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This week’s writing challenge is about changes that are made in an instant: “Just as we can suspend a moment in time by snapping a photograph, an instant can change our lives forever. For this week’s writing challenge: tell us about a moment when your life was changed in a split second.”
I find this a difficult topic. I wonder how candid I can be about my almost 70 year life. I like to think that I “just live my life” and for the last decade give or take that’s been true. David Kanigan posted a blog entry entitled You Regret Nothing? and I replied:
“Regrets — sure we all have regrets. That’s a cliche. Here is what Rumi says about it:
If God said,
“Rumi, pay homage to everything
that has helped you
there would not be one experience of my life,
not one thought, not one feeling,
not any act, I
If you are happy about where your voyage has taken you your regrets can only be conditional. But be careful — if you could change important decisions and events in your life — would the change take you off course?”
This challenge topic made me think about events, decisions, the past and causes of change in my life. I am happy about where I am now even though there are decisions I made, things I’ve done that I would not do again given the chance and would not recommend if asked. I do not regret having arrived where I am, yet there are regretful things in my past. This thought process is a fugue going on in my brain. The melody is not unpleasant, it’s persistent though and sometimes I need to turn it off.
I’m planning a series of blog entries in a separate, new blog, comprised of vignettes and memories from my life. Most of them I suspect will be points where my life changed direction. I’ll start with one here:
I was about 5 or 6 and playing in what I recall as a very large sand box with other children. Boys — we were all boys and we started playing roughly, filling toy trucks with sand and throwing the sand at each other, wrestling, fighting. The sandbox was in Smoky Park, on 95th avenue in Richmond Hill Queens, so called because at the far end of the park, the opposite end from the sandbox, there was a huge railroad yard and at the time – the 1940’s – all the locomotives were coal fired steam engines. The earth back there was completely black. By the sandbox was dust and soot but less than by Atlantic Avenue where the park ended.
I felt like a strong kid, holding my own in this childish combat. Play kept getting rougher, we were getting dirtier. Then I suddenly realized that someone could get hurt — in fact I was sure we were about to hurt each other. So I stopped. I didn’t want to rough house any more and somehow when I stopped the other kids stopped too. I don’t remember what we did — whether we simply went home or continued playing but from then on I was careful most of the time to avoid being too rough as I played.
I think about this often and have for as long as I can remember. It’s a simple single point in my life that has influenced my behavior every day since.
People (John Hanson Mitchell for one) have walked to Walden. Today we walked around Walden, as millions of others have done. The spirit of Henry David Thoreau was palpable as always. Because of his life and his writings this insignificant pond is one of the world’s famous bodies of water. Amazing! He wrote:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
To live deliberately means to be aware of one’s life each minute, every day I think. Are you? Am I? Probably not but its an idea worth remembering and striving for. Henry started the movement to save the planet when it was not obvious that it was in danger — “In wildness is preservation of the world.” What a concept — one we need more than ever now.
Here is some of what we saw today:
I’ve been reading Gary Synder’s poetry for while now. I saw him at the Acton-Boxborough high school when he accepted the Robert Creeley poetry award last year. He was fine — a unassuming poetry master reading from his work of the years. I like his approach to poetry and the more I read the more I like it. It is visceral and direct, unpretentious and as natural as a rock.
For example, this is the first poem in his collection Riprap:
Down valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain
Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.
I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.
I can’t comment on this but will instead quote Mr. Synder himself:
“There are poets who claim that their poems are made to show the world through the prism of language. Their project is worthy. There is also the work of seeing the world without any prism of language, and to bring that seeing into language. The latter has been the direction of most Chinese and Japanese poetry.
In some of my riprap poems, then, I did try for surface simplicity set with unsettling depths.”
And succeeded, I think.
Then the last time I was in Seattle, my daughter, a recent creative writing Master, took me to a little book store — Pilot Books — that specializes in poetry. I bought Ezra Pound’s gem of a book,” ABC of Reading.” I just strated reading it and come to find this:
“The Egyptians finally used abbreviated pictures to represent sounds, but the Chinese still use abbreviated pictures AS pictures, that is to say, Chinese ideogram does not try to be the picture of a sound, or to be a written sign recalling a sound, but it is still the picture of a thing; of a thing in a given position or relation, or of a combination of things. It means the thing or the action or situation, or quality germane to the several things that it pictures.”
Gary writes in the 50th Anniversary edition of Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems that Ezra Pound introduced him to Chinese poetry. And a whole lot more I suspect. It will be great fun and throughly enjoyable to find more connections between these two as I continue to read them both.
Elbert Hubbard was a prolific writer of the early twentieth century. He was a major figure in the Arts and Crafts movement having establish a hand crafted publishing house called Roycrofters, famous for beautiful, illuminated limited edition volumes, bound in leather.
His book “Hollyhocks and Goldenglow” is a collection of essays on topics from the Titanic to Abdul Baha. (I recently made an entry on the Talisman9 discussion forum about this and what follows was drawn from that post.)He writes movingly about the Titanic recounting the bravery, loyalty and love of Mrs. Straus who refused to leave her husband for a life boat. Ironically Hubbard and his wife, Alice perished three years later aboard the Lusitania. Survivors told stories of their courage, matching the characteristics of Mrs. Straus.
There is also an essay about Abdul Baha entitled “A Modern Prophet.” The first sentence reads “A very great man has recently visited America.” It continues: “So out of Persia comes Abdul Baha, who calls himself “The Servant of God.” His followers are called Bahais. This man has diverted one-third of the population of Persia from Mohammedanism. …. This man is the modern Messiah.”
I find this essay an engrossing report by a non-Baha’i. Particularly interesting is this:
“Christian Science interests Abdul Baha greatly. It is somewhat humiliating thing for us when we think that this new American religion was never heard of by Abdul Baha until recently. Now he has practically embraced it. He says it represents one arc of the great circle of truth, and that if he had learned nothing else from his trip to America but the truths of Christian Science, he would be amply repaid.He says he comes more as a learner than a teacher. Nevertheless, he is obliged to give out the light that has been given to him. He keeps the good by giving it away.He quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson freely, delights in Walt Whitman, and loves the memory of Tolstoy, and is on terms of great tenderness toward every good and noble thing that makes for human betterment.No man of recent times has shown such a magnificent affirmative spirit as this Abdul Baha.”
Hubbard was a prolific writer who is not very well known today — not the household word one might think he would be. (The exception might be his “Message to Garcia” that I believe was read in grade or high schools years ago.)His contemporaneous account of Abdul Baha’s visit is precious I think. There may be errors in the essay but it rings true. He doesn’t say that he met Abdul Baha but I think he must have. Does anyone have knowledge of this possible meeting? I find the comments about Christian Science, Emerson and Whitman intriguing and perfectly consistent with my mental and emotional image of Abdul Baha and his approach to life.The book is available as a reprint or as an antique in its original leather bound form if you can find it.I love the idea that Abdul Baha quoted Emerson and loved Whitman but this is the only reference to that I know of. I think many Baha’is would reject the idea. If you are a Baha’i what do you think? And please let me know of other references like this that you are aware of.Many thanks,Frank
Photo: The Christian Science Center at Night — sorry I don’t have any photos of Bahai temples (all the photos on my blog are mine –just a habit I like to keep) But Abdul Baha really liked Christian Science — I’ll blog about that someday soon — so its ok.
I just received an email message from a Baha’i scholar — Sen McGlinn. He is very learned — a graduate student of religion who has written a book entitled “Church and State: A Postmodern Theology” that postulates that Bahaullah meant for church and state to be seaparate. He was kicked out of the Bahai Faith as thanks for his efforts, but that’s another story.
Here is what he wrote:
On 23 Oct 2007 at 19:24, Frank Winters wrote:
“Now — when a writer — or Manifestation for that matter — uses the
term Most Great Infallibility, doesn’t that imply degrees? Most great,
somewhat great just plain great, not quite great and so on?”
That’s exactly what Baha’u’llah says. Not just several degrees, but
also several different kinds:
Know thou that the term ‘Infallibility’ hath numerous meanings and
divers stations. In one sense it is applicable to the One Whom God
hath made immune from error. Similarly it is applied to every soul
whom God hath guarded against sin, transgression, rebellion, impiety,
disbelief and the like. However, the Most Great Infallibility is
confined to the One Whose station is immeasurably exalted beyond
ordinances or prohibitions …
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 108)
Here is my reply:
The choice of the word infallible has to be unfortunate. If one leaves out the word and thinks about what Baha’ullah says then it is about being on the right path, I think. What might be a better word?
I tried inerrant but that means pretty much the same thing yet is has for me a connotation of travel to a goal so maybe its closer. Protected from getting off the path — is there a word for that? Steadfast?
‘Sigh’ — its another test. This is my primary argument with God: why all the tests? People need help not @#$% tests. Plain, clear language not flowery prose that could at times mean anything! Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King — better leaders than Baha’ullah or so it seems.
In the days when salvation was about individuals, tests made more sense. Now its the existence of the species that is at stake. Why test all of us in this way?
I’ll tell you why — the entity we call God is not only unknowable it is unthinking in the way we think. Logic has no place there. And God must be indifferent to the question of future human existence. As Baha’ullah says nothing we do has any effect on God whatsoever.
And …. wouldn’t it be great if, as Baha’ullah said, the books really were opened? Religion is still mumbo-jumbo to most people, even in the Baha’i era — if there is such a thing as that.
Well that’s the latest.
I’d like to get some comments on these posts — a number of people have been reading my first post about Baha’ullah — ‘seekers?’ Baha’is? Speak up — what do you think? I will not be hurt or offended if you say you are offended — just don’t tell me to shut up because after all its a free world, isn’t it?
(Photo title: Provincetown Dawn © Frank Winters)
Baha’is believe Baha’ullah was and is infallible. John Hatcher, a well-know Baha’i writes about another infallible body — The Baha’i Universal House of Justice — in the October 16th edition of American Baha’i.
** Note: Baha’ullah was the Prophet/Founder of the Baha’i Faith **
Here’s my post on the subject submitted to the Baha’i discussion group Talisman9 (I am suspicious of any claims to infallibility but Most Great always gets my attention.)
John Hatcher’s Commentary in The American Bahai
I have been told that Mr. Hatcher is an intelligent man. I have not
read anything by him until now but judging from his article that
appears in the October 16th edition of The American Baha’i “Letters
from God to our generation” he writes clearly and well.
But there is what I see as a glaring break down in logic in the
article that calls his thinking into question.
“Infallibility does not admit degrees. That is, a statement or advice
is either infallible or not. Thus in this dispensation, only
Baha’ullah as a Manifestation partakes of the “Most Great
Infallibility”; only he is inherently infallible. The infallibility of
guidance from Abdul-Baha, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of
Justice is conferred and derives from Baha’ullah.”
He then makes a case for following the UHJ as if they were sending the
world infallible letters from God.
Now — when a writer — or Manifestation for that matter — uses the
term Most Great Infallibility, doesn’t that imply degrees? Most great,
somewhat great just plain great, not quite great and so on?
I think Hatcher’s advice to the Baha’is is good as long as you want to
be in a Faith that brooks no discussion or difference of opinion about
the important questions in life. But his apparently oxymoronic logical
structure seems a direct result of the twisted logic one needs in
order to accept all of Baha’i as it is articulated officially today.
What do others think? Have I missed the point? Am I confused? Or what?