The Shadows on the Wall

Iceberg caveI am back in the woods of William Penn, home from a journey to the land where people say “yall” the way you’re supposed to. The Odessey complete, I came back to slay the suitors who drank up my wine (somebody drank it anyway), wanting to embrace my Penelope.

During the 13 days I was gone, I spent the night in 8 different houses, over three states. On this quest, while sitting around smoky fires listening to ancient warriors fabricate histories that should have happened, my consumption of red meat, sugar, and alcohol increased noticeably, doing my part to conquer the limits of a sensible diet.

One night of excess was New Year’s Eve, which I spent with a houseful of Russians. In true old Russian style, except for five minutes watching the ball come down in New York, we sat from 8:30 in the evening until 2:00 in the morning around a table loaded with more food than we could possibly have eaten, and more alcohol than we could have drunk and still lived. The vodka was never even opened, by the way. There was a huge platter of lamb shish kebab, eight kinds of fabulous Russian salads by my count, roasted potatoes, boiled potatoes with fresh dill, and a bowl so full of red caviar that most of it was not eaten.

My time away from Pennsylvania also threw fuel on the fire that never extinguishes, a fire that burns with questions that don’t have answers. What are we, why are we here, does anything in life make sense?

I had lunch one day with two men in their 70s. One of them was personally acquainted with the astronauts who walked on the moon, as he helped to send them there. The other was once a state campaign chairman for a presidential candidate. Now both men are losing their memories, rather drastically in one case, and they spend part of their days confused by things that once required no obvious thought.

I also was with a 19-year-old girl who is anxious to get on into life, to build her own place in it, and she insisted to someone that she is a woman. I met a boy who appeared to be around 8 years old, who speaks three languages. I tried to say something to him in Spanish, and as he had seen that I was speaking Russian with other people, he replied to me in Russian, to explain the correct way to say what I was attempting in Spanish.

During the trip I spent time with good, decent people who are extremely conservative, and who believe they are of course correct in their beliefs, and I was with good, decent people who are very liberal, also confidently persuaded of their own correctness. But to even use labels like “conservative” and “liberal” is foolish and lazy if you’re interested in the true complexity of life. Everyone can talk to other people who are on their own side, and quickly start to find things where the other person is getting it wrong. Only one person is reliable, and that’s me, and I’m wrong so often I’m starting to have doubts.

I also encountered beliefs and faiths: I turned down a Baptist book of daily religious thoughts; I saw a beautiful Russian Ortodox icon being created with a covering of beads; and I declared to Jewish friends that I can’t really be a member of any religion, because I don’t want to be bound by rules.

In another spiritual aspect of life, I talked to people who were creating things—food, paintings, books, stitchery, philosophies, gardens, buildings (designing restaurants, to be specific).

Naturally, I’m greatly simplifying reality in my discussion here. What are we, why are we here, does anything in life make sense? No, not too much makes sense, but after a fortnight of travel, I have more examples of how we dream, of how we might step out with enthusiasm into life, of how we deal with the inevitable surprise that so many things don’t work out, and of how we may finally watch the light fade. I more or less saw a million possibilities, and every possibility was only the colored tip of a jeweled iceberg, yet the icebergs themselves were illusions, like the flicker of shadows in Plato’s cave.

All of that is what I want to write about.


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