Thoughts against a Birthday’s End

(This was written last night, just before midnight.) There is a little time tonight before Kierkegaard’s birthday passes for another year. I hoped to finish The Present Age on the train home, but I left my battered copy on my office desk. I’m surprised how upset I was about it, especially since I had dragged my feet on completing it. Sometimes, it takes me awhile to get through his stuff. Everything I read I heavily annotate. It’s slow, thorough going. I may read a passage three times before I write my marginalia and move on.


It’s strange having a son named Søren, who is now closing in on two years of age. Especially on days when I’m thinking about Kierkegaard a lot. He’s certainly not Kierkegaard and who’s to know what kind of person he will become? That’s his own choice. I’m very Kierkegaardian about that. He will have to determine his own way, deliberately, anxiously. We can only offer and instill within him the instruments and support to become well. Recently, I hear my father’s intonation or word choice in my voice. Becoming a father is rewarding, though arduous. Moments of reflection can be overwhelming.


I recently finished The Paris Review, Issue 211, which closes with Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Letter from Österlen and this final paragraph:

But the feeling of the summoned by the thought would not come. No sense of the depth of history, no sense of being surrounded by the majesty of the past. If the moon is an eye, then it is the eye of the dead. You are also alone, it says, each one of you. You may believe in this, you may believe in that. It avails not, my children. Fight your fight, live your life, die your death.

When I went out late tonight to get cat food, I saw the rising moon, unearthily fat and yellowed, not yet past the far street’s trees. I was startled by her size, with a sudden memory of von Trier’s Melancholia. For once I did not take my phone, so there is no record of what I saw. Not that it could be captured.


I haven’t written for a while and I reorganized my writing desk, moving it into our bedroom. Giving Søren his own room to sleep in, he is now by himself for the first time since his birth, though we bring him into our bed when my wife turns in for the night. He cries in the dark until we comfort him. In truth, we never outgrow that desire. It’s always dark, even if there are luminescent stars and a moon upon the bedroom wall.

When he sees it, often in the afternoon sky, Søren waves and shouts “Hi moon!” Søren loves the moon, that eye of the dead.

I needed to write something. So, this is it. Wet bones pressed against sore tendons in brown paper, unsure if they’ll stick.


How Not To Get By During Holy Week

For the past week, I have been obsessed with a single song off the freshly-released album by England’s indie band, the ebullient and bubbly The Go! Team. Catching me off guard while listening to KEXP online, this song floored me with its Age of Aquarius choir grounded only by an infectious drum track and ear worm chorus. This is not the kind of music I like. It’s not just super-cheerful. It’s downright joyful. But I couldn’t escape it. I just sat there, captivated, almost wanting to raise my hands in some imagined Brady Bunch choreography complete with swaying dance steps. 
When I looked and saw the title, “The Art of Getting By (Song for Heaven’s Gate),” I gasped. And I knew why I found the song irresistible. In 1997, the New Age cult Heaven’s Gate committed mass suicide, leaving for the rest of us their message that they were abandoning a doomed Earth to meet up with a UFO following the Hale-Bopp comet. It was an incredibly sad and strange story when the news broke. Identically dressed in black sweat pants and crisp, white Nikes, their upper bodies were covered in purple sheets as they committed suicide over the course of three days.  
It’s no mistake, then, that The Go! Team’s album, the scene between, was released on the anniversary of the day Heaven Gate initiated their exit from the material world. And this one song sounds so optimistic. But the lyrics are so very, very sad when the greater context of the event is known. It’s like the Children’s Crusade, it’s so upsetting. I do love songs that sound so happy, yet mean so sad. But I didn’t expect this.
I keep singing along with the chorus, as far as I decipher the words. 
I remember the past, diving into the future
I hang on from the past, diving into the future

Taking the only way we know
Taking the only thing that matters
Taking the only way we know

Taking the only thing that matters

It’s so final and deliberate. Heaven’s Gate still believes they are on their way, when, in fact, they are dead. They are singleminded in their focus. There is only one way for them. Only one thing that matters. So happy. Come on, everybody! Join in!
I think that it bothers me because I have such a hard time with “the only way” and “the only thing.” And there is no anxiety in this song. No hesitation. This song is so cheerful, it’s infectious. You want to sing along, to be a part of this. Join the chorus. Eat the laced applesauce. Drink the vodka. Go to sleep. 
It is Maundy Thursday, our day of betrayal. We betray ourselves, we betray our friends, we betray our faith, we betray our God. More than one death will come of this. It’s a time of dirges and regret. It’s going to be one of a few late nights, this week. Hold on a bit. Eat the bread. Drink the wine. Stay up a bit longer? Don’t go to sleep. 
Yeah, it’s weird to juxtapose this eccentric sci fi death cult from twenty years ago with the Triduum, but there you go. That’s what happened this year. But I think it lays bare that this week is horrific and can not be saved or salved with cheerful praise songs of divine victory over death. There is a shared, though distinct, absurdity in all of this, though. I think that the nation was troubled by that tragedy. It was a clear bright spring. The deaths were clean and orderly. Methodical. Planned. Deliberate. It took place in sunny California. And Holy Week is such a fuck up of disorder and confusion. Everything is overturned. Enter the week riding triumphant on a stolen colt, end the week dead and abandoned by your friends and God. What happened here? 
Really, this is the question we can never stop asking ourselves: What happened here? The Go! Team’s song never asks that. But we must. Because this week must continue to confound us. If it ever gets easy, so obvious, then we’re doing something very, very wrong. 

Click to listen to “The Art of Getting By (Song for Heaven’s Gate)”

“Acceptance” (A Lenten Poem)

This morning, as I rose out of the subway station
and the grey, cold sky welcomed me with sharp kisses upon my lips and cheeks,
I closed my eyes to smile as grief’s last stage filled
my heart.
And I breathed in an eternal winter, where spring is only a story and
only arrives
as an apocalypse.
A matter of hope that barely
survives the canon.

Our Endpoints of Dust

  Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Here ends the year. Here begins the year. Today, our years are pressed into our forehead. Each life marked as an oily smudge. It is Ash Wednesday and for those of us who take the time, we collectively catch our breaths and remember where we came from and where we are going.

I do love this day, this most high holiday of mine. I love to walk through the corridors of New York City and see so many strangers on this one strange day with their lives smeared upon their faces. It is only for one day. When else do we say without words, with such collective force, “I am human, so very, very mortal?” And then tomorrow, it will be as if it never happened, our faces wiped clean of soot and tears.

Lent enters without a sound, like nightsnow, closing the door softly behind it. It is still and silent. Our mortality is our own. Our death is our own. Easter is so far away that our Lenten disciplines will fail and unravel behind us, unspun like a child’s ball of string. We have time. Life is our time.

And we are marked with ash to remember. This life bound by dust, this mortal coil, is fleeting and full of both grief and joy. Joy can wait. Now, is a season of grief, Lent. Grief is a kind of reflection. How does one look in a mirror and see what no longer exists? Grief is pondering of absence. It is good to grieve. It is good to understand life backwards, but we must live life forward.

The risk of grief, of lament, is the risk of paralysis. In the midst of a brutal, unkind, blind and deaf world, paralysis is when lung and heart stop. We must not stop. We must go on. Beckett ends The Unnamable with “You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” This is Lent. We must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.

Jesus enters the Wilderness. He is alone. He is tempted. He must go on. He can’t go on. He’ll go on. Rome and The Adversary are waiting. They go on, too. We enter our Wilderness. We’ll go on.

Lent is not paralysis. It is not stasis. Lent is our lives in slower action. Dust is our stasis, our endpoints. On our faces we present our past and coming stillness in ash. We present this to each other. We carry our stillness as we journey through this day. We must have movement. But we must first be also still, if only for a little bit. To remember that we must move. Until we no longer do. Until we no longer can.

Ash Wednesday is the pause, the pause to remember our endpoints. To begin this journey of Lent. We cannot remain still for long. We must go on. We can’t go on. We’ll go on.


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