Thursday, January 26, 2012

What's it all about, anyway 13?

Memories of the Past

Almost anywhere, at any time of day or night random memories come to us unbidden.  Some chance encounter sparks a memory, some unexpected happening another and so on.  I have already mentioned many times before in these pages the theory that perhaps we are no more than an intricate bank of memories.  Today as I crossed the school yard I bumped into Fr Peter McVerry, SJ, tireless worker on behalf of homeless young people in Dublin, our capital city.  He was in to address the the staff and parents of our primary school.  I just chanced to be crossing the schoolyard and bumped into him while walking his Jack Russell dog.  I greeted him and welcomed him to our school.  It was my first meeting with this wonderful man.  I talked to him about people I knew from Milltown Institute (A Jesuit run third level college) where I had studied for some three years.  We spoke about the director of my thesis and other lecturers whom I was privileged to have back in the early to mid-eighties.  We also spoke about dogs and teaching.  He quipped that he loved his work, and if anything it kept his provincial from sending him into the classroom to teach science.  We spoke as if we had always known one another.  Such is always the way with committed workers for justice and equality.  You can read all about this wonderful Irish Jesuit here and find links to the two main books he has written: PMV Trust

Unfortunately I was unable to attend his talk as I was on my way to meet my brother to go to the gym.  Still this random encounter sparked off many memories of old places and former friends and acquaintances.  But time flies - tempus fugit and sic transit gloria mundi etc.  Somewhere between all the daily concerns: this misbehaving student, that EBD Asperger's boy, this difficult parent, the Student Council Bookshop, trying to re-acquaint myself with mathematical procedures learnt years ago and all the relevant and irrelevant banter in the Staff Room my memory banks were jogged and memories came streaming from the past.  Mere chance collisions of neurons in the brain or something deeper and more mysterious I ask myself.  It's a good question to which I do not have the answer, though I firmly believe in the something more.  I cannot define or pin down that something more, but it leads me onwards to live life as best as I can and in the most authentic manner that I can attain.  Once again, words I had read in Shakespeare's The Tempest which the dramatist puts into the mouth of Prospero come to my mind here, because the Bard of Avon spoke of the human condition before the word existentialist was coined.  Moreover, he spoke of the human condition and some of what he wrote could indeed be classed existentialist and angst-ridden.  Now for Prospero's wonderful words:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

(The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158).

These words are worth pondering and reading aloud to let their import seep into our heart.  Shakespeare is here reminding us of our mortality and indeed the temporality of all things, including our little world: The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,//The solemn temples, the great globe itself,//Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve.  Indeed, then the four words "and our little life" make for a mantra to remind us of our sheer unimportance in the scheme of things.  Such angst-ridden thoughts are the heart of the existentialist sensibility.

I want, I want, I want

Yet another Jesuit scholar comes to my mind here, viz., Fr. Michael-Paul Gallagher S.J. whom I had the pleasure to have as a lecturer in both English literature and Theology.  It was he who introduced me to the books of the great Americanm novelist Saul Bellow.  We read Henderson the Rain King and Herzog with Michael-Paul way back in the late 1970s.  I remember the above title from the antihero of that book, Henderson, he who wanted his life to mean something.  Hence, throughout the book "I want" appears as a sort of modernist mantra for the deep desire yet emptiness that lie at the heart of so-called modern culture.  Here also are two short quotes from that novel to give you a taste of what it is about:

"Now I have already mentioned that there was a disturbance in my heart, a voice that spoke there and said, I want, I want, I want! It happened every afternoon, and when I tried to suppress it got even stronger. It said only one thing, I want, I want! And I would ask, 'What do you want?' But this is all it would ever tell me." Chapter 3, p. 24

“And I prayed and prayed, ‘Oh, you…Something,’ I said, ‘you Something because of whom there is not Nothing. Help me to do Thy will. Take off my stupid sins. Untrammel me. Heavenly Father, open up my dumb heart and for Christ’s sake preserve me from unreal things. Oh, Thou who tookest me from pigs, let me not be killed over lions. And forgive my crimes and nonsense and let me return to Lily and the kids.’” p. 253

The More We're Striving For

When I was defending my Master's Thesis on the method in theology in the works of John Henry Cardinal Newman, I remember one of the panel of examiners asking me (in reply to one of my answers which opined that there was more to life than scientific materialists like Huxley dreamed of) what was the "more" in life.  I had replied that that, of course, was the grace of GOD, the very gift of his Son as Redeemer of the World.  At the time I staunchly believed that.  At this distance in time what I said then is for me now no more than a theological formula.  I suppose I have outgrown my need for religion, but that is okay.  Others have a need for it, and that is okay, too, in my book.  All stances in life are equally valid once they do not hurt another sentient being.  That's my basic ethical  and moral vision anyway.  However, I'm still striving for the more, whatever that may be.  I'm open on this question.  Like Henderson I want, I want, I want...MEANING!

Tutorial For Three

As I have many times said in these pages, I am a Special Education Teacher.  Once a week I take three of our second year high achievers for a class in philosophy.  These young boys at at the top of their class and have attended the DCU Centre for Talented Youth: see here. We have discussed much in our forty minutes weekly class from mathematics and science to literature and philosophy.  I am teaching them to think, but mostly I listen to their ideas and try to sharpen their questions.  Philosophy is more a way of thinking than learning off a raft of ideas, even though we often do so to get a handle on the subject in question.  Nevertheless, the real philosopher, mathematician or scientist is the guy or girl with the inquisitive mind and the incisive questions.  At the end of yesterday's class I left them with the thought that the most precious thing ever in their lives will be their desire to know, and that with that desire to know will come real power over their own lives, and that if they live their lives in pursuit of authentic truth and knowledge they will have added to the human store of wisdom.

Iam venio ad finem

These were the words of the late Pope John Paul II, when he was a Auxiliary Bishop Of Krakow, Poland at one of the meetings of the Second Vatican Council.  He was being hurried along as he was going somewhat over time, and he stated "Iam venio ad finem" : "I am soon coming to an end."  It is the same for me here: "Iam venio ad finem" : "I am soon coming to an end."  What's it all about, anyway is indeed a good question.  The great religions are one way of providing an answer to this question for their followers.  However, even within these great religions there are varying strands of belief too, e.g., the many different Christian churches and the various strands of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam and so on and so forth. Outside that, there are many others with varying convictions and varying answers.  Each person to his/her own.  "Chacun a son gout," as the French say!  Or as my uncle John from San Francisco says (he's 92 this year), "live and let live!"

This will be my last in this serious of autobiographical posts.  It is time I turned my attention to another concern. 


Donna said...

Thank you for sharing your blog. I began reading a couple of weeks ago, came to you by chance as I searched for a quote (inter urinas et faeces nascimur’). I am continually humbled and amazed by what I find on the internet, especially the generosity of people to share themselves, their talent, and their knowledge.
Since finding your writing, I have been looking at videos of Anthony de Mello on YouTube because I noticed his name in your list of books. I had never heard the name before. I watch with the same wonder I had a few years back when I came across a tattered book by Krishnamurti and found, to my surprise, this incredible teacher had been around for a long time and me totally unaware. Humbling. And also exciting because who knows what else there is out there.
I live near Detroit, Michigan in the US. The distance that the internet collapses is also amazing to me.
Again, sincere thanks, Donna Liening

TQ said...

Many thanks, Donna, for your lovely sincere comment. Much appreciated. I agree wholeheartedly with you that the internet telescopes the world into smaller portions - truly our world is a global village. Great to connect with a kindred soul thousands of miles away! Take care, and walk lightly on Mother Earth, Tim Quin lan, Dublin, Ireland.