Saturday, August 15, 2009

An encounter with existential angst

When I first picked up Thomas Merton -- I am reading Echoing Silence, a collection of his thoughts on the subject of writing -- I felt I had found a kindred spirit; someone who, like me, was a writer, and a contemplative, and an artist; who thought and felt as I did, who could articulate the struggles and the joys and the frustrations that challenge anyone who attempts to straddle all those disciplines.

But this morning I have been reading a series of Merton's letters and observations to and about Boris Pasternak, on the subject of Doctor Zhivago, and I found this huge sense of resentment and resistance arising in me. So I sat with that a bit, and was forced to face into the fact that there is a deep unresolved tension in me between my inner romantic and my inner cynic.

The romantic in me loves the idea of love; reads romance novels and watches movies like "French Kiss," "Chocolat", and "Possession;" cries at weddings -- all that girly stuff. Though I am a happily married woman of 60, I sometimes feel like I am back in that lonely basement of my childhood, skating circles of boredom around the floor and singing "Goodnight, My Someone" from Music Man at the top of my lungs hoping the boy who mows our lawn will be swept away by my beauty and song. (As if!)

But the cynic in me balks at Merton's passion for Yuri and Lara in Dr. Zhivago, because, after all, Yuri was actually married to someone else, not Lara. And I, who have a lifetime filled with experiences of married men falling in love with other women -- two pastors, my first husband, my father, my bishop; even my president! -- cannot seem to get past that surface plot device in Dr. Z to the undeniable wealth of meaning that lies beneath. I get, on an intellectual level, that Pasternak "stands for the freedom and nobility of the individual person...for courageous, independent loyalty to his own conscience," and that he is "fighting for man's true freedom, his true creativity," but for me that other piece of the story -- however romantic and passionate it may seem -- gets in the way.

And thinking about that, having watched this foundation being laid yesterday, I felt like I was bumping against a similar huge and impenetrable mass of cement at the bottom of my own heart; that that piece -- or those pieces -- of my story get in my way; that my inner divinity, and the love and acceptance I could be feeling from God, are somehow buried beneath this thick layer of rebar-laced concrete, and all this writing has been merely skating around on the surface, singing songs of imaginary love, not really releasing that flow of blessings I spoke of yesterday.

So when I read that Merton has a Lara (named "Proverb") in his dreams, and that later he "was walking alone in the crowded street and suddenly saw that everybody was Proverb, and that in all of them shone her extraordinary beauty and purity and shyness," I am torn between an ongoing shame that I can't seem to get to that feeling of a universal love for humanity and an undeniable urge to stick my finger down my throat and barf.


But maybe I'm just cranky because the dog woke me up at 5:30 and the cats have been whining the entire time I've been trying to write. Wouldn't it be nice if that were all that's really bugging me?


altar ego said...

Forgive me for chuckling, because this isn't funny at all, but I am appreciating your ability to be funny in the face of serious, critical, human pain stuff. I wish you were local so we can have a face to face about this, because I find that there is lots rising up in me on the subject!

I will at least say that when I saw this picture and you began to refer to pouring a foundation I didn't think of it as a stumbling block but as a source of support, which is what foundations are. Perhaps it is because the dog woke you early and so you saw the nuts and bolts of rebar and cement without being able to see past that to the foundational aspect. I don't know, but it's what kept popping up for me as I read your post. said...

I wish you were local, too; I'd love to explore some of this, and really appreciate your observations -- it's great that you can chuckle with me, and I suspect that you're right, it is a foundation as much as it is a hard lump between me and what could keep me grounded -- Thanks for that!