Status Update: RT’s mom is doing fairly well as she continues to struggle with lung disease. Living in a nursing home is always difficult, but his mom has more or a less adjusted to the challenges. During his most recent visit with her, she told him, “Write another book!”
RT is of course struggling with his own issues as the drama of his mother’s health plays out. Recently, he was looking over the Wikipedia entry on the five stages of grief and was struck by how much they resemble the emotions we experience as we fall in love. RT has been vouchsafed few moments of insight over the last several months, so he felt he should share his flash in the pan:
The Five Stages of Falling in Love
Denial: “Are you kidding me? I’m not in love with them! I don’t know their name. We’ve never met. They’re not even a blip on the radar.”
Anger: “Who are you? How can you tell me we’re in love? I don’t like anything about you. In fact, I can’t stand the way you look, the way you smell, your personal habits. Go away! Get out!”
Bargaining: “I know we shouldn’t have kissed. It’s my fault. I smiled and made small talk and then, well, we got romantic for a moment. Look, the whole thing is a mistake, so let’s forget about it. We’ll wipe the slate clean and start over as friends.”
Depression: “Oh my god, we just slept together. We’re really in love. We can’t get out of it. We’re stuck!”
Acceptance: “OK, so we’re in love. Now what do we do?”
Love is like gravity; it is universal and its action continuous. People are always falling in love. There’s no way to stop it. When I recently shared my insight with a friend, they suggested that it applies only to inappropriate relationships. But all love relationships are inappropriate at some level. Nobody is ever really prepared for love or its consequences. At the same time, love is the force that makes us get out of bed in the morning. But now RT is waxing philosophical…
Photo: Tala Birell-Edmund Lowe in Let’s Fall in Love. Publicity still, 1933. WikiCmns; Dr. Macro. Public Domain.
Dear readers, RT for the last several weeks has been exploring 19th century British romantic prose; where else could he possibly find himself, on his 55th birthday, but washed up on the shores of Charlotte Bronte‘s great novel, Jane Eyre?
It goes without saying that this novel is primarily addressed to women, relating as it does the search of a sympathetic and intelligent young lady for the earthly paradise of marriage. “Reader, I married him,” she reports as the novel reaches it conclusion. Few sentences in the English language can have had as widespread an impact on our culture as this one.
But fellow men, take note: we can only wish that we were capable of the profound passion that Mr. Rochester evinces during the novel’s proposal scene. Rochester’s language here reaches the intensity of poetry, as does, in an entirely more feminine way, Jane Eyre’s:
Excerpts from the Proposal Scene, Jane Eyre
“Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you,—and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;—it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,—as we are!”
“And your will shall decide your destiny,” he said: “I offer you my hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions.”
“You play a farce, which I merely laugh at.”
“I ask you to pass through life at my side—to be my second self, and best earthly companion.”
A waft of wind came sweeping down the laurel-walk, and trembled through the boughs of the chestnut: it wandered away—away—to an indefinite distance—it died. The nightingale’s song was then the only voice of the hour: in listening to it, I again wept. Mr. Rochester sat quiet, looking at me gently and seriously.
“My bride is here,” he said, again drawing me to him, “because my equal is here, and my likeness. Jane, will you marry me?”
Still I did not answer, and still I writhed myself from his grasp: for I was still incredulous.
“Do you doubt me, Jane?” “Entirely.”
“You have no faith in me?” “Not a whit.”
“You, Jane, I must have you for my own—entirely my own. Will you be mine? Say yes, quickly.”
“Mr. Rochester, let me look at your face: turn to the moonlight.” “Why?” “Because I want to read your countenance—turn!” “There! you will find it scarcely more legible than a crumpled, scratched page.
Read on: only make haste, for I suffer.”
His face was very much agitated and very much flushed, and there were strong workings in the features, and strange gleams in the eyes.
“Oh, Jane, you torture me!” he exclaimed. “With that searching and yet faithful and generous look, you torture me!”
“How can I do that? If you are true, and your offer real, my only feelings to you must be gratitude and devotion—they cannot torture.”
“Gratitude!” he ejaculated; and added wildly—“Jane accept me quickly. Say, Edward—give me my name—Edward—I will marry you.”
“Are you in earnest? Do you truly love me? Do you sincerely wish me to be your wife?”
“I do; and if an oath is necessary to satisfy you, I swear it.”
“Then, sir, I will marry you.”
“Edward—my little wife!”
RT suspects that the need for romance becomes more insistent as we grow older. Perhaps, visual impairment notwithstanding, we grow more clear-sighted as we age. Energy is everything, and what better energy can we hope for than affection? Marriage may not be the only answer; we should remember that we are always falling in love with each other. Passion pursues us right up to the grave, and perhaps beyond it. A better fate is hard to imagine.
Drawing: Portrait of Charlotte Bronte; Evert A. Duyckinck (based on a drawing by George Richmond). 1873. University of Texas; WikiCmns. Public Domain. *
Anyone who thinks that the U.S. states have lost most of their power or that the U.S. cultural landscape isn’t complicated should peruse the above map. RT continues to be boggled by the progress of gay rights in the U.S., but the most recent overturnings of state law regarding gay marriage has gotten him up at nearly midnight to editorialize on the situation. But after considering this map, RT is beginning to think that more may be going on than several wild-eyed federal judges striking blows in the name of justice.
Michigan’s ruling brings to nine, count ’em, nine, states that have had either their bans on same-sex marriage or their bans on recognition of other-state gay marriage overturned. What is even more astounding is that a near-majority of the U.S. population now supports gay marriage, up from 25 percent in 1996. Polls in Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, and Arizona indicate majority support in those states! These are not locales known for their liberal political stance.
Nineteen U.S. states now recognize gay marriage; the first state to legalize it, Massachusetts, did so ten years ago. And RT recollects the avalanche of state bans on gay marriage that buried much of the country back in the 1990s.
The ten-year anniversary is probably pertinent: Massachusetts has yet to slide off into the ocean. And as is the case with the Affordable Care Act, we are just looking at the first phase of this struggle (and the implicit acceptance of the sexuality spectrum). Polygamy and group marriage are waiting for their day in court. The very foundation of civilization for the last four millennia, patriarchy, is crumbling (and for some, being reaffirmed).
Somewhere, in a hell that may no longer be so dusty, Gilgamesh and Enkidu are smiling.
And what about hash brownies? (RT himself will abstain; his meds have worked pretty well for him all these years).
Map: Legal status of same-sex partnership in the United States; author: Lokal_Profil. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported.
As difficult as it is, each of us has to confront the reality of death in the most painful way: the loss of a family member, confidante, or other intimate friend. They are gone, suddenly or not, and we confront a gaping hole in our life. A year was the typical period of mourning dictated in more traditional times, and the process can take longer, depending on the strength of the bond with the person who has died.
Recently, one of RT’s friends lost her mother. To encourage the healing process for her and her family, RT made bold to write the following poem; he hopes it helps them in their grieving:
The dead like gods
watch us, concerned,
listen to our pain,
confer, render judgment.
Visit our dreams, we ask,
with your warnings and memories.
Earth and heaven are one,
they reply, the path to
the shining souls rooted
in the sun’s deep night cradle.
The steps are sapphire, they say:
climb with us, like angels–
******************************soar and glide
******************************in the lapis and gold Heavens;
******************************climb down and
******************************wake in the
their words humming and
*****singing in the dead
*****dust of seed and
******************************flower scattered far in
******************************inthe privilege of winds.
Photo: Angel of Grief (1894); William Wetmore Story, sculptor. Protestant Cemetary in Rome. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
Out of the organic soup of his mind, RT has recently retrieved a powerful memory: of spending an afternoon at the Arlington County Library, engrossed in browsing through the Cambridge Ancient History. He was entranced by the fine writing and descriptions. Here is a passage from volume 1:
“Still more than the contract tablets the private letters give us the daily life of the people…Even a love letter from Sippar is extant, dating back to the First Dynasty. ‘To Bibiya say: thus, Gibil-Marduk. May Shamash and Marduk give thee health for ever for my sake. I have sent (to ask) after thy health; let me know how thou art. I have arrived in Babylon and see thee not; I am very sad. Send news of thy coming that I may be cheered; in the month of Markheswan thou shalt come. May thou livest for ever for my sake.'”
Perhaps this isn’t the sweetest love letter ever penned, but at least it’s honest (and quite ancient): Gibil-Marduk’s health (and perhaps even his life) depends on Bibiya’s attentions. Whether this is true or not, Bibiya must decide. Nothing much has changed.
We live for such encounters with other people’s spirit and lives, and a powerful fascination is added when the information comes from our past, however distant. In addition, this sample from the CAH offers the beautiful prose of its authors and the careful attention to detail invested in its preparation and printing. We are dealing with a rare book, informative, entertaining, and plainly (and elegantly) written. The authors never allow their erudition to cloud their meaning.
RT is working his way through Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror, another marvelous history, this time the work of an independent scholar. Comparing these books gives the reader some idea of how individual an author’s approach to history can be.
The writing of history is a much maligned art: history books are supposed to be pedantic and filled with trivialities. Nothing could be farther from the truth: the great historians never lose sight of style and entertainment as they present intricate tapestries of humanity’s past. Since writing was invented, human nature hasn’t changed. We study the past to learn ourselves. RT
Map: Spruner Map of the World Under the Assyrian Empire (1865). Karl Spruner von Merz. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
you’re not here, you say
yes i am! i’m talking to you!
no you’re not; you never call
but i write you.
it’s not the same.
maybe this is the place.
What do you mean?
our love is a long saying;
this might be where we
say it best
but you’re never here.
the word takes me voyaging.
do you think it could ever work
all i have is these pearls.
Copyright © 2013, The Rag Tree
Photo: Ariel (1894). LOC. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
The surviving words of Sappho (c. 620-550 BC) are so few that scholars eagerly search out more among the ruins of ancient life. Fragment 16 is certainly one of the poet’s most celebrated surviving works, and in particular, its opening stanza:
A troop of horse, the serried ranks of marchers,
A noble fleet, some think these on black earth
most beautiful. For me naught else but
(adapted from Edwin Marion Cox, 1924)
And RT was also struck by a description of the sack of Nineveh contained in the Babylonian Chronicle, which includes the royal wives and concubines being led from the palaces, clawing and tearing their breasts, thus ensuring a short life of drudgery. Nineveh was sacked while she was a child; the story of its destruction and burning must have remained current during her life.
Here is RT’s brief poem, inspired by these two passages:
in the rich, black earth
the banks of assyrian rose play
their bright petals fly like foam.
face swollen with grief,
ripped and ragged their breasts.
how come you here, untouched,
your beauty so great,
strongest of shields?
Painting: Sappho (1877); Charles Mengin. WikiCmns; Public Domain.