From the Microcosm


Photo Credit: AP—Frank Langella as King Lear

Oh, let me kiss his hand!
Let me wipe it first. It smells of mortality.


We are at the mercy of the elements. They are raging all around us. For some they are raging right where they are.

It is not so much that the elements are out of control as that we are not in control.

The stormy heath reflected the storm in King Lear’s soul. This is my stormy heath: Hurricanes. Floods. Wildfires. Earthquakes.

It reflects the storm that has been raging in my soul for lo these past few months. I woke in despair pretty much every day. Woke being a relative term since my sleep was something less than—well sleep. Night and day merged into one endless unsettling dream state.

And then, rather suddenly over these past two weeks, a calm came over me. I slept. And then I woke. And then I went about my daily life.

I became the eye of the hurricane.

I started each morning writing in my journal. I wrote two blog posts, which meant I had something to say again. Or perhaps more, that I could articulate what was swirling in my head and heart.

A darkness descended on the world with the election and inauguration of Donald Trump. I’m not going to apologize for that statement or even qualify it as an opinion. I think one can observe the world and see it is just the truth.

Religious opinion trumps (you will pardon the expression) science. Mansplaining is getting institutionalized in law. Women are told to shut up and know their place (she was warned, yet she persisted). The very narrow world of white, male privilege is being venerated (Charlottesville, repeal of DACA, Joe Arpaio).

I think these fools thought they could build an impenetrable wall around a very small universe that once was. The Jim Crow, father-knows-best, you’re-such-a-pretty-girl-why-can’t-you-make-a-good-cup-of-coffee, god-hates-anyone-who-isn’t-like-me, climate-change-is-a-hoax universe. A wall that would keep life out.

And then came the hurricanes, the floods, the wildfires, the earthquake. Not to mention nuclear weapons in the hands of two infants in men’s bodies.

I learned about the philosophy of the microcosm and macrocosm from my high school English teacher Ed Brush—aka, Mr. Shakespeare. And that’s what I thought of when the chaos and destruction began.

The microcosm is the world of the mortal. We live in our own microcosm as well as a collective one. The collective one right now is particularly micro because the “leader” of the free world has, as Bill Moyers says, an open sore in place of a soul. He has no respect or compassion for mortality.

The macrocosm is the land of the immortal. That which will continue with or without us. It encompasses life and death and ambiguity. Earth is steady and has earthquakes. Wind is gentle, and it wrecks havoc. And, in its absence, keeps sailing ships in the doldrums. Fire warms us and consumes us. Water sustains us and overwhelms us.

We are rarely in control. Not being in control is the essence what it is to be mortal, to live in a microcosm.

Feeling that lack of control is what brought me to a place of calm. Not the calm of the doldrums, but the calm of the eye of the hurricane. Mortality gives us definition. We have a beginning and an end parenthesis.

Faulkner said that writers should banish fear, the fear of being blown up by nuclear weapons, from their workshop, for only then can we write about the human heart in conflict with itself—only that is worth writing about. I learned that from Bert Fraser, another high school English teacher.

It feels good to not be afraid. It feels good not being in control. It feels good to ride out my own life, my private microcosm, to have faith that my life matters regardless of where the parenthesis ends.

To know that being human is to have a heart in conflict with itself is to have compassion for what it means to be human—to embrace our microcosm as part of the gigantic macrocosm that existed long, long before we did, and will go on for a long, long time, with or without us.

The Story 

fire and flood2There are two sides to the story, “they” say. But really, there’s simply the story, driven by yearnings challenged and yearnings thwarted.

I thought of this after hearing a Houston couple (my age or older) interviewed over the weekend about what it meant for them to meet 45 (I cannot write his name). The husband glowed from having touched his (small) golden hand. The only thing that would match her husband’s feeling about this hand touching, his wife said, would be when he meets Jesus after he dies.

I could not find charity in my heart for them. My most uncharitable thought was that Darwin was wrong in his theory of evolution: this was a profound example of survival of the least fit. They had, I was certain, already procreated so their genes had replicated. You can’t fix stupid.

Then I thought, Jesus would roll over in his grave if he heard himself being equated with this man who, as Bill Moyers says, has an open sore in place of his soul. But Jesus rose from the dead, or so the story goes, so there is no grave in which he can roll over.

I find myself in this dilemma: as a writer, I must have compassion for my characters. I need to feel deeply that the character is right from the character’s point of view. I need to become god-like in the world I am creating, with a heart so open, I grasp the ordeal it is to be human and find some shred of compassion for being human.

Being human in a world that has no sense in the way we want to make sense of things. This happened because of that. If we do that, this won’t happen. God does things with infinite wisdom so that’s why He loves us more than those people over there who look so different from us.

I do believe there is an Infinite Wisdom out there, but it isn’t a being that is hamstrung by hubris. It isn’t the god of Abraham who asked that he sacrifice his son to show his absolute fealty to the Will of god. I’ve always thought that god was a total asshole.

The Infinite Wisdom I believe in is the one that comprises life and the inevitability of death. Humans, like all living creatures, planets, stars, and so on, begin and then they come to an end. And, now, having just written that, I wonder if the story of Abraham was a metaphor for my version of the Infinite Wisdom. In the end, we are subject to the Infinite Wisdom and sometimes that means we suffer the incomprehensible—losing a child.

I keep trying to wrap my head around the Abraham and Isaac story.

But, I digress.

I’m having a real hard time feeing charitable to anyone who voted for 45 and still believes it was the right decision. I especially feel that way towards those that associate Jesus with you-know-who.

This isn’t political. It’s moral. The story being written is sadistic, cruel, and profoundly solipsistic. It is a secular story disguised as sacred text. A retelling of the Midas touch, only people forget the end of the tale—the daughter of Midas runs to embrace him with love, and dies—the embrace turns her into a gold statue.

This story that is being written by he-who-I-shall-not-name does not end well. Holocausts never do.

The media this weekend fell all over themselves lauding you-know-who with praise, hoping against hope that he was learning to be presidential, that he was learning empathy. Well, Joy Reid didn’t fall for it. He’s 71 she said. This is who he is. He’s the man with the Midas touch—the touch that kills love. (She didn’t say the Midas touch part, that’s me.)

I don’t know what to do. I have been filled with blind, impotent rage, waiting for the Republicans in charge to choose country, love, morality, kindness over crass desire for power. They tend to be white boys and it is my belief that what they want is the power to make the world conform to their own image. To have the Midas touch.

This latest decision to betray the Dreamers is the final straw for me. I cannot abide anyone who doesn’t see or feel the cruelty in that decision.

I was hoping by writing this I would be able to find my way through—to finding just the right action to take. I haven’t.

What I have done is let go of the pressure to see that there are two sides to every story. No. There is just the story—and where that can take us.

Right now, the story we see unfolding is a secular one disguised as sacred text. Finite wisdom.

The Midas touch—the fires, floods, and destruction lurking behind them.