Anonymous Love Letter

Throughout our lives, if we are fortunate, we encounter a number of opportunities to share a loving connection to another human being. For some of us, the essential experience we seek is the commingling of souls–the sharing of genuine love and affection. For others, it is more visceral and temporal in nature, with appropriate sensuality complementing emotional connections. But every once in a while, we experience the “perfect storm,” of love and affection and sensuality. It is just this sort of connection that points to the existence of empathy as the quintessential human trait, which combines the visceral and temporal with the mysterious and ineffable aspects of our humanity.

As a man with the uncommon good fortune to have known only a few such experiences, I composed this anonymous love letter, in a moment of repose as I reflected on the grace and beauty of the love I have known and which is, even now, alive in my heart as I write. It is directed toward the heart of life, and to the mystery and wonder of genuine love which surrounds us all, but has its roots in the experience of love and empathy toward the beloved I have known as a man living in the temporal world. Empathy is the catalyst for genuine love, and these words may sound familiar to you all, one way or another. I offer them as a gift to all those who ponder the mystery and wonder of true love.

To My Beloved,

Thoughts of you cascade through my inner world like a cool, soothing, summer sprinkle of rain at the end of a long humid day. As the tender drops reach my heart, I close my eyes and allow the moist thoughts to descend and dissipate through my whole being, becoming a loving embrace from my beloved.

The expression of love, far from being a simple matter, even under the most advantageous of circumstances, tasks us even more in consideration of the incongruity of our temporal lives. The strength and power of passionate feelings inspired by intense emotional involvement magnify the struggle a hundred-fold. Even as we tend to each other in the most caring and gentle way, sharing our thoughts and feelings, and especially when we open ourselves to each other, we collide with temporal reality in ways that make us long for some sort of alternate universe in which only you and I exist.

That alternate reality, while admittedly elusive and apparently distant from our general perception of our daily lives, does exist in a very real way, and connecting to it as we did, even though most times only briefly, demonstrates the power and strength in the human equation–YOU + ME = US. This equation applies to all of humanity and to every spirit born into this world. The infinite number of ways it can manifest in the physical universe is evidenced in the history of human cultures in every corner of the earth. Somewhere in the maelstrom of human history, philosophy, and spiritual longings, since the first humans walked upright as conscious beings, exists the union of you and me.

I do not pretend to know how to reconcile the incongruity of our temporal lives, with the passionate inner drive we once felt towards one another. There are no words that can explain the inexplicable, and we should not belabor the point beyond recognition of it. As I tried to express to you so many times, as I tended to our mutual desires, there was no way to avoid longing for you to open to me in your gentle, caring way. The way you so lovingly and generously gave to me of yourself, especially while we were apart, was immensely effective in bringing the love from within you directly to my heart.

Our excitement and close personal sharing brought everything good about us right into the present moment with extraordinary clarity, and provided us with a visceral experience of our mutual presence in each others lives. Just how life will all unfold is unknown to us now, but I hope with all my heart that the opening of our hearts to each other has been of some benefit to us both, and that the wisdom and abundant goodness our connection contained will sustain us as we move beyond today, and endure for the remainder of our lifetimes.

All my love to you always…..

The Clutter In My Head

The inner turmoil provoked by my pressing need to get my work moving, to resolve the issues surrounding the diversion of my attention to pressing personal circumstances, and to find some degree of balance and harmony within me, is evident as I gaze around my workspace and see literally dozens of loose ends, trails of reading materials, writing, articles and books, reference materials and correspondence, and emails and ideas are all over the place.

On top of the pile is a book by Stephen Greenblatt, called “Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare,” which I am reading in preparation for attending a production of “Twelfth Night,” at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, one of the few more pleasant diversions on a long list of diversions. Will drew deeply on his “inner life,” according to Greenblatt, frequently writing with a “strong current of ironic laughter” at the thought of himself and his parents, “laying claim to a higher status,” than what might have reasonably been assigned to them in his lifetime. Comparing some of Shakespeare’s poetry to the ideas expressed in his romantic comedies, Greenblatt reiterates how both forms attend to the narratives they contain, which are “never explicit, but never completely out of view.” This could be an apt description of my own circumstance presently, as they resemble those of the great Elizabethan poet, who “can no longer understand how it will all work out.”

Below that are several issues of the Atlantic Monthly, and back issues of Scientific American, which I can never seem to keep up with, and which are frequently in just such an arrangement on my desk. Sometimes they get pretty ragged by the time I finish with them from carrying them everywhere I go. In the compartment stand on the left is a fascinating cornucopia of articles, reports, clippings from my recent reading, various other magazines which are on the secondary list, also back from several months, printouts from webpages I’ve visited and my “current” folder where I try to accumulate the bits and pieces from my current writing and research. It tends lately to be anything but “current.” I have considered changing the title of it to, “Last time I looked,” but the optimist in me resists the idea.

Slightly out of view in that section is another recent “bargain book,” called “Meditations,” by Marcus Aurelius, which I became interested in after seeing the film, “Gladiator,” starring Russell Crowe as the general turned slave turned gladiator Claudius Maximus. Richard Harris played the aging Marcus so well, that when I read the book now I can’t help but think of his portrayal of the character as the one I am reading about. Combined with all of these “known” items, or at least the more immediate of them, is a collection of mail, various publications and notebooks, all mostly just waiting for their turn in the maelstrom of chaos.

There is more clutter in my head lately than anything I have been able to construct or accumulate on my desk, but my desktop gives a fair indication of what’s going on in my head at the moment.

It becomes problematical when I try to distill some order from the chaos sometimes, but generally it is also illuminating in an important way when I contemplate the many facets of my intellectual and emotional chaos. In isolation, they don’t always have the same power as they do when they are a component of an avalanche. My empathetic nature has always been active in me, but I haven’t always been able to make good use of it. As a child, it led me to feel apart from others as no one seemed to know how to react to it, and they frequently reacted fearfully, not understanding this aspect of me. Clearly, I didn’t understand it either.

Adults would frequently comment on how pleasant a child I was; they saw me as kind and considerate of my peers, even at an early age, but no one seemed to recognize the cause–not even me. As I grew, my insecurity and the lack of an environment conducive to promoting this nature, I fear, stifled its development and led to a great deal of confusion on my part when it would surface abruptly. As the years passed, I was only able to make miniscule progress in understanding myself, often shining momentarily on a particular occasion, only to lose momentum just when I seemed to be enjoying some inadvertent advantage.

When I finally experienced the liberation of leaving home, no longer inhibited by the expectations of others, I had such a powerful opening into my inner world, that it nearly ruined me. It was like a bomb had gone off inside my whole life. Had it not been for my daily routines as a soldier in the military at the time, I might have been completely overwhelmed by it. It wasn’t until I arrived overseas in Germany that I finally had the opportunity to explore my empathetic nature at length, to understand it better, and to see how it was influencing my experience in the world. What I saw when I looked inside myself was like a train wreck, or a broken staircase in an abandoned house in the image above. It was very much like the image above. But before long, I began to glean some important insights into my circumstances and make deliberate use of them, showing me that I could benefit from opening to this nature within me.

It was like emerging from a long, dark hallway after the longest night of my life. I began to recognize how out of sync this nature seemed to place me relative to the rest of the world I knew, and to this day, even as I feel more synchronized with my inner nature than I ever have before, I still experience excruciating emotional pain when I am unable to connect with others who clearly have the same inclinations, but are struggling as I did to understand or to uncover their understanding as I did for so many years. Even as I gain in strength and understanding of my own nature, I often encounter such enormous resistance from others. It is rare to encounter anyone who seems to recognize the extraordinary quality of empathy without shrouding it in social pressures, or who isn’t afraid to embrace this aspect of our human nature without some mitigation of the sort that effectively disables it.

Empathy will be the subject I will be exploring in the weeks to come. The notion is central to my life right now, and I need to express my heart and soul more than ever. I hope my readers will bear with me while I do.

When the brain doesn’t work right…When the brain doesn’t work–write!

Steven Pinker is one of my favorite authorities on the origins, mechanisms, and behaviors of language, in spite of the fact that I often find myself in disagreement with some of his conclusions about how language explains many aspects of our human nature. It’s beneficial to study the writing of people whose ideas are different from ours, since many times it helps us to clarify our own ideas. Steven Pinker is one of those writers who aggravates me and inspires me at the same time. In his 1994 book, “The Language Instinct,” he illuminates so many important aspects of how language supports our development as human beings and how it contributes to our very human nature, and he goes to great lengths to explain his ideas. One of the points he makes is responsible in part for the title of this posting. On the surface, both arrangements of the words in the title sound the same, but they have very important differences in meaning.

In “The Language Instinct,” he explains”

“Since people can understand and speak an infinite number of novel sentences, it makes no sense to try to characterize their “behavior” directly–no two people’s language behavior is the same, and a person’s potential behavior cannot even be listed. But an infinite number of sentences can be generated by a finite rule system, a grammar, and it does make sense to study the mental grammar and other psychological mechanisms underlying language behavior.

Language comes so naturally to us that we tend to be blase about it, like urban children who think that milk just comes from a truck. But a close-up examination of what it takes to put words together into ordinary sentences reveals that mental language mechanisms must have a complex design, with many interacting parts.”

My brother is currently struggling with the consequences of brain cancer. He has always been enormously talented and much smarter than the rest of us at home, and recently earned a degree in Arts and Letters at Penn State University. He has what the neurosurgeons at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia call a “glioblastoma multiforme.”

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is a grade IV tumor, which means they are the most aggressive, fast growing, and life-threatening. T1 sequences showing contrast enhancing aggressive looking tumor in the dorsal parts of the right frontal lobe with extensive edema (last image – FLAIR). Pathology examination revealed Glioblastoma. It is a highly aggressive tumor with poor prognosis. Follow-up revealed recurrence of tumor despite resection, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Standard treatment for GBM is surgical removal of the tumor mass followed by radiation and/or chemotherapy. Even when it looks like all of the tumor has been removed, microscopic tumor cells—cells too small for the surgeon to see—are almost always left behind. This is why GBM tumors frequently grow back near the original location (called recurrence). (Image courtesy http://radiopaedia.org )

Since his initial surgery, chemo, and radiation treatments, we have been spending a lot more time with him, and have enjoyed many wonderful opportunities to share our brotherhood and love, all the while, sharing in the joy that comes from our association, while still mindful of the obvious lessening of his abilities to be himself. His brain is not working right all the time now, and so when I woke up this morning, I came up with the title for this posting, while contemplating what I would write this afternoon in this posting.

Since his brain hasn’t been working as well as it usually does, he has taken to writing everything down, and it provides the explanation for the second part of the title, “When the brain doesn’t work–Write!”

My brothers and I visiting our brother, Mike. (In the photo left to right: Dennis, Mike, John and Joe)

The subtleties of language very often escape our notice in the normal course of our lives, and we take so much for granted when speaking to others, expecting that when we are speaking the same language, that we will be understood easily, and that it won’t be necessary to explain what we say very often. When the brain doesn’t work right, it can be a struggle to explain even the most common ideas and simplest thoughts. So…when the brain doesn’t work…Write!

Poetry Vending Machine

Poetry is not easy–especially when you are scrambling to get your thoughts out or your feelings are so stuck inside your gut that you can’t wrestle them loose. I have never seen one of these types of vending machines, but I have tossed the idea around in my head for some time, and when you have a terrible misunderstanding with someone you love, you have to try everything you can think of to make things right.

Over the past few days I have been struggling with this poem, and so, in my mind, I put the four quarters in the vending machine, pressed the “Special Case Poem,” button, and here is what came out:

The Joining of Our Lips

The time passes, but slowly,
And with considerable thickness
Is my tongue when I attempt to speak.
There is no remedy for my affliction;
No gentle caress to ease the burden
I now carry along this stony path.
There is none but yours to that end,
And yours is naught.

Would that I could see
In the mind’s eye of tomorrow,
The soft glimmer of light
Reflecting in your eyes
As it once danced before me.
How painfully evident it is
That without you, I am but half
The being I am with you;

How difficult it is
To lie down and have peace,
Without your sweet embrace–
Without the limp sensation
Of your skin touching mine.

But you would hold me at arm’s length
And bid me come no closer.
You would put walls and therefore
Miles between us.
You would let me die
Behind the walls,
Alone and miles away,
And I would die, but for the beast
Behind me–a ferocious beast
With eyes of hatred, born of fear.

Dreams are but momentary stays
Against the relentless throbbing of
My pulse in waking hours–
A pause amidst the endless rush
Of the tide of my heart’s longings–
The very essence of desire.

Speak to me, but with words that
Crush not the subtle hues of anticipation;
Stand before me, but not as the beast
Who looms over the lowly creatures of the night;
Embrace me, but not as one who might seek
Recompense for such a tender gesture.

For in these things, you will find me
Likewise requite, and with increasing degrees,
More gentle as gentleness becomes our mutual desire;
More tender as tenderness becomes our breath,
Breathed as one in the joining of our lips.

© April 2012 by JJHIII

Between Knowing and Hoping

Between Knowing and Hoping

It’s impossible to reach you; but at times it seems so real.
There’s just no way to share with you the certainty I feel.
I try so hard, with all my wits, but all I ever do,
Ends up a missing puzzle piece, confusing through and through.

There is a path that leads to you; I see it in my soul,
Sliding down a slope so soft; a green and gentle knoll.
Where wildflowers sparkle endlessly, your loving beacon shines.
Every glance holds springtime colors; within you are my rhymes.

Somewhere a loving world awaits, and there we’ll finally meet,
Standing on some foreign shore with fragrances so sweet.
Where we can hold each other close and never need to part,
O how I wish this loving world could happen in your heart.

You bring such joy into my life, all love could be this way,
An ancient tale of love exists within me every day.
In days gone by, in eons past, our hearts were torn asunder.
Two souls adrift, yet clinging too, we crashed and roared like thunder.

Through memories we make today, our souls have joined together.
Our closeness blossoms deep within, our love each storm can weather.
I can only touch you with my heart, the world outside is silent.
My heart and mind and soul do ache; the earth’s a turning tyrant.

Before I fall asleep this night, you’ll visit me for hours.
I’ll hold you in my arms again amid those sweet wildflowers.
I know not when or even how this distant world and vision,
Will find its way to future life; perhaps, a world collision.

No matter how, no matter when, I’ll be there waiting, coping.
Until that day arrives for me, I’ll spend each hour hoping.

© April 2012 by JJHIII