Atheistic mysticism

The more remote the past, the less real it seems, and this includes my own past. I was looking for another picture just now when I came across this one of Dad and me. The year was 1980, and we had been tearing a plaster ceiling out of a hundred year old house in Brookhaven, Mississippi, in 102-degree weather. Dad wouldn’t have worn a dust mask for the work, but I might or I might not, my awareness of such things increasing with time. Twice a day, Mrs. Nations would invite us into the kitchen for a cup or two of strong coffee. I rarely drank coffee, so I stayed ripped on caffeine for days. I found that I liked the feeling, a lot. I also liked Mrs. Nations a lot because she was both cultured and oblivious to the class prejudice that would have kept most upper class women from befriending their carpenters. I thought she represented Southern womanhood at its noblest, and I wish I had told her. It was on this same job that two theatrically slutty women started making eyes at me as I was buying chicken dinners for Dad and me at Winn-Dixie. When the three of us got to the parking lot, they said they had to pick their kids up from school in a couple of hours, but would have time to hang-out for a while at McCall Creek. I said, “Are you ladies telling me you want to fuck?” and they giggled. I figured they wanted money, but I didn’t ask. I did ask if Dad could come. They asked how old he was. I said 70, and they declined. I told Dad about them, and he said I should go if I wanted to, but I considered it all too weird, and, besides, I was never one to pay for sex.

I hastened to look away from that picture just now, not due to any negativity regarding my memories but because it was so long ago that it seems like an event out of someone else’s life. For the past to feel this way un-centers me. I imagine myself floating in space. I feel as if I’m floating in space, and it makes me nauseous, but it also makes me feel high and free.

“There are mystics who are said to have experienced God directly. He was a mystic, too, and what he had experienced was vacancy—a complete certainty in the existence of a dying, cooling world, of human beings who had evolved from animals for no purpose at all. He knew.” Graham Greene (from The Power and the Glory)

Floating without purpose. No center. No foundation. The past and the future a fiction to the present, and the present replaced by the future even as I try to grasp it. 


Charles Gramlich said...

As dirty as the two of you are there, it looks like the beginnings of plenty of horror stories I've seen. :) Good thing those ladies didn't get you where they wanted you.

Elephant's Child said...

I love your final paragraph. And I see only the freedom in it - I am obviously in a glass half-full mood today.

ellen abbott said...

my first reaction to the picture...where are the banjos?

Marion said...

Okay, now I REALLY believe you're from Mississippi. That picture is worth a million words. I see you've had that beard forever. Love the last paragraph, too. Awesome. xo

Deb said...

I'm imagining scenes from Deliverance for some reason. ;)

You know how people say we have "chapters" in our lives? I believe some of us have various "books" of our lives - different stories - different memories - all seem surreal. And when you look back, it's not "you" per se --- it's a whole other person, in a whole other book.

stephen Hayes said...

As I look at this picture I can almost hear banjo music in the background.

Yes, your last line is froth with meaning and I need to re-read it a few more times. For some reason your post reminds me of something Voltaire once wrote: God is a comedian playing in front of an audience afraid to laugh.

Snowbrush said...

"I see you've had that beard forever."

Since '76 to be precise, the moustache having appeared in 1970. Both got me into trouble, the first with my school and the second with my employer (which was a school).

"I'm imagining scenes from Deliverance..."

You, Stephen, and Ellen, but there were no banjos, no Yankee travelers, no malignant hillbillies (this was Mississippi, so there were no hills to speak of), and no river except for the tiny little Bogue Chitto. Instead, you just have an aging transexual and a fellow who would have looked more hippyish had having long hair not annoyed him so. In looking at the photo just now, I noticed how wet with sweat my father was from working, yet this photo was taken at his house in the country, where, I think, we had gone to pick up something. I think the Chevy is a '65 model, but I know the Datsun truck is a '73.

"now I REALLY believe you're from Mississippi."

Despite my Kennedy accent, wealth, and sophistication, I really am from rural Mississippi, and therefore, unlike so many, feel no need to pretend, although my father's side of the family had only been there since 1908 when they moved from Bridgeport, Alabama, in search of warmer winters.

Linda said...

I live north of B'ham and south of Huntsville in the pretty part of AL. My mother was from Hickory Flat, and I was born near there. I lived in TN for the first 7 years of my live and after I was 11. When I married, we lived in Southhaven, MS.


When I saw the picture, I thought the dirt was chest and arm hair. Now, I really really really love chest hair on men. okay, I love hairy men. I just thought you had a strange growth pattern on your chest.

PhilipH said...

According to Lao Tzu, if you are living in the past you are depressed; if you are anxious you are living in the future; if you are at peace you are living in the present.

He could be right.

rhymeswithplague said...

In your last paragraph you seem to be saying the same thing F. Scott Fitzgerald said on the last page of The Great Gatsby, unless you are saying the opposite. I'm not sure:

"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.... And one fine morning-- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
-- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Ch. 9

Either way, you're in fine company.

Snowbrush said...

"He could be right."

Yes, I think so, but no one can or should live in the present every moment, I shouldn't think. I used to feel sorry for my dog when she got old because she was so completely stuck in the present , and there was so little good in her present.

"It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther....So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Sounds rather tiring, doesn't it, but I can see truth in it as a description of what keeps people going. It is usually called faith or hope, I believe, this thought that the really good times are still in front of us.

Snowbrush said...

"Lao Tzu"

Are you a fan of Daiosm? I wish there were more and better modern books on it than any I've read. Do you have any recommendations as to modern literature about Daiosm?

PhilipH said...

Snowy, I'm always happy to find anything that offers succinct gems of 'ancient wisdom' - including, of course from the Orient.
I have only a website to offer:
which might be of some use.

Robin said...

When you are sad....I am too...

Sending hugs and love and strength and hope...

♥ Robin ♥

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Lucky to have memories with a Pa! I can only imagine that . Mine was gone by 1962 and was just 16. And it made life complicated.
Mom died in 88 At age 70 after a fast but unpleasent bout of cancer and now I struggle with it