Not Less Than Everything
On the Unity of the World
A Word On What We Know
When time and extension have lost their definitional grip upon the world the Tautological Paradigm arises from ashes that have known no burning. Memory and location are the constituents that provide movement to time and magnitude to space. These are the basis for the placement of our consciousness. The grounding of what we call mind exists here and now. That there might suggest an elsewhere, a footstep or galaxy away or that a now might posit another time—either past or future, is not necessarily evidence of anything beyond the reality of which we are presently conscious. From the standpoint of the paradigm we are witness to dimensionless depths in the totality of time.
We are of the opinion that minds are myriad. The tangle of others is the bedrock of the world. Aligned with this truth (though more rarely entertained) is the supposition that consciousness is a singular presentation of universal totality. The Paradigm infers the Universe to be a singular entity and also that what we take to be a fragment must embody the further most reaches of time and space. The one, which is the many, and the many which is the one is a conundrum as old as western thought. The problem and its resolution are found among idealists in the occident or in oriental religious traditions.
Emerson is the most lucid and entertaining of the first:
Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood. All is a riddle, and the key to a riddle is another riddle. There are as many pillows of illusion as flakes in a snow-storm. We wake from one dream into another dream. The toys to be sure are various and are graduated in refinement to the quality of the dupe. The intellectual man requires fine bait; the sots are easily amused. But everybody is drugged with his own frenzy, and the pageant marches at all hours, with music, and banner and badge.
Our paradigm, simply put, suggests the cosmos is fully present in the apprehension of any time or locale to which the mind is directed. There is only one thinker and only one thought behind a multitude of masks assembled for the drama: In the eyes of God he who kills a single man destroys the world. [I]
[i] Paraphrase of Borges citing the Sanhedrin of the Midrash, Chapter 5
In many men, the finite self remains always the gaoler of the universal soul; in others, there is a momentary escape; in a few, the prison walls are demolished wholly, and the universal soul remains free through life. It is the escape from prison that gives to some moments and some thoughts a quality of infinity, like light breaking through from some greater world beyond. Sudden beauty in the midst of strife, uncalculating love, or the night wind in trees, seem to suggest the possibility of a life free from the conflicts and pettiness of our everyday world, a life where there is peace which no misfortune can disturb…The things which have this quality of infinity seem to give an insight deeper than the piecemeal knowledge of our daily life. The quality of infinity which we feel, is not to be accounted for by the perception of new objects, other than those that at most times seem finite; it is to be accounted for, rather, by a different way of regarding the same object, a contemplation more impersonal, more vast, more filled with love, than the fragmentary, disquiet consideration we give to things when we view them as means to help or hinder our purposes. It is not in some other world that beauty and that peace are to be found; it is in this actual everyday world, in the midst of action and business of life. The evils and the smallness are not illusions, but the universal soul finds within itself a love to which imperfections are no barrier, and thus unifies the world by the unity of its own contemplation.
The longer I live the more I doubt myself and others. I have seen much, thought much, experienced quite a bit, and have come to one conclusion: nobody really knows what they’re talking about– about anything. This is not a problem. This is not a bad thing. This is simply the way things are. Of course some people “know” how to build a bridge, fix a flat tire, mend a bad heart, make spaghetti, or get to the moon. But this kind of “knowing” is not what we’re talking about. This kind of knowing is like birds knowing how to fly, spiders knowing how to make a web, beavers knowing how to build a dam, cats knowing how to catch mice, or me knowing your phone number. It is living in a world and functioning in that world…something all living creatures do. But none of these creatures “know” who they are or where they came from. None “know” what is inside the mind of another. None understand the infinite complexity of any creature, much less any moment in history. None know how their consciousnesses function and if what they perceive and think corresponds to the reality of the world. None know why they are the way they are or why anything else is the way it is. None know what existence is, how Being came to be, or the real causal chain of anything. All that is beyond our reach, beyond our being, beyond our ten fingers, beating hearts, bouncing brains, and so-called minds. We don’t like to admit it, but, in the end, life is not a riddle to be solved, not a mystery to be understood, not a problem with a solution, not good or bad, right or wrong, true or false, long or short, profound or shallow, simple or complex, interesting or boring, beautiful or ugly, worth living or not worth living…No…Existence is none of these things Existence defies definition. Existence cannot be captured or grasped. One lives it. One dies it. One eats it. One shits it. One wanders through it like a blind dog in a carnival. Some will find a warm hand and a bowl of food. Others will get a kick in the ribs, a parking ticket and a brain tumor. All will be themselves for as long as they exist. But those selves will not be known or understood by anyone including themselves because all are infinitely complex and deeply deeply rooted and melted into the fiber of Being.
I waited on the tarmac. It was Spring, 1972 in Memphis, Tennessee and I was awaiting the arrival of my girlfriend at the airport. She was coming in from New York City; I had driven from the St. Louis area and we were to meet for an enjoyable weekend of performances by the Metropolitan Opera on its then-annual Spring Tour. This was during my Hippy days, and I looked the part. As I waited, I was surprised to see a man emerge, a man not yet nationally famous, but instantly recognizable to me. As our eyes met, I said in Italian, “Mr. Pavarotti, welcome to Memphis.”
The tenor descended laughing, then said “You are my welcoming committee?” We chatted amiably for a few minutes. Suddenly, a large group of people approached Pavarotti, apologizing for being late to welcome him. He summoned enough English to say “Here is my welcoming committee”, or words to that effect, indicating me. It should be noted that in later years his English improved considerably. The well-dressed opera patrons eyed the disgraceful Hippy with amazement, then swept their star away. My girlfriend came out and everything began to proceed according to plan. Such was my first meeting with the man who would become one of the three most famous opera singers of the 20th Century, along with Enrico Caruso and Maria Callas, both of whom lacked the mass media advantages that Pavarotti enjoyed. Future meetings proved equally unexpected.
The second one was several years later at the Kennedy Center. By then the Hippy appearance had been discarded and I was working my way up the ladder there; I was in the Box Office for the Opera House. Pavarotti’s name had by then become a household word and he was to appear in four performances at the Opera House during the Met’s still-active tour. One day, during a very slow part of the day, those of us at the windows were astonished to see Pavarotti approaching us with a big, friendly smile. As if it were necessary, he introduced himself. He then told us he was singing the four performances and encouraged us to come to see him. He proceeded to go all around the entrance level of the building and did the same with the people at the souvenir stands, the ushers, with anyone he saw who worked there. In all my years at Kennedy Center, he was the only star to do such a thing and it made quite an impression. Several employees who had never seen an opera went to see him as a result of his efforts as goodwill ambassador. I of course needed no encouragement, having previously gotten tickets for his Un Ballo In Maschera and L’Elisir D’Amore performances. It was becoming clear that I was never to have what might be described as a normal meeting with this man. Little did I know how odd the next, and last one would be.
The vocal pinnacle of Pavarotti’s voice was from the late ’60’s through the mid-70’s. Nearing the end of the ’70’s, the easy lyrical brilliance of his tone had begun to harden slightly as he entered his ’40’s and took on heavier roles. In any case, Pavarotti’s voice type is often at its best in a tenor’s younger years. While the tenor continued to sing very well, those of us who had heard him at his absolute best noticed the difference. I was somewhat alarmed to hear that Pavarotti had decided to take on the role of Manrico in Il Trovatore, hardly a role he was born to sing. However, when he began to perform Manrico at the Met, I went to hear the result, not without trepidation. As far as Pavarotti was concerned, I got what I expected: a still fine tenor voice singing music not really appropriate to it. The rest of the experience could hardly have been predicted.
I found myself next to an elderly gentleman who, from the sound of his “Bravo!”, was Italian. During the first intermission, I spoke to him in Italian, asking him if he were from Italy. He responded as predicted and then asked me what I thought of the tenor. When I simply responded that Pavarotti was one of the best tenors in the world, he said “One of the best? He’s the best. He’s my son.” Such was the passion of his response that I felt it best to simply agree with him. I learned that he was from Modena, a town I had once spent a considerable amount of time in and we discussed that. He revealed that he had come from Modena particularly to hear his son’s Manrico and was staying for several performances. In those days, the Met had 3 intermissions for a 4-act opera and we spent each one in conversation. By chance I was on the list for admittance backstage after the performance, as was, of course, the elder Pavarotti.
At the end of the performance, we duly went backstage to the area near the star dressing rooms. The tenor saluted his father affectionately and Pavarotti, Sr. introduced me as “Gregorio”. I told Pavarotti of our first meeting and he told me he recalled it, though I was doubtful. I excused myself and said hello to a couple of singers and staff members I knew, then bade farewell to both Pavarotti’s, as it seemed best not to intrude. As I walked away, I reflected on the unusual nature of all three meetings with Pavarotti. Though I was to hear him sing many more times, our paths did not cross again. Through those years, I often thought of Caruso and Callas, wondering what level of fame they would have achieved in the media age. Had they been contemporaries, would Pavarotti’s fame have matched or even exceeded theirs? A provocative question to be forever unanswered. For his 21st Century fans, Pavarotti’s preeminence will likely remain undisputed.
Darkness and Light
This reflection began with the death of a friend, Kerry Davis, with whom I used to play basketball. First this happened:
My dear friend Charlie, who told me about the funeral, had everything wrong. He was there waiting for me at the station in Lugano …We take the small train to Caslano where he says we can view the body at 14h30…Charlie has recently had a knee operation and can barely walk…We limp the mile from Caslano station to the church…No Kerry Davis in sight…Another funeral has ended…Charlie shows some casket chauffeurs in front of the church the info on his iPhone where he has a picture of the death announcement…(they actually remember Charlie, Kerry, and I from our playing and coaching days)…Kerry is not in Caslano, but in Lugano where he can be viewed at 16h30, but the funeral is the next day at 9h…We walk the mile back and take the train and bus to where Kerry is supposed to be in Lugano (the viewing spot is 100 meters from “La Gerra” where the Lugano basketball team used to play)…I leave Charlie in a café and go see if Kerry is there. There are 5 doors with names on them. I put on my glasses. Kerry is there…I look around…It’s 16h…No one looks at me…I try the door…It opens. I enter heaven. Kerry and I have a moment together just like old times though he is resting in peace (the expression seems appropriate). However his 1m98 body barely fits in the box. His shiny coffee-black skin makes him look very healthy and I keep thinking he will open an eye, wink, say something, wiggle, etc. – you know, share a moment with me about a couple of our great memories together, maybe even tell me how he died. I say without thinking, “Kerry, I love you to death.” He doesn’t wake up… I go fetch Charlie at the café. It’s 16h30 and he is charging his phone and having coffee. I have a quick Irish beer and then take him over to see Kerry. An old basketball person who speaks only Italian is there. For fifteen minutes he talks with Charlie (he coached in Lugano for three years and speaks decent Italian) about his own bout with cancer. I ask if he knows how Kerry died. He doesn’t know – just says it was “subito”. At least I think that’s what he says. I walk around the casket a few times. I can’t see the scar on Kerry’s forehead where he had hit his head on the basket forty years before. Oh could he jump with those thighs of elastic steel. I touch his hand and we go back outside. Both are cold…As we walk to the bus to the station, Charlie says he doesn’t like that kind of stuff.
We get on the same train at 17h42. He gets off in Lucerne…I come in the house at 22h30. Both other occupants are up, one in front of the tv and the other in front of her iPhone. I ask them how their day was. Answers are brief and neither questions me about anything. I go to bed…
I send this to friend Chris in California. She answers saying: those are very powerful moments alone with the dead. did you feel something missing? spirit? life force? a hollowing out? when i was alone with pam’s dead son, i couldn’t stop touching his hair…, but something indefinable wasn’t there.”
I answer: i’m tempted to say something is always missing…but the dead seem to be missing all but the flesh that will soon rot away…o life
Her reply: all animals the same…a hollowing out when the time comes…where does that energy go? where does the light go when i turn off the switch?
My answer: imagine all the suns – stars – out there in space and yet still most of space is black, bleak, lightless. there is definitely much much more of the universe in the dark than in the light, probably 99.9 %…can the same be said for mankind? if so, where are the human lights, the ones that really glow on their own, not from the lights of cameras, stages, and spotlights?
And so I began to reflect on darkness and light, life and death, and humans that might be lights unto themselves, humans that actually give off light as opposed to humans that walk in the light of cameras, stages, and spotlights, i.e. humans who are suns themselves as opposed to humans that bask in the light of the stars and suns.
Who creates her or his own light? Who lives in the light created by other sources?
There are suns and stars all over the universe that are attached to nothing and exude light of unimaginable proportions. Our sun can reach temperatures of 15 million degrees Celsius. We are 93,000,000 miles away, but the sun keeps us warm. It is that strong, that hot, that much of a force. What are we, we who grovel for a few decades on the earth? Are there any sources of light among us?
Our sun is not even one of the bigger suns in the universe. Just in our own Milky Way galaxy (wouldn’t “Milky Way” be a wonderful name for a shopping mall?) there are stars that are thought to be 1,500 times bigger than our sun.
But we should not compare ourselves to things so far away. What good does it do? Oh yes, it can help to give us a perspective on things…But what things should we really have a perspective about? Ourselves? Others? Our nations? Our values?…Our thoughts?…Our beliefs?…Our truths?…Our time alive and dead?
What is the goal of “having a perspective”? Might it be that only one who can step back can shine out? Only one separate from the block of humanity can one shine on humanity?
Ask yourself, “Am I a source of light?”… “Do I simply live off the light of the sun and others?”… “Do I absorb light or do I give it off?”
Now let us ask, “What is truly enlightening?” Other than suns, fire, and electric lights, what gives off light? When you are in a dark place with other human beings or animals, which creatures will make the place feel darker and which ones will make it feel lighter?
When I stood next to my friend Kerry’s coffin, it did feel as though he was giving off light. He had always been a source of pleasure when we played together and when I coached him. We never argued or fought. If we won, we had a few pleasant beers together. If we lost we had a few pleasant beers together. He never bitched or complained about life. It is true that he stuttered and because of this was not a man who said much, except after a few of those pleasant beers.
When we were in Rome together in 1978 celebrating the end of a season, we invited a couple of women to our hotel. We had had a few grandpas during the day and we bought a bottle of whiskey for when the “girls” came. They finally showed up around 21h. It became evident that we were not two matches made in heaven when one of the girls said she was a couple months pregnant and another said she had some female problem with her reproductive apparatus. After they left around 23h, Kerry and I drank most of the bottle of whiskey. We laughed and joked to where he fell headfirst between the two beds and couldn’t get up. I remember standing on a bed and pulling his massive body up by his skinny ankles.
But O my God those thighs weren’t skinny. Oh no! They were made of elastic steel.
Even dead, Kerry was light.