Born Among Knives and Scissors

I have begun this post three times and deleted each one. All I want to do is make some sense in a confusing time, and while solvitur ambulando is a great motto, maybe I can write it out, instead.

Over and over I come back to Auden and his line “Nothing now can come to any good.” It seems a good place to start in a dark time, politically, socially: there seems more hate, more deceit, more cruelty around than I can wade through. So then I read Larkin: “to sit with bricks around you/While the winds of heaven ball…” I read Merton, too, who gave me the title of this post, and come back again to his raw and angry Captives:

It is the bulls’ day. The citizens

Build themselves each hour another god

and fry a fatter idol out of mud…

and I could so easily think that the news, and the voices of Twitter’s educational bullies, and single-issue political big mouths were everything. It is too easy: this is my Enough is Enough. Too easy to be swept up into it all, the sniping, the half truths, the pain, the awful, awful killings. It would be easy, too,  to see religiosity, where piety deliberately separates from other concerns, as the refuge. Captives does not end in alienation, however, but in a sort of nostalgia:

May language perish from  my tongue

If I do not remember thee, O Sion , city of vision,

Whose heights have windows finer than the firmament…

I come back to the medieval adage  Sit pax in cella, fores autem plurima bella, let there be peace in your cell, even if outside there are many wars.

But, my God, even that is hard.

My recent reading of the great story of the Tombs of Atuan, and the ways, powerfully depicted by Ursula Le Guin, show how religion can dissemble and cloak structures of power and violence: the confusing Labyrinth under the crumbling temple, where devouring, negative archetypes dominate.  Le Guin seems to me to be at her most Jungian, and this passage from Man and his Symbols brings me back to my own disquiet about how things feel this week:

The dark side of the Self is the most dangerous thing of all…It can cause people to “spin” megalomaniac or other delusory fantasies that can catch them up and “possess” them. A person in this state thinks with mounting excitement that he has grasped the great cosmic riddles; he therefore loses all touch with human reality. A reliable symptom of this condition is the loss of one’s sense of humour and of human contacts.

Not a bad description of the lone attacker or the tight-knit group of killers – or of the wicked demagoguery of supposed allies. Not a bad warning, too, of how despair separates us, disunites us, weakens us. The loss of humanity in isolation.  I need my cell for peace – but I also need friends, and human, physical contact, and smiles and people to smile at. And I thank God I have them.



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