Monday, May 9, 2011
“You believe in God Homer?”
“Sure, don’t you?”
“I don’t know…. No, I suppose not.” I demurely lit a cigarette.
“How can you not believe in God? Its impossible to believe in anything if there isn’t a God,” he asked pleadingly.
“How so?” I asked, still calm.
“If not, there’s no point to living. Life is useless. Everything you work for, all the things you own, and even your own life, they all just pass away as if they never existed.”
“Yes,”I said, nodding, puffing on the cigarette.
“Well, then there is no point to living. If everything dies, if all things fall apart or you lose’em then there has to be, well, something where all the things started in the first place.”
“I don’t really understand what you are saying, Homer. We’re born, we may reproduce ourselves, if we marry and have children, and then we die. We’re not connected to anything else. We are separate from everything. We don’t need anything to exist. Every person is an island.”
I could see he was growing frustrated. His talcum white cheeks were turning a pale crimson, then a deeper angry russet. He cocked his head from side to side as if her were trying to localize the sound of my voice to better control me.
“You shouldn’t get agitated, Homer. We’re just talking.” I put my hand on his thin arm.
“I’m not Lang,” he said, “its just, its just that it all makes no sense unless God is watching over things….”
“Yes,” I nodded my head, cigarette now a dead stump between my lips.
“A God who makes things and a God who takes things back. So really nothing ever disappears or dies, God just takes ‘em back.”
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.’
“It’s from the book of Job,” I said with conviction. “But Homer,” I continued, “you’re presuming that there must be a meaning behind the things that you see happening. You see a dog die on the street and believe that there must be something behind that death to explain it. But I don’t. I just see a dog dying. I don’t think one needs to look any further than the senses to explain things. It’s just the end of life, and that’s it. Its what happens everyday.”
“You don’t think Mamma’s gonna go to heaven?” he whimpered, tears were matting his long eye lashes. I had gone too far? A God? A deeper meaning to reality? It had never come up before with poor little Homer.
There was a God in heaven? Was it the God of the Hebrews or the God of Aristotle? The difference between the two, of course, was small, yet infinitely profound. The God of Aristotle kept the universe moving in an orderly sequence. Events, circumstances, the flow of existence, were explicable because there was an anchor to pin the flow upon; because, ultimately, nothing became unhinged from the Primary Cause, the Unmoved Mover. Everything was stacked in an orderly sequence with this clock work God on high. But Aristotle’s God was impersonal, compassionless, and as such, all the more believable for this world, because this God is blind.
But the Hebrew God, the Christian God, is that what Homer believes in? He had grafted some sort of hybrid of the two, not realizing that they are historically and logically exclusive? This God loves with a love that is both universal and particular . This God knows each individual hair on our heads… the philosophical God makes more sense; it is mechanically more sound and empirically more verifiable. A Heavenly Host, Salvation and Damnation, Providence, a man-god squirming on a Cross… it is all too cumbersome to be self-subsisting…. too heavy to have any real substance.
I sat with Homer outside of Mother’s death chamber. In the darkness I could barely see his face. I could hear the doctor rustling in Mother’s room. As long as I can remember there was always the sound of rustling, dragging, and clamoring emanating from Mother’s chamber. She did not have much time.
I held Homer’s shoulder and he smiled weakly at me. A fearful sensation of loneliness washed over me, for I knew that I was, from that point on --- alone. The impending death of my last parent suddenly illustrated that nothing was above me in that clear blue summer sky. Our Mother and Father are our true gods, and they are like all divinities they break the heart of their creations with a divine capriciousness that is inscrutable. The hurt us by being as imperfect as we are...
Homer and I stood silently next to the minister. It was a stormy early autumn day. The sky, a dark gray coating of clouds, had been pouring rain all morning. I held a black umbrella high over my head to shelter Homer and myself. He was pretending to gaze down into the freshly dug brown hole and quietly weeping.
In the distance, far over the undulating plots of varying sized tombs and monuments, I could see an elevated train racing on its improbably high track. Its light showed a dull yellow in the prematurely darkening sky. Dead leaves were rustling, wet and sodden, in the rigorous autumnal wind. When the last clod of soil was on her casket we returned home and I barred the front door. I nailed a simple two by four in place and then sat on the hallway bench and watched the door for most of two days. I cast a spell on myself. If there was really no order to the cosmos, then I wanted to create, thorough the stubborn insistence of my will ---- my own well ordered universe
I sat at my desk and wrote lists of routines and scenarios to govern both my and Homer’s day. Our symbiosis would be as completely matched as possible. I began to develop theories of space which I thought would bring a more congenial harmony to our home than so- called “naturally arranged space”, for it seemed as if balance had been lacking in the Reign of Mother. Our space had become littered with objects, which, although familiar, had been drained of their deeper signification… their meaning….
For if you believe you are walking through space then you need conventional markers to plot your course. Otherwise you are in a vacuum. Otherwise you have no idea what exists; otherwise it is all a medium without control. It is not a free fall; it has no reference, it is an open ended and inexplicable dead-end.
I started with the front hall. We had over sized empty packing crates that Mother had used to deliver our three grand pianos in ’26. By placing them in front of the door, an initial barrier was erected. One had to squeeze through the crack to the left of the entryway, and then sidle through the narrow aperture between the crates, only to be greeted, on the other side, by a maze of detached wrought iron bed stands, the legacy of numerous disused guest rooms. The bed stands made an excellent series of interchangeable barriers, a maze of conflicting passages, blind alleyways, false starts, faux endings, red-herrings strewn about, designed to confuse and muddle.
Moving from this area of organized, structured use of space, the potential intruder suddenly finds himself in the central hall, an area of near total darkness, day or night, every window and light source unceremoniously plugged. The sensation, going from enclosed twisted maze to open, seemingly endless darkness, a magnificent textural trick, a feeling of bottoming out and yet not reaching the piece of solid bedrock one expects after an extended fall, but another expanse, equally as perplexing as the mini-maze, yet another spatial riddle to solve, a void…
If somehow, someway, the intruder (the explorer, the bon-vivant), gets beyond this… see him wander in the near perfect pitch dark, arms stretched outward in a V, perhaps crawling from fear, perhaps moving backward when he thinks he moves forward, for momentum is not what we suppose, forward progress is largely a trick of the light, a passing image on the retina, a cleverly drafted tromp l’ l’oeil. For how do we know that we are moving through a landscape and not sitting still? How can the intruder know what is a trap door, what is a portal, and what is a dead wall?
If, by some trick of luck or through the force of ingenuity the intruder finds his way out, he will discover yet another, more perplexing maze. This one, I must confess, is not a design of my own making. No, the heart of the house required some external talent to bring to the fore a symbol of the real convolutions that life can take. For a maze, a cleverly constructed and masterfully designed enigma, is nothing but a rather obvious metaphor for the all too complex gyrations and convolutions of our swirling cosmos, of our jumbled human lives.
And this one is a classic: designed in 1767 under the direction of the decadent and caddish King of Belgium, Louise Phillipe IV, by one Marquise De Metronmme, (of course not his real name, and not a Marquise, to boot, but a fraud, a charlatan; yet another pretender with a royal label in an age of royal counterfeits) the master maze maker of 18th century Europe, his services in demand from Lisbon to Moscow, Palermo to Stockholm, the maze craze of this period, and his work in particular, left an indelible mark on the genre. Like every great innovator, de Metronome broke with the old models of maze construction while maintaining, while guided by the strict confines of his own unique, solitary genius, certain elements that he uniquely and correctly intuited, and made, quite simply, outstanding mazes.
If he divorced form from content, and was harshly criticized for it in his own day, then we can only marvel at the acute powers of his prognostication. And I took his cue, and ran with it! My maze was fashioned after the Belgian Louise Phillipe (so famous it graces innumerable lithographs in middle class homes the world over) but of course my maze was not on the same scale, or with quite the intricacy…
And my materials were home grown, or found in adjacent alleys and side streets, which grew clogged with more and more clutter each day, as the city, as this city, as my city, seemed intent of burying itself in its own refuse.
But no more on the maze. No more trade secrets revealed.
During these dense days of construction (work day and night, seven days a week, all along with my other household maintenance duties) suddenly I noticed people were looking at me when I went to the market, bought a paper, went to the corner stand for tobacco and rolling papers. What was wrong with me? Could they see something that I could not?