Saturday, June 15, 2013

No Matter. Never Mind.


Once again, I find myself at the wrong end of the stick of power. In a situation in which I have the greater expertise, the other has the job description that grants them the right to use power any way they see fit. And so I spent over three hours of a sunny Estonian morning defending choices point-by-point that I shouldn’t have to defend. Despite some people’s fantasies, I’m not asking for mindless agreement with my point of view. I’m asking people to think, to lay out their thinking and back up their decisions with coherence. As always, I begin the conversation congenially and look for a good spirited discussion that will forge both parties’ thinking on the anvil of disagreement. If that door doesn’t open, the heat rises— and why? Because these conflicts are the guards at the door of my passion, testing me to see exactly how serious I am and how much I'm willing to sacrifice on behalf of my vision. In the end, all antagonists must be thanked, but in the midst of it, it’s just a royal pain in the butt. Three hours indoors when I could have been touring Tallinn.

I finally had the good sense to get the heck out of the hotel and found a nearby park. The birds were singing in their summer glory and within minutes, all was put in perspective. They were telling me in no uncertain terms, “Wake up, you idiot. Out here is the real deal. None of that other stuff matters.”

And they’re right. The article that I’m slaving away on will be read by a mere handful and then put down or forgotten. This very blog is as ephemeral as a blogspot malfunction, these gathered electrons floating out into cyberspace and really, who cares one way or another? The class I spend a lifetime preparing for is a micro-drop in an ocean of schooling. All that seems so vital and important to us in the moment is a dandelion’s head blown away by a sudden breeze, a 10-second footprint on the sand washed away in the next wave, a leaf fallen from a tree. Walking in this park, the birds singing, the sun shining, the breeze blowing, all these relentless struggles fell off of my shoulders, that could sincerely shrug, “No matter. Never mind.”

The Japanese Buddhist haiku masters, those spokespeople for this fleeting, ephemeral world, captured much of this. (Gary Snyder once explained the Buddhist concept of emptiness with this blog’s title: “No matter. Never mind.”) Consider Issa:

This world of dew
Is a world of dew…
And yet. And yet.

About that “and yet.” The birds are right, but they’re also wrong. The great trick is to consider deep down that none of it ultimately matters, but to live each moment “as if.” "As if" it makes all the difference in the world to voice a chord this way instead of that, to choose this word instead of the other one, to spend an hour shopping for the little toys that will make your music class more concrete and fun. "As if" it’s essential to keep knocking at the doors slammed in your face, to jimmy the lock, to take it off the hinges if necessary, in service of what you know is right and true and just. "As if" someone may someday thank you even as you know they won’t.

The birds kept singing and I said back to them, “You know, it doesn’t matter that you are singing. And yet, you do. It doesn’t matter that I am listening. And yet, I am. Knowing that, why do you do it? Because you have to. Every note is proclaiming (as voiced by the poet Hopkins) ‘What I do is me. For that I came.’"

At the end of the day, whether or not someon’s listening, whether or not someone cares, whether or not someone vows to remember, all we can say is, “This is what I had to do. How about you?”

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