Monday, March 22, 2004

"Stopping the World," the Second Definition

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

-William Wordsworth, The Tables Turned
I now knew that my step-mother was not the Director, but I mistakenly suspected that perhaps I was. After a short time with my grandparents, I went to live with an aunt and uncle who had a son my age. It was a wonderful home. But, a year later, I was told that I was being shipped to a cousin in Oregon. This was not supposed to happen. This was not in the script.

The family in Oregon were good people. They were also quite wealthy. They were also devout Christians, of the Pentecostal variety.

I was familiar with God, and had read the bible a few times during those years in the room. Smooth Jacob and King David were more familiar to me than Lassie and Superman; the heroes of my peers. I had talked to God since I could remember, although I wasn't so sure He was listening. At first, the spirituality of my new family was attractive. Maybe this was the way to discover who the real Director was?

The experience of worship was powerful. Clearly God, as revealed through Jesus Christ, was a clue to the real drama going on underneath the perceived one of daily life. That's what I wanted to get to now; the reality beyond.

Eventually, I began to wonder about the Pentecostal experience. It required such a expenditure of emotion. It was like a play that consisted of a series of song and dance numbers, without any story to connect them. I was suspicious of a euphoria based on a manipulation of my emotions. You can only respond to so many altar calls before the script becomes so familiar that it loses its ability to have the required effect.

This family also introduced me to another new aspect of life; hunting and fishing. After the initial fascination with having the power to kill things wore off, I found myself strongly attracted to the woods. Soon, I was setting off by myself each Saturday before the sun rose with a lunch in a pack on my back. I would hike in the mountains and return home as the sun set. Removed from the human dramas played out on stages of asphalt and concrete, it seemed easier to draw closer to another drama, one that was not controlled by any human, including me.

At first, I went into the woods with my peers; other twelve year olds armed with pellet rifles and .22s. The thrill of shooting anything that moved, and crashing through the brush like the herd of wild apes that we were, soon wore thin. Eventually, I chose to go alone. I found that after a couple of hours, the animals accepted my presence. Rather than an intruder, I slowly found my place in this world, as an observer. I learned to walk quietly, and sit still for long periods. In this world, the scripts being played out were not driven by any human neuroses. The squirrels chased each other from tree to tree because it amused them to do so. The robin sang because life was good.

One day, as I began climbing a small hill that opened onto a meadow at its summit, I remembered to be especially quiet. I knew that there might be wildlife in the meadow at that time of day. As I slowly raised my head over the top of the hill, I found myself looking into the eyes of a spike, a young buck, not more than six feet away from me. He had two nubs for horns, suggesting that in deer-years, he and I were peers. We both froze. It seemed that everything froze. I heard no birds, nor saw any trees swaying in the gentle breeze that had caressed my face moments before. My senses were strangely intensified. The colors of the wildflowers were blazing brightly. The dew on the grass sparkled like tiny gems. I could make out every detail in the face of the young buck, and my nostrils were full of his musty scent. For just a moment, time stood still. The division between my perception of this pastoral scene and the drama unfolding in the meadow wavered and shimmered for just a moment. And then I took a step, the buck bounded away, and the moment was over.

I tracked him for most of the day. I never saw him again. But that moment, that glimpse of a reality beyond my perception, a reality in which the buck, the flowers, the breeze, and the young boy were not separate, but all part of one grand canvas, was etched on my heart forever.

In summation; another way of understanding "stopping the world" is to find a means to "stop" our limited human perception of things, and to quit insisting that human perception is the only "true" way to make sense out of his world. Take a walk in the woods, for, as Wordsworth said, "Sweet is the lore which Nature brings; Our meddling intellect--Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--
We murder to dissect."