Sunday, May 20, 2007

the active, realistic loving of this one moment in all time.

“Call me trimtab’’

Sunday afternoon in San Francisco, May 20, 2007

Just a few weeks ago, in response to a straightforward question from my zen teacher, I circuitously stumbled across the work and thought of Bucky Fuller. 25 or more years ago, I spent a weekend in a hotel ballroom with him and 200 others. I can still recall the light of his presence. A few years ago, at the Project Artaud Theater, I was again stunned by his originality and the depth of his insight on one of multiple visits to a one man show, “R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe” by D.W. Jacobs.

Though I might have put Bucky aside, I was more than happy to revisit and rediscover his Universe.
Today in a world once again torn by war, I read what he wrote 67 years ago and was very moved. For me, if I am honest with myself, Baghdad is really an abstraction, not the horror it is to the families of killed soldiers, innocent men and women caught in the cross fire, or Jihadists with a cause to die for. I have been in a”froth-spitting squall on Long Island Sound,” but I never been to the kind of War as the Second Great War, nor Viet Nam, not even an ill-advised invasion. Still “in the face of what is involved,” I am struggle for an adequate response.

I reproduce some of Bucky’s words here, not only the famous “God is a verb” passage, but a portion of the rest to create some context and because I like it. There is much more if you care to read. His books are available from the Institute that bears his name, and, in a few days, I will also include them on my bibliography page.

by R. Buckminster Fuller

Late tonight
(April 9, 1940)
I am just sitting here
for one of the many reasons
people find themselves passionately isolated.
(The cause is rarely noble.)
In the midst of my overly
self-emphatic thought
I say, suddenly,
(as most of us do):
imagine, realize, the preposterousness of your chagrin
in the face of what is involved
in the newspaper headline
on the chair over there.
World Telegram 7th Sports.

It’s no longer a phoney war
but I don’t think about that
nor do I think much about Oslo.
I think of such of aviators and sailormen as
are in command of their faculties
on both sides at this moment.
Though you have been out in
a froth-spitting squall
on Long Island Sound or
in an ocean liner on a burgeoning sea
you have but a childlike hint of
what a nineteen-year-old’s reaction is
to the pitch black shrieking dark out there
in the very cold northern elements
of unloosening spring
off Norway’s coast
15,000 feet up
or fifty under or
worse, on the smashing face of it and
here I see God.

A sufficient light within
a seemingly opaque back object
may suddenly convert that object
into a brilliant vari-colored lantern.

Here is God’s purpose­­-
for God, to me, it seems,
is a verb
not a noun,
proper or improper;
is the articulation
not the art, objective or subjective;
is loving,
not the abstraction “love” commanded or entreated;
is knowledge dynamic,
not legislative code
not proclamation law,
not academic dogma, nor ecclesiastic cannon.
Yes, God is a verb,
the most active,
connoting the vast harmonic
reordering of the universe
from unleashed chaos of energy.
And there is born unheralded
a great natural peace,
not out of exclusive
pseudo-static security
but out of including, refining, dynamic balancing.
Naught is lost.
Only the false and nonexistent are dispelled.

And I’ve thought through to tomorrow
which is also today.
The telephone rings
and you say to me
Hello Buckling this is Christopher; or
Daddy it’s Allegra; or
Mr. Fuller this is the Telephone Company Business Office;
and I say you are inaccurate.
Because I knew you were going to call
and furthermore I recognize
that it is God who is “speaking.”

And you say
aren’t you being fantastic?
And knowing you I say no.

That is the active, realistic loving
of this one moment in all time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Gay Men and Our Mothers

More thoughts on my mother

Mother and Dad

W.H.Auden said that most gay men aren’t worth much after their mothers died. I don’t know why that throwaway line has stayed with me--I don 't agree--Auden himself wrote some pretty good verse after his mother’s death. Mothers are important to everyone, and in the lives of most of the gay men I’ve known, they hold a key place, the corner stone or a lynch pin.

My sister, Julie, organized a memorial serivce in the small Connecticut town where we grew up.  I sent these few words which the priest herself read.

I am so sorry that I cannot be with you in Nichols today, but circumstances have proved to be too formidable. I am with you, however, in my sorrow, my gratitude for this memorial service and my love for our mother, our wife, our sister, our sister-in-law, our mother-in-law, our grandmother, and our friend.

There are moments in life that require a few words, and this is one of them. Julie has graciously included my few awkward ones in the service so that I can honor her passing and mark my love for her.

I just wrote to a friend that friends and lovers, children and grandchildren, sisters and brothers, even husbands and wives these days, can come in multiples, but that still, in most cases, we get just one mother, and certainly with regard to me and Leona Mare Carroll Ireland, she filled that role completely.

When I was describing mother to a friend, he just said, "That woman was a force of nature." He totally got that she was a very, very strong woman and a central figure in my life. That force of her character was, thankfully, balanced with enormous amounts humor and grace, good taste, refinement and a very sharp mind. But if any one of you ever really believe that she liked it when she lost the rubber in bridge, it had to be some mellowing in her later years that I didn't witness.

It is no secret that she and I shared, at times, a rough road together. She was disappointed with the path that I chose in life and, I think, with the path that has been given to me, in this culture, by my sexual orientation. Though I held a grudge about that for a long time, I would like to share an experience that changed all that. During these last very difficult two plus years, when we knew that there would be no recovery, no going home, I knew anything that I really had to say to her had to said then or never said at all.

And so we talked one afternoon at La Posada, very openly and frankly - about everything. It was not an easy conversation for either of us. But as her strength was fading, she said that all she ever wanted was for me to happy. In that moment all I could feel was her constant love for me, and I knew that that had always been true. Even my regrets that I had not always been able to fully express the love that she deserved disappeared. So thank you mother, there are no more grudges. From my side any resentment has evaporated and that's because, in no small measure, you were so generous and so courageous in those last difficult 27 months.

During the whole weekend before she died, still believing that death was in the future, for some reason I could not fathom, she was always with me. I showed her picture to a guest at Sunday brunch. I made a copy of a great picture a friend had taken of me that I knew would make her happy. And I found a poem by Seamus Heaney that would not let me go.

Just a little background, in zen retreats there are only a few activities, meditating, eating, sleeping, and preparing the vegetables, which means lots of peeling potatoes. With this poem I asked all the people with whom I shared those retreats to pray for mother. I now ask that our prayers be added to yours, in gratitude that her suffering is over, and with the prayer and our blessing that she finds peace in the invisible life that is always with us.


When all the others were away at Mass

I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.

They broke the silence, let fall one by one

Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:

Cold comforts set between us, things to share

Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.

And again let fall. Little splashes

From each other's work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside

Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying

And some were responding and some crying

I remembered her head bent towards my head,

Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives -

Never closer the whole rest of our lives

And finally, my apologies to the parish priest at Trinity Church in Nichols who I'm sure did not go at the prayers for the dead with hammer and tongs, but with compassion and love,

my deep thanks to Julie for organizing this tribute and including me,

and my love to all of you.