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Well, it’s not Sunday (or Saturday, or Friday, for those who follow a different drum), and I am no minister of religion, and I don’t believe in any god I can understand, but I’m full of opinions, (pinions, means of flying, not means of flight, of running away, let alone means of binding and restraint – what a languish/language!). Today I’m both preacher and congregation. You’ll see why if you read on. So, let’s have a little bit of religion, as Ronnie Drew said about the Glendalough Saint. Or if you prefer, philosophy. I use both terms loosely. And my text is:
Don’t go off half cocked.
I apologise to any feminists offended by what they perceive as sexist language here, but I’m not talking about sex, at least overtly, though we’re all talking about sex all the time Sigmund Fraud says (but how do you define sex?). The point is, half a cock performs no useful function whether you are talking about birds or rifles or conclusions.
We all of us, humans, have the ability to breathe. In, and out, we take oxygen into our lungs and bloodstream, and somehow survive. That mysterious area between our minds, our hearts and our souls does the same. In and out (nothing to do with sex I tell you). We mustn’t forget to breathe.
But what happens if we stop half way?
Analyse, but not synthesise our conclusions?
Accept precepts from a religion, but not pass them on to others with charity?
Be affected by our people and places, but not see them in perspective?
Affirm the self, but not the other?
Be in the moment, but not recognise we are in motion and change: time?
Be cynical, but not recognise our fear?
Laugh, but refrain from caring?
Cry, but not feel for others?
I can’t tell what might happen to you, but I can tell you what happens to me. I suffocate. I move into the little room, the little tomb. All there is is me. I’m not happy that there is only me, though I can see there is only room for me in such a tiny space.
In the biggest space I know, called, er, space, there are a billion, billion atoms. Constantly moving, merging, forming and reforming, they make worlds, and the worlds learn something from their existence. In the world I live in I believe there are millions and millions of people. I don’t meet them all, but I meet people who have met other people, who have met other people, so in effect I can experience all people, if I can only broaden my perspective.
The world is full of people, and they are slobs, parasites, self centered, crazy, treacherous, and stupid people. And I need them. They teach me something I need, that I am not alone. That there are some things I am not but might become, that there is some purpose I may be part of I don’t yet perceive.
All I have to do is breathe. In and out. Analyse, then come to conclusions; judge, then forgive; accept, but not without discrimination; laugh, but mainly at myself. Don’t stop half way. Don’t stagnate.
The story so far as I know it is that I am too limited to have more than a fragment of perception of the whole. I still believe there is a whole, though I am aware many are resigned to there being only the fragment of their own perception. Me, I think, not “only a fragment”, but, “a whole fragment”. What a privilege. A fragment of the whole for me to discover, for it to be my discovery. A fragment, but my fragment, perhaps to be fitted together with others’ fragments to form a larger fragment, one day to suggest the nature of the whole.
For this assembly work you need friends. A friend is someone who accepts your faults but knows your virtues. A friend is someone who, if they weren’t so prejudiced and opinionated, would know more about you than you do. A friend is not a companion, someone you share time and occupations with, someone whose tolerance of you is roughly equalled by your tolerance of them. No, a friend is someone who loves you more than they hate you, someone who sees what a shit you are but also sees what your inner angel can accomplish, someone who grasps the mere fact of your uniqueness.
That’s a pretty terrifying fact. Each of us is unique. Gaddafi, Hitler, Jesus, Buddha, you, me. There are only two things inevitable in this life, and they’re not death and taxes. Each of us is unique, each of us is destined for oblivion. Look both facts right in the eye, and between the cracks you see infinity (am I mixed in my metaphors enough to show the ingredients of my message?).
With the aid of a friend you can put 2 and two together and get five – but only with special values of two. Each of you has to have a fragment, but a contiguous fragment, some little clue of a wider perspective, of life outside the little room, the little tomb. You reach out your fragment, and its jagged edge matches the jagged edge of another fragment. You have a friend.
You’re still breathing. In and out. One breath at a time. Living for the moment, as long as that moment is eternity.
Sometimes a friend is someone you don’t know. Some soul who lived long ago and wrote their message in a bottle for you to retrieve; some passage in a book that’s valid, at least for you. Sometimes a friend is someone you knew but didn’t recognise till time had changed you enough to see that your fragment was a product of both your experience. Sometimes your friend is a partner in a marriage, of the many kinds of marriages that are possible. And yes, sex can combine two fragments of experience into a larger perspective. Your feminine can inform your female partner, your masculine can enlighten your male partner.
Even more important than friendship, of sharing insight, is wisdom, bought so dearly with mortality. We all grow older, but some of us grow up as well, and establish balance and maturity of some kind. It’s never very stable, at the mercy of our basic emotional tides, only a guess, a surmise.
If, in the storm centre, we can be still. Should Jesus say, “Let he without sin throw the first stone”, and we can reply “I am here to roll away the stone to give you new life”. If the scales fall from our eyes as they did for Gautama and we see sins and temptations, like desires and needs, as illusions, mere atoms whirling and combining to form shapes around our eternity. If we can see the child in others, and be as little children to them. If we can know that what we know is only hopes and fears disguised as certainties, that like Socrates, we are wise precisely because we know we are not.
We’re still breathing.
I know from my own experience how possible it is to build up a world, and that world to be made up of fears. Fears disguised as right and wrong, as devils, as evil people, misguided people. To fear other people’s fragment of insight because it doesn’t match my own. To fear my own weakness and the places it might take me.
And yet you can’t build anything with fear. Except a prison. How many prisons there are. The one of good behaviour we grow up in. The one of responsibility we work in. The one with hellfire on the border. Where they all came from I don’t know, for the answers were all found a long time ago.
The jewell is in the lotus.
Treat others the way you’d like them to treat you.
Let the one without sin cast the first stone.
The lord of the dance is coming.
What an amazing species, these human beings. So fast to the halfway mark, and so slow to go any further. So gifted, so limited.
Should there be a purpose to our existence, and could we discover it, and could we find out whose purpose it is, I’m pretty sure it would not turn out to be just to remain still, to avoid wrong, to go off half cocked.
It’s true we only discover our path by treading it, and sometimes we feel lost on a byway taking us nowhere. All the more reason to examine our fragment of wisdom, know it is a fragment, know it is wisdom, and love the getting of that wisdom. Beyond our friendships, past our wisdom, almost the very foundation of our awareness, is love. A mysterious power, able to enhance or destroy, waste or develop. Wherever we go, no matter how bitterly we hate, love goes with us and never lets us go. It makes the world a bigger place. A love of what we can be, not of what we are, and so not a love we can understand.
Now if you’d nudge the gentlemen dozing by your side, it’s time to pass the collection plate around. Give generously, for you give to yourselves. Nothing I’ve said above means anything, unless you already knew it.
©2011 Original material copyright Phillip Kay. Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.