Our graying hair

I have gray hairs. I have long hair. How long will it be before I have gray hair?

I long for a radiant woman whose hairs are also gray. I see her long hair and her dark eyes and I crave for this being. I see her skin and I crave for her.

How long will it be before she has gray hair?

Will my radiant love and I age and gray well? Will we write less and shine forth more? Will we, during the summer doldrums, lie in bed in corpse pose and sweat softly and touch only our pinkie fingers?

How long will it be before we long less and less because we are alone less? How long before we die?

I will want her silence as she will want mine. We will have no need to lend. We will want our love to be full and full and full of silence.

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On having needs and making requests – Part 2

II

On Saturday night as the moon reflected a C-shape across an invisible Y-axis, I stood up from the rooftop and my arm stopped working. I tried to spread my right thumb and it would not move. I shook the arm and it shook listlessly. I went to brush my hand through my hair and the lever from elbow to hand was broken. It felt the way I imagine a person with MS to look: a sorely defeated claw, stressed mechanics, intense concentration, ineffectuality.

Perhaps it would not have been so bad had there not been such pregnant memories of a time before when fingers could touch skin with feeling and grace, when fingertip pushups were as smooth and seamless as a stretching cat, when thumb and forefinger softly squeezed a lip in mid-thought. But memory there was and the thing was bad, it was bad, it was bad, and it was then that the world seemed to fall apart in burdensome moments, to make a deep cut into existence, exposing a beautiful past to a mangled future.

*

The Angst was bad, to be sure, but the experience was good on the whole since it put my wasted arm into the guiding hands of others. The philosopher’s dream of self-sufficiency–my former dream of being beyond transience and the possibility of tragedy–is everywhere refuted by the existence of our bodies. I and my body have needs. How are these to be met?

By philosophical friends with loving hands. By massage, by phone calls, by assurances, by changed voices, by a medical friend’s counsel, by workable hypotheses, by rambling stories, by care and attentiveness and existence. My philosophical life is staked not on the ‘outsourcing’ of my cares but on the entwining of my loves, of one with the other, of each with all. My friends are indebted to me and I so often to them and so my incapacities become springs for their swift actions: for their compassion, courage, and judgment.

By telling the story of our mutual needs in this manner, we do not confront the puzzle of being alone languishing with our needs and inquiring with fear and projected disappointment about who will satisfy, or fail to satisfy, them. Nor do we face the moments of social breakdown when our needs go unsatisfied and our requests are never heard; when an economic transaction stands between rest (hotel) and nighttime, between care (nannying) and our children, between food (supermarket) and our mouths, between relocation (professional movers) and our new homes; when we are dependent on those who may do us harm not out of spite but out of unthinking and unrepentant carelessness.

The shortest possible explanation concerning why our needs have become so fraught is that we have no genuine friends and few loves and most people who have been in our lives have not led lives according to the virtues. Most people have sucked and suck still and doubtless will continue to suck. Most do not act or think on our behalf without any hesitation. Most are not evil but rather moral slobs untrained in the art of care.

But we can learn; we can do better; we needn’t surround ourselves with the bad or indifferent sort. Our pasts needn’t be our futures; the fulfillment of our needs needn’t depend on the whims of superiors or inferiors or indifferents; our lives, which will never transcend human frailty, can go otherwise.

*

My life has. I am writing this post with two good hands undoubtedly because of a small group of close philosophical friends. I am enjoying, more than usual, feeling my right thumb do all the wondrous things that thumbs can do. Like write notes of gratitude and hold the reddest cherries on fingertips and laugh.

On having needs and making requests – Part 1

I

As social animals, we have needs and desires. Part of growing up involves learning how to fulfill more of our needs and desires without the aid of others. The other part involves learning that some of our needs can only be fulfilled by others. Here is where social life gets interesting and quite often fraught.

We have needs that we ourselves cannot meet. “By ‘needs,’” the philosopher Charles Larmore writes, “I shall mean desires that are ours not in virtue of our having adopted them, but rather in virtue of our being the sort of beings we all are.” On this definition, needs are ‘given’ to us, they cannot be removed so long as we are alive, and we cannot go on and still be ‘our selves’ so long as we deny them.

Because we have needs that we cannot meet, we make requests of others. Who are these others? Before making a request or after making one that goes unfulfilled, we may ask ourselves a number of questions.

1. What is the nature of the request? That is, what do I really need (from this person)?

2. What kind of person am I asking to fulfill my request? Is it possible for her to so fulfill it?

3. Will he ‘get’ it or ‘get’ me?

4. Is this person the right kind of person (for this particular request), or am I asking the wrong person in this case or more generally?

5. If the request is understood, will it be fulfilled properly?

6. Will the other fulfill the request but only by larding it up with eye rolling or further conditions or heavy breathing?

In the space of the request, we may feel quite alone or especially exposed and ‘needy’ or not entirely independent. We may wonder about the people we have around us and we may examine how we got to the point where this is the person in our lives, the one we are going to in order to have our needs met.

This scene belies a story about our lives. Tomorrow, I want to suggest that many of the questions raised above are simply ‘too far in.’ They are ‘too far in’ in the sense that they tell us more about what has gone awry with this way of life and with our intimate sense of knowing. I want to argue that once we are more fully in a good way of life, then asking good others for help comes more naturally.

If I could not touch, could I be touched?

This morning I lay in bed, looking at my hand. I extend the web, I turn it over, I hold it up to the sky. It is tanned and fleshy and the freshly laundered sheets are very white again.

I grind coffee beans with my hand mill. I put the spoon into the bowl, then into the front of my mouth, pulling it away as the food settles on my tongue. I steady the coffee mug with two hands, bringing it up to my mouth. I pick up and move out of the sun a bucket smelling of sea water. I roll the pencil between my fingers, look at it intently, press my thumb and forefinger into the yellow flesh, and watch the pencil make delicate and not so delicate marks on the page.

What would it be like not to have a hand? Not to have two? Without a hand, I could not pull the Zen bow tautly back into its home. I could not squeeze my bicycle brakes before a car crushes me with my knee caps. I could not take simple joy in smoothing loose strands of hair out of my face, putting them back behind my ears. I could not touch a woman’s arm, her shoulder blades, the side of her cheek just so. I could not touch. And if I could not touch, could I be touched?

Could I live without a hand?

The good camera and the stillness of transience

Dearest C,

I am looking at your photos. You have such a good eye for these quiet moments that open in the midst of all else. I think what all your photos share–not just these but all those you’ve shown me–is a sense of wonderment and a meditative eye for what is just now coming into being.

Maybe, let’s say, it’s the stillness at the heart of transience. I see the man’s hands, tied to boat, tied to rope, moving yet still. I see the evening light shining through the aperture. The hands and light are all so fleeting yet all very beautiful in virtue of their fleetingness.

The good camera does not belie the coming into being of this moment by ‘freezing’ and ‘petrifying’ it; the good camera holds it softly up to us even as it intimates, as though in a meditation on death, the moment’s passing away in one moment hence. The good camera holds up and reveals and lets go like a band of gypsies. The good camera is a still right hand crimping supple rope.

I am thinking in mid-sentence, as you know I always do. I think, just now, that perhaps what these photos are revealing is a kind of meditation: a meditation on the beautiful moment, on being ready for a loving opening, on reawakening to life and love and… and, yes, to the love of life. The changes you describe in your life are perhaps not so much ‘internal’ or ‘external’ as changes in your perception of the world–that is, not ‘internal’ or ‘external’ but a way of being in the world in which the new rises up, unencumbered by the stale, the taken for granted, the familiar, the habitual… The new discloses itself not in opposition to the everyday, not as a mere cosmetic, but from out of the everyday like a once-lying rope converging in a figure-8. I see you meditating daily, here where aesthetic perception meets patience and courage. Grace follows of course as love flows of course.

A