No one knows what the body can do. -Spinoza

Friday, July 31, 2009

Unnecessary Self-Indulgence

I've been reflecting on the richness of human experience. How we can't help, too, but tell stories about our own lives, about each others lives. The way in which to make sense of what it is we see around us, what we see in each other, is to construct a narrative about the themes, the events, the congruence of moments. The story we construct provides an order to what we see, a way to understand what it is we are living out as a life. But in doing so, the richness of life is subsumed into the narrative. That is, the narrative simply cannot capture the complexity of these lives we live. And yet, we must tell ourselves a story so that we may make decisions, so that we may communicate with each other about what it is we have done, what we intend to do, where we think we are heading, what our days are like.

My friend Shiloh tells a story about how some relationships with others begin in a way that seems to already show how the relationship itself may end. We fall in love with someone already knowing that the love will not last beyond some point in the future. We see a story from the beginning of the interaction that reveals the arc, the limit of the commitment we can make to that person. Perhaps that other person's interests will move them to another city; they're training for a job that will demand they move, for example. Perhaps their daily habits will disagree with your own--maybe they're messy, and you're not. Other times, perhaps the love itself is simply temporary. Later, these relationships seem to stand as a story in the arc of our own life. We talk about them as if they were lessons for us, or, as if they represent a point in our lives when we acted a particular way. The relationship begins to represent something other than itself. It becomes its own story, or our story, rather--one of the ways we explain to ourselves how we got from that point in our lives to now.

Then, rarely, there are relationships in which such limit does not show itself so readily. The wealth of the interaction is too rich, too fertile to be subsumed by a narrative. Something about the complexity of what you two share means what it has to offer cannot be predicted, even if it can be relied upon. In such cases, there are surely many stories that could be told about the relationship shared with that person, and yet, the story is, from the beginning, smaller than the value of the love shared. Instead, we tell stories about what we share with the other person as a means to point to what we appreciate and yet understand as larger than than what we can say. The love is rich. The relationship is a complexity of experiences that cannot be adequately captured by a host of narratives. Life blooms.

Tonight I sat on the back deck of Enoch's house. The sun was setting slowly, as it does here in the summer in Canada. The light in the North was a rosy pink, and it reflected against the corrugated wall of the industrial building up the road. Electrical lines cut through the pale gray-blue sky not yet touched by pink. A single cloud bloomed out against the horizon as if diving strong into the approaching dark. I sat drinking in the liquid light of the moment. Three stories below me a man listening to his mp3 player and carrying a skateboard walked quickly along the sidewalk. He did not realize I was there able to see him. His face was stern, pointing to the destination he hurried off to and so he did not look up. The light descended again, the rosy pink spreading itself over the base of the diving cloud. It was a moment too simple to include in a narrative, and a moment too rich to step away from too.

Next week I leave Montreal again. I return to my life in the American Southwest; a life in a small town, set in the mountains, full of people unlike those that live here in French Canada. I will shift back to a daily experience quite different from the one I've celebrated here in Quebec all summer. There will be no bagels. It will be impossible to find a restaurant that serves Tokaji Aszu. There will not be a bar with mechanical bull riding, and a quonsit hut ceiling. I will not be there with these friends.

I've been reflecting on the richness of human experience as I consider the strangeness and sanctity of this movement I make between two very different places. When I moved from Montreal to the American Southwest a year ago I knew what to expect. I'd lived there before. There was a clear story I could tell myself about why I was making the move, and about aspects of what the year would be like. This summer when I returned to Montreal I realized I had no idea what the summer would be like. There were various activities I could look forward to returning to, people I knew I would spend time with, and yet it was also clear I wanted to open to something more than a pre-expected, pre-planned summer. Indeed, I changed my plane ticket three times to extend my stay. I've reached the limit of the ability to stay longer, and so I fly south again on Wednesday.

Montreal is a city with which I share a relationship too rich to tell a simple story. I left here a year ago afraid it would stand simply as a story-moment in my life, an account I could give about "that" stage, those several years in Quebec. I'd list what I learned, what kinds of things I did, it would be simply another city I'd lived in. But the life I've been lucky enough to have here is too full for that. I will carry with me a slew of vignettes about this place. But I will also take with me moments like the changing pink of the sky-- a moment too small, really, to bother with describing, and yet a moment full of the inexplicable beauty of a place I see through love.

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