An Essay for Moses and Brianna
I was talking to Moses and Brianna last night about how stupid it was that even a few months into our freshman year at college, our class had become nostalgic. Or maybe not our entire class. But at least in passing comments, I remember some saying, "Remember this? Remember that? Remember the time when?" What? The time like six months ago? Yes, I remember.
But within a year or two, you can give yourself the license for being nostalgic. You can then distance the time-when, because you'd like to also get distance from who you were so recently. "We've all changed so much."
Which might be true, but it does not change the fact that one year ago or even just four years ago feels like no time at all.
There was the time very recently, about four years ago, when I decided to start a writing group. I had just gotten into Moscow, I was living in a small apartment called The Shed. What I mean to say is that it was a garage. And in this garage with a shower and oven, I was inspired to make something of us. So I shook some sticks into some bushes and the birds that were dumb enough to come out and see what was going on came over to my garage.
We had a great time reading and critiquing each other's stuff. Moses would bring over an essay, Brianna a poem, and I a fictional fragment. Matt would have written some esoteric philosophy in the form of parables the substance of which would elude and tantalize the bawdiest of bodhisattvas. Joy would have written something on friendship and come with the highest of recommendations for a collection of short stories or essays that none of us had ever heard about. Others would come and go, but we'd be the hold-outs. Hold-outs for a year when the writing group kind of just devolved into us talking about writing and then onto further and deeper things. Like gossip, heheh.
I had no idea that Moses or Brianna were interested in each other. I am blind to these sorts of things forever in a sort-of castrati kind of way. Four years later, they are now leaving this town. I don't have much to say about this, because this is the kind of thing that happens. After you have given yourself license for nostalgia, after you have indulged in it a bit too much like I have, whether it is nostalgia for the house you were born in or nostalgia for a two-month old summer, you lose control of it. It can no longer be contained. And you realize then that nostalgia was never yours to possess.
I cannot whip myself up into a fury of feelings anymore with songs or memories. I still feel things intensely, in a fighting sort of way. When strong emotions come over me, usually the ones in the gray area on the borders of being good and bad for my health, I try to fight and tame it. I want to understand the feelings, I want to know their origins. Most importantly, I want to recognize a gift for what it is. Strong emotions, the kind that collapse all of time and life into a present sensory experience, come and go. They cannot be farmed. In fact, I've never really wanted to farm them in general. But there are some in the category of gray, like nostalgia, that have proven their independence against me. What I mean is that I am afraid I've lost the ability to be nostalgic. And I know this. And this is why I fight whenever it comes back. Whenever it comes back, I want to hold onto it not for the sake of feeling it forever, but for the sake of making sure that I have recognized a gift for what it is. I want to make sure that I do not lose the ability to telescopically see our lives in motion.
But in the moments when I most expect the feelings or desire them, they are not there for me. In the moments when I'd like to be the person that can see what is happening—and maybe that is part of what I mean by nostalgia—I don't. When I say nostalgia and when I say that it feels like time has collapsed, I mean that I instantly see the change in between two points. To take the example of these people leaving Moscow: a fit of nostalgia would thrust me into a space caught between the point in which they sat on my couch in The Shed and the point now in which they are on the road driving to <unknown>
That was not meant to be an allusion to the fact that I have for four years been their third wheel.
Studying sensations like nostalgia is an esoteric art. Maybe I should leave it to Matt. But if I didn't try to clarify what I am afraid I have lost, then I will never be sure of where we stand now.
Moses and Brianna—or anyone that moves from anywhere to some unknown—are not just leaving a location in the world, but a space compacted and collapsed from all the memories they have made there and all the memories there that will not be made any longer. This space is one possessed by the soul and it's one we see only if we're paying attention.
I said earlier that nostalgia cannot be tamed. And I said that I am afraid I have lost the ability to drum it up. But my point is not that I cannot feel it anymore. My point is that nostalgia is not my slave. Nostalgia cannot and does not swear fealty to me. It always comes back, but when I didn't ask for it. It is like a miracle accidentally performed. The begging on my hands and knees I do before it, as if it were an icon of Mary, to grace me with maternal love for the world and for time and for how much it has all changed and for the gift and insight of knowing where we stand in the narratives—this begging isn't worth my time.
I better serve the world by getting off my knees and opening my hands to receive the daily bread of vision. When I crave nostalgia, what I am craving is simply to know what is going on. I am hungry to know what is happening. I want to be able to read the signs, I want to be able to place myself and one another. There is no greater void or darkness than having lost the story. That is the opposite of immersion, that is a slog. We need some way to enter back into the drawn-out line of our undeviating lives, to read beyond the changing of the seasons that are the words on the page. I am not trying to by mystical here—I'm just being mystical. So deal with it. I have a point.
When I feel most nostalgic, it is spurred on by some kind of rain or some kind of tulip or some kind of bird's song. Just today with the unearthing of earth itself and the drying out of the tree's hair from the blow dryer of the wind and the heat of the sun, I see in my mind the tulips of Moscow that I have seen before the past four years every spring. They aren't even here yet, however. Time has collapsed and I have been brought back to see the smaller cage that my heart once flittered in, rusting away. I am happy the bloody albatross has a bigger space behind my ribs these days, but I am also sad because up until now I have lost track of the narrative.
And when things happen in the narrative and we are not sitting there attentive and alert, with our eyes darting across the page of our sensorial days looking for what is going to happen next, then when the next thing happens there is absolutely no force to the event! There is absolutely no convergence to speak of if we are not expecting and hungering for it. There is absolutely no spiritual movement if we have not been moving along with all the world speaking without words, speaking with nature and the shifting and altering of our environments.
There are some people who live in a world without convergence. Their flat lives are without real alteration, because they have failed to live with the right kinds of expectation. As a result, their whole lives become great big bores. It doesn't matter where they are in the world. They could be anywhere, doing anything. But they have no sense of the narrative anymore, there is absolutely no wonder. If I ever lose my wonder like this, if I ever exchange my hunger for convergence fueled by expectation and suspension in favor of avoiding suffering and eating cheap pleasures that do not reach beyond the moment, God damn me to hell.
I was woken up today by a bird singing! I can't remember the last time that happened, but I can remember some of the first times it happened in my life. I remember being woken up by birds singing as a child, visiting family friends. Maybe I am just a schmuck, but feeling the weight and heaviness of all the years in between those two points, for all the people awake enough to remember their own hearts, is enough to make me cry. Who here among us has been paying attention? And who among us can tame time and demand that time explain itself to us? There have been so many hopes fulfilled in that time and so many balls dropped—in more ways than one.
But feeling that weight is also the food that I craved. Only, I can't feed myself. I was fed then, not because I petitioned anyone, but because I am always and constantly waiting. I am waiting for those moments in life when events have begun to fall into place, when the cadence and natural rhythms of progress fall into unison with my steps and my habits and my routines and my cycles of despair and euphoria. I am waiting always for things to change, even in those times in my life when it seems like nothing has changed or will change. Those horrible slogs of waiting are glorified by the hope that all of this will change. Not just change, but be made alive.
And I don't have to plead, I don't have to beg. All I have to do is always and constantly hope, hope for those sudden crashes of nostalgia. And nostalgia at this point, I hope I see and you see, is not a feeling inside us. It is a convergence witnessed. What I mean by a convergence is the summation and conclusion of threads and narratives building. It is the inevitable happening. And when we are there and awake to witness the inevitable happening, we can feel surges of feelings some might call nostalgia. And this is exactly why I cannot control these feelings. I cannot control these feelings, because I cannot control time. I am not in charge of placing the point that ends the lines which have begun.
Yesterday, I set down the point of Moses and Brianna coming to my writing group four years ago. Tomorrow, what am I in charge of? What am I responsible for? Is it my responsibility to usher in the nostalgia fed to me by being there to have the eyes to witness the final point of the line? The point that with my old memory has not made a space between, a space that I feel joyfully trapped in, because in that space I exist alongside the knowledge and workings and joys of God, a God who is sustained by his own thrills of bringing things up into himself, in concluding, in converging us with one another and with the world. I want to be there when it happens and I want to have been hoping the entire time, even when the thread of hope is thinnest.
There will always be a reason to be joyful, my friends, even when the lasagna is burned or the door of the U-Haul opens while you're driving and you lose your end table, your mattress, and everything—or you get to that apartment in Minnesota and the heating doesn't work. And even though the house plant should not live, nor Wendy's be on the vine, the produce of the chocolate ice cream fail and the game of pool be a crap chute, the fifth pet fish swell up for the fifth time and there be no spaghetti in the cupboards, yet you will rejoice in the Lord; you will take joy in the God of your salvation. God, the Lord, is your strength. He makes your feet like the deer's and makes you tread on your high places.
I expected that you would leave. I cannot say it is much of a convergence at all right now. It seems like the opposite. It seems like you are diverging from me and from a life lived here in that same space. But it is neither my responsibility nor yours nor anyone's to determine the conclusions of life and its seasons, cycles, and constant proclamations. All anyone can do is wait expectantly for when we all converge into the living point of coherence and are made alive like the tulips budding under the somnolent, black dirt.