anything." This statement means that we should not act recklessly with the expectation that all our transgressions will be forgiven. In other words, while God is merciful, we cannot presume upon his grace. We should confidently hope that God will fulfill his promise of salvation, but we cannot take advantage of this wonderful gift by behaving in a careless manner and expecting God to forgive us.
"Oh child. Don't ever discount the wonder of your tears. They can be healing waters and a stream of joy. Sometimes they are the best words the heart can speak." Upon reading these words, I immediately thought of the healing power of the tears of Dumbledore’s phoenix, Fawkes. Tears can express both joy and sadness. I think men are often told that tears are a sign of weakness. I myself have been told this. Personally, I think the reason for someone’s tears determines whether or not I respect someone who sheds them. I don’t think tears of self-pity are acceptable, but I can empathize with tears over loss of a loved one, feelings of hopelessness, and joy, or tears that are expressions of indignation against social or moral injustices, as tears for this reason signal the presence of a conscience and a heart for mankind.
When Willie hears Mack say that God is especially fond of him, Willie tears up and gets emotional. I think hearing these words would evoke that kind of response from someone because for many of us, God is the one whom we most desire to be in favor with. It is his opinion that matters more than anyone else’s. To know that God is fond of me would make me the most joyous being in the universe because it is him that I desire to please; it is him that I desire to serve; it is him that I want to live for.
About Mack, Willie says that "he embraces even the darker shades of life as part of some incredibly rich and profound tapestry; crafted masterfully by invisible hands of love." I think a person gets to this point as a result of experience; it takes a wise and erudite person to recognize the importance of both hills and valleys in a person’s life and why it is important that both times of joy and grief exist in a healthy balance. The description of a tapestry “crafted masterfully by invisible hands of love” reminds me of the poem, Huswifery, by Edward Taylor. In the poem, the narrator desires to be clothed in “Holy robes for glory.” He desires to be clothed with “Understanding, Will, Affections, Judgment, Conscience, Memory.” I think these elements make up a complete life; all are essential to forming a complete picture just as both darker and lighter shades are necessary to craft a tapestry or other work of art.
Mat and Kailey’s (two of my classmates) comments about dealing with the divorce of parents really hit home. While I cannot relate to what this experience is like, I imagine that enduring through something like this leaves an indelible impression on the mind. I am glad that God worked through the divorce of Mat’s parents and made something good come out of this situation even though the divorce was a terrible thing to have happen, for this hardship brought Mat closer to God. As both Mat and Kailey said, however, understanding does not always bring about closure, as both still feel the sting of their parents’ separation. I think heaven will be a place where all our pain and all our burdens shall be relieved, a place with no more tears. I think God is the only one who can work through tough times and bring us peace and tranquility. Only he can calm the storm within us; only he can tame our internal tempests.