It is cold and beautiful. That is what I thought. Actually, it was the only thought in my head. I can’t say that it was picturesque or reminiscent of some childhood memory or that it evoked some romantic notions of nostalgia. It was bright; too much so. Snow covered the hills and there was silence except for the occasional roar of the wind among the distant barren trees. The sound was like a tremendous waterfall, except that it would rise and fall at will. It could not match the constancy of fidelity that comes with water. Fickle.
“I guess the seasons of this world are like the seasons of one’s life,” I said.
“They each have a purpose. I suppose,” responded Charles. After a pause, he continued, “To find the beauty in each one, in each aspect and manifestation; is that what it means to engage the Incarnation?”
“I don’t know. “ But he wasn’t really asking me a question. “Maybe we each find beauty, or value, or meaning…whatever… wherever we can. I would say that in the midst of paradox and irony, in the realization of ‘I’m not made for this,’ there is a choice.”
“Well,” he interrupted, “before you arrive at that choice, it seems you have assumed something has been lost or is lacking.”
I thought to myself that this must be true, life is full of losses, gains, exchanges….
“Have you forgotten Antoine Lavoisier?” Charles asked.
“Huh? No. But his gig was matter. No matter is ever lost, it is just transformed. So what?” I replied.
“And when he went to the guillotine, he sure was transformed. Was he lost? Or, better asked, what of him was lost? Well, look, what does it matter? I want you to be happy. Really. Marvel at the majesty of what has been given. Go ahead, make your choices.”
“Would that they were easily made,” I sighed.
“Ease can belie Truth. I would say that right now, at this moment, the snow, the wind, the Winter, are all the Incarnation; they are Truth, man. Right here.”
I laughed, “They are not the heart of Man, they are not the mind or soul.”
Charles looked out the window and took a sip of coffee. “And what is Antoine now? What’s left of him? Dust? What are you? You speak of heart, soul, and mind. But you yourself know what has been said about the line between good and evil running through the heart of man; and who can hate his own heart? One step further – how about the heart of another? No, my friend, I think winter is about survival, which leaves you few choices; and it is upon us. Let us embrace it. Can you discover both the truth of it and of your heart – at the same time? Can you live a life of no separation?”
We walked and walked; deep snow at times, and windswept barren rock at others. The hard earth supported us. With each step we connected with it, over and again. We should have been quite cold, but the movement and warmth of heavy, fur-lined coats kept us protected. Charles likes to say things that make him seem “deep” or “thoughtful.” He can be such a pain in the ass. He’s just as screwed up as everyone else. How far did he have to fall and for how long before he could finally dry out? Now, having overcome his addiction, he thinks he’s some kind of zen master on his way to being a philosopher king. Jamie told me that she thinks he’s just a washed up old hippie drunk that got himself cleaned up by trading one drug – the booze – for another: his own quasi-religious philosophizing. She says he probably views himself as “containing the embodiment of the reincarnation of those seeking harmonic convergence.” I don’t really know what that means, but she likes to say it. I don’t think she knows what it means either, but I like to hear her say it because she’s cute when she does. Whatever, he’s a nice enough guy and interesting to listen to for a while. But I tell you, he might be better off taking a swig now and then.
Finally, he broke the silence.
“I love Winter because so much that is hidden in the bloom of Summer is visible in the fullness of its barrenness.”
“Yeah,” I said, “at least in the trees, but on the ground even more is hidden beneath the snow.”
He smiled at me. “Balance.”
“Winter.” I shook my head.
We reached a streambed that was nearly dry except for minute flows of water coming down the hillside. There were a couple of deep pools formed out of the rock and you could see small schools of minnows swimming around as if the water was not just about to freeze over.
“It’s inexhaustible, eternal, in a way,” he said.
“Just look at the rocks here, and the pool, and the flowing water. The number of stories one could imagine about this place, the exploration one could do into every detail that is in this one small space; doesn’t this tell you everything you need to know about Creation?” He had an uncomfortable intensity.
“Well,” I paused, “I suppose if you look at that way. Yes, you can break everything down into its parts and could examine each one and you would be here a very long time.”
“Oh, no, man,” he shook his head this time, “you don’t get it. No, it’s how it all fits together. This water, where did it come from? Where is it going? What is it a part of? If I put my finger in it right now, will some cell of mine come off and float away eventually into the ocean? How many people have been in this spot before? No one? People who made vows, changed their lives? See what I mean?”
“Okay – and don’t take any offence – but, so what? Does any of that make any real difference? Have any real impact.” I asked.
“Antoine,” he responded.
“Right,” I again sighed, “Antoine.”
He brushed his long grey and brown hair back and squatted in silence looking at the water. He held his finger to his lips, indicating to me that I should not make a sound. He looked up into the trees and smiled. Then I heard it. The hollow tap-tap-tap of a woodpecker. We remained silent and the only sounds were those of the occasional breeze, the water in the stream, and the tap-tap-tap. The unadulterated sounds of nature can seem so alien.
We walked down the snow-covered streambed and spotted tracks of deer, rabbits, a cat, and something larger than a cat that wasn’t a dog….
“I do love exploring places that I have never seen before, and maybe very few people have ever been before too.” I remarked to Charles who was a little way up ahead.
“You’re a good soul,” Charles said matter-of-factly. “You know that no one really ‘owns’ anything, including this land. We are stewards of everything, because there will come a time when we can no longer possess. We can only be part of something. But a steward has a job. He is supposed to nurture and protect. We should do it with the land, the earth, even when it is tempestuous and disobedient.”
“Yes,” I replied, “I agree.”
“Okay,” he stopped and looked at me, “and can you do that with heart, mind, soul, body?”
“Well, sure, we should take care of ourselves.”
“I mean others, even those that are hard to deal with. Even enemies.”
He turned and began to walk on. After we had walked in silence for another five minutes or so, he stopped again and turned to me.
“Dude,” he smiled, “it’s all about exchange. The earth gives you food, heat, space, it touches your soul. Make sure you treat it as you should. And then, others?”
“Okay, sure, the golden rule you mean.”
“I can’t think of much that is more selfish than that piece of pop wisdom.”
“What?” I really did not want to go down this path, because that’s his tactic. Say something outrageous to force you to engage him in his philosophical fantasies.
He replied, “What do you love, and why? Do you even know what it means? You ‘love’ something because it gives you something in return. Love is a bargain in this world.”
“Wait,” I said, “that’s your twisted definition. There is self-sacrificial love. We see it in people dying for others; it’s a key teaching of religion.”
“It’s not my definition that I’m talking about, it’s yours because you are a full participant in this dehumanizing and artificial world. We feel love because of how good things outside ourselves make us feel – about ourselves. Now, what you are getting at, this self-sacrifice so called, is substitution: I will take your place; pay the price. Where do you really find that though? Will you become one with this land through your blood, sweat, tears, even if it gives nothing back? Hell no you won’t, where’s the bargain? Do unto others? Yeah, because that way you can justify your self-righteous pose about the way you should be treated. Sure, that’s exactly what this world needs. Man, get your head out of the 19th century.”
This is the point where I became frustrated that I am a cold, long walk from home. Because now he was on a roll, and I need to think of some tactic to get us back to sweet silence.
“Look, call me a heretic…,” he continued.
“You’re a heretic.”
“…but the Church owes a great debt to the heretics, and It knows it, despite its patronizing self-righteousness.”
“Someone’s starting to sound a little self-righteous himself….” I shot him a grin.
“Me? Hell yes. A recovering alcoholic self-righteous heretical old fart here to tell you that we’re all screwed. Thank goodness we have hope.”
“Hope?!” I responded, “Oh! ‘That comforter in danger’ as the Athenians told the Melians.”
“Buddy, not that old yarn,” he said with a smirk. “Give it a rest and figure it out before it’s too late, man. There’s only one way through unless you want to live a life blinded by all of the dehumanizing b.s. this world has to offer.”
“And that is?” I asked.
“Find your true self, man. Find it. Only you can figure out the way. Then do what has to be done. And I suggest you get going.”