Monday, April 26, 2010


We are now cruising at about 28,000 feet, having just conquered the top side of the cold front which wrecked havoc in Mississippi just yesterday. The upper crest, I’m sure, was much more tranquil than the lower, yet it was one of the roughest crossing I’ve ventured in an airplane in a long time.

I wish I could have kept up the posting in the last 10 days of my annual family reunion on the east coast. It quickly became obvious that I could not. I had about 10 minutes in the coffee shop each morning in which I could download my e-mails. I attempted to write off-line, but each time I did, I would always end up inadvertently ignoring a family member whom was trying to tell me something . . . so I just put the computer away.

But now, in that stillness of the west side of the storms, I think I will do the smorgasbord approach again, and try to share some observations.

This family reunion is always a big production. I think I counted about 32 people involved with this trip. All either close relatives or dating one of them. In ten days, there was barely a quiet moment . . . save the present. Denise and I camped in three different bedrooms in three different towns and three standards of living. Among the group are a variety of philosophical perspectives from the harden atheist (but superstitious atheist—which is always a paradox to me) to the close acquaintance and employee of a famous TV evangelist (I will not mention the name here). In between are many who give lip service to the Christian-God of the country music world and common Christian clich├ęs but for whom has very little influence on their own lives or thoughts. I was being re-immersed in the old Bible-belt culture that I grew up with.

Observation 1: In the last two posts I was talking about Dickens. He continued being my private friend and confidant during these past days. I often found myself switching my focus (both of my eyes and my consciousness) back and forth between the pages of my book, the Tale of Two Cities, and the conversation in the room before me.

One thing that really stuck out as a sharp contrast relates closely to that quote by Dickens two posts ago. In that segment of his book, Dickens seems to lament over the fact that people’s souls are closed books and we each see only a glimpse even into the hearts that that lie next to us each night.

But the thing, which I noticed, was that the characters in the book speak, not only in poetic prose (thank you Mr. Dickens) but of substance and with candid directness, while those in the room before me were focused on the far more inconsequential. The topics in the room surrounded the issues of; 1) personal appearance, 2) weather, 3) jobs (in a superficial way), and 4) the personal lives of celebrities. Sometimes it would touch on the far more serious life issues, but only those that applied to family members who were not present.

Once, I attempted to bring up something that would have been simple small-talk in Dickens dialog . . . what would my 90 year old mother do if she could not take care of herself anymore? She quickly hushed me as if I was opening some locked vault of deep secrets. The springs of the book snapped shut like a bear trap.

But it made me wander about the question of personal alienation . . . if it is worse now than it was in early ninetieth England? Or, was Dickens, as an artist, simply writing brilliantly and of substance to exhibit his literary art?

For example, my wife and I use to watch Gilmore Girls. I admit, it is not very masculine nor intellectual to admit so. But their dialog was incredible. I don’t know anyone who is witty enough to talk that way. But I do think it allowed the screenwriters to show their stuff and to keep the watcher interested.

Another possibility was that Dickens was writing with wishful thinking. In other words he really did want the father and daughter to have these deep and beautiful conversations about her love for him verses her love for her new husband even though he knew it would never have happened in his Victorian England days.

But if people in that era or in other parts of the world today, really do speak more of substance, it makes me wander what the heck has happened to us? Or maybe it is just an aliment of my own family.

At least in the Bible belt, I really think that one issue is the effects of religious-Platonic-Dualism. In other words, that this world was considered of such insignificance for so long that it is hard to even discuss the important parts anymore.

But a much more likely possibility is that we, maybe just in the Bible belt, have drifted into such a cult of niceness that it is virtually impossible to speak of the reality, which can often and quickly get very messy. So we end up sitting together, eating lots of calorie-rich foods and talking about the superficial things I mentioned above.

I will end (and maybe I will include the Dicken’s dialog if I can find it). My question is, do any of us communicate on this level any more . . . save in the middle of an acute crisis?

There are many other things that caught my eye that I’m trying to figure out from the trip. Many strip-mall churches. What’s behind that movement? A guest, surprisingly considering the small talk, brining up the fact that she believes in reincarnation and that she was a princess in France . . . who was stabbed to death. But the thing that caught my attention the most was my reaction . . . complete silence. The other observation was that Denise engaged her. First I thought that Denise was just being polite. Then, it seemed to move into the courious and finally as if Denise herself was wondering if she too had been reincarnated. I left that evening feeling really puzzled about a lot of things.

In the sad moonlight, she clasped him (her father) by the neck, and laid her face upon his breast. In the moonlight which is always sad, as the light of the sun itself is—as the light called human life is—coming and its going.

“Dearest dear! Can you tell me, this last time, that you feel quite, quite sure no new affections of mine, and no new duties of mine will ever interpose between us? I know it well, but do you know it? In your own heart, do you feel quite certain?”

Her father answered, with a cheerful firmness of conviction he could scarcely have assumed, “Quite sure, my darling! More than that,” he added, as he tenderly kissed her: “my future is far brighter, Lucie, seen through your marriage, than it could have been—nay, than it ever was—without it.” (by the way, he is lying about his true feelings here).

“If I could hope that, my father!”

“Believe it, love! Indeed, it is so. Consider how natural and how plain it is, my dear, that it should be so. You, devoted and young, cannot freely appreciate the anxiety I have felt that your life should not be wasted.”

She moved her hand towards his lips, abut he took it in his and repeated the word.

“wasted, my child—should not be wasted, struck aside from the natural order of things, for my sake. Your unselfishness cannot entirely comprehend how much my mind has gone on this; but, only ask yourself, how could my happiness be perfect, while yours was incomplete?”

“If I had never seen Charles (her husband to be), fy father, I should have been quite happy with you.”


Anonymous said...

A guest, surprisingly considering the small talk, brining up the fact that she believes in reincarnation and that she was a princess in France . . . who was stabbed to death.

Years ago, Past-life Memory Regression was a fad among the Beautiful People here in SoCal. Funny thing -- everybody claimed to be the reincarnation of someone rich & famous, like the French Princess you mentioned. Not very likely given the Third-World wealth & power demographics of the period. Since reincarnation fanboys always claim to have been someone Rich & Famous, I always wondered what would happen when you got TWO people both claiming to be the reincarnation of the same historical celebrity...

MJ said...

I guess if they both claimed the same person then it would have to be some parallel universe issue.

Don said...

Great thoughts MJ, I never return to the Bible belt without experiencing some of what you describe. This is my summer to return to Dixie as well.

MJ said...

I forgot, where are you from in Dixie?