TELLING THEM ALIKE

The following quote is attributed to Carl Jung: “[T]he greatest and most important problems of life are fundamentally unsolvable.  They can never be solved.  They are only outgrown at deeper levels.”

My brother, sister, and I are planning to celebrate my sister’s 70th birthday somewhere in Europe, they flying from Israel and I from the US to spend 5 days together in a beautiful place. Plans were well underway when my sister asked if we three could be together for that long. She remembered my brother and I arguing loudly over the war when I was in Israel five months ago.

I didn’t give her question the consideration it deserved, but last night I did, lying awake for a couple of hours, and wrote them that perhaps we have to agree on some ground rules before spending all that money.

A friend suggested that we agree not to discuss the war at all when we’re together. I said no right away. I’d muted myself for years when visiting Israel, feeling that I was entering a bubble as soon as I landed where almost no one talked my language, no one listened. Detachment isn’t an alternative for engagement.

Serving the Whole means that you experience yourself as that. You feel your own boundaries stretch and stretch, listen to expressions, words, and feelings that find no resonance in your individual self, and still you stretch. Then you go out into the sun, have Italian coffee, laugh together, look at trees, mountains, seas, talk and stretch some more, go out on a drive, have lunch or dinner, shop around (I love shopping in local stores with my sister), go back, talk and stretch some more.

I don’t seek to persuade anyone. I certainly don’t seek to stay in that narrowest of spectrums called right and wrong. I just want to hear all the voices. When we three meet, I wrote them, there are more than just 3 voices in the room. There are parents’ voices (my mother’s memorial will be day after tomorrow), Bernie’s voice, our friends’, our teachers’, all of history. So whose voice is speaking at any one time? And to whom?

How easy it is to enjoy hanging out with folks you agree with. How challenging it is to stay just as alert, just as open, just as conscious, when you disagree.

Some vacation, you might say. Why do it then?

Two reasons: Life always self-reveals, but we experience most of it as noise. We connect with things we like and even with things we dislike (at least to the extent that we’re aware we dislike them). But most of life out there is like noise we barely register. Until—you ask a question.

For instance: What can I do here? And the slice of life that before was noise is now experienced in its amazing complexity and uniqueness, in a panoply of color and nuance I didn’t see before.

It was always there, only who paid attention? But now I ask the question: What is this really? Or: Why did no tulips grow in this fertile part of the front yard? Or: What is that long black animal climbing up the tree which Henry’s barking at from the ground? The answer is a Kingfisher, and what is that? Where does it live? What does it eat (aside from Henry)? Reality opens up like a curtain, and you see details and colorations that were lost on you before, all because you finally asked a question.

And there’s another reason I want us to have this gathering. First, a celebration of the 70th birthday of a sister I love and respect, appreciation of my luck in having her in my life for so long, though she’s geographically far away. And also, faith that beauty will emerge from this joint engagement of singularities.

Especially when we argue, when we speak different words and ideas, love different things, some kind of unity emerges. Naturally, unconsciously not because I seek it. When we could contain our differences and hold them carefully, delicately, like babies, we experience this oneness, what Bernie called One Body. Tendrils of a love so fragile they’re invisible twine their way among us as we help one another with luggage, make someone coffee, ask one another if they need a sweater or jacket.

The poet Steven Nightingale wrote: “Beauty illuminates the affinity, the inner relation, the resemblance, the kinship, the concord and identity of things. We are all trained to tell things apart. In the experience of beauty, we learn to tell things alike.”

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