Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Make Up Your Minds

Make up your minds that happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous.
--Pericles, 430 BC

I was thinking, today, about all the wacky things I’ve done in this life. Some of them made no sense at all. Some of them were dangerous. Most of them were expensive in one way or another. All of them were life-enhancing. I’ve just never been able to shove my life into a box and neither has my husband, David.

These ruminations brought to mind our first trip to Germany, 20 years ago. We were riding a commuter train from Frankfurt to Limburg, on our way to Talheim, to spend 2 weeks with the Indian holy woman, Mother Meera. It was 5 PM and the train was filled to capacity with gray-suited commuters returning home from work.

David and I were simmering with a hilarity we didn’t dare express, because the train car was dead silent. Not a murmur of a word, not a rustle of a newspaper. The passengers sat like crash test dummies stuffed with unlived dreams, waxen and immobile. We had never been in a culture so repressed, we irrepressible Americans. I wanted to stand up and make an announcement: “Gentlemen, this train has been re-routed to the Moon.” David whispered that he had an almost irresistible urge to take off his shirt and finish the journey naked to the waist.

We tittered and twittered and rustled like two barn swallows. Except for a few pairs of eyes, strained to the corners to take us into peripheral vision, no one looked at us. No one moved. The train did its daily milk run: it stopped; people silently stood, without so much as a nod to their seatmates, and departed; the train started again. This happened a dozen times during the hour between Frankfurt and Limburg.

No one looked out the windows as the lush, dark, umber and spruce green countryside rolled by. We passed cabbages the size of baby carriages, apple trees bending under loads of red or golden fruit, fields of grain ripe for harvest. No eye but ours registered the beauty and abundance of the German countryside. All eyes were straight ahead, registering some middle distance that fell just short of actual contact with any other human being.

David and I subsided into silence, ourselves. We were gripped with unease. We had inadvertently boarded a train of the undead--people who died at some undesignated time in the past but were too oblivious to themselves and their own needs to realize that they’d stopped breathing or that their hearts had stopped beating or that their imaginations had stopped making dreams, having wishes and longings, or making plans for the future.

We were on a train of zombies and we were alarmed. We looked at one another, wide-eyed. Was there a place in us that knew that claustrophobic space, that energy-less energy, that listless simulation of lifelikeness? Were we laughing out of nervousness? Were we fearful because we felt our own masks moving suffocatingly closer?

We sat erect, with renewed vigor. We took internal vows not to be dead to the moment; always to adore the rosy cheeks of apples, the huge blue and burgundy roses of cabbages. Always to feel the pulse of the train beneath us, carrying us to new adventures, spontaneous meetings, joyous soul-openings.
We closed ranks, David and I, against the closed ranks of the un-dead. And we made up our minds: happiness depends on being free and freedom depends on being courageous. Taking Pericles one step further, courage depends on risking spiritual conflagration, total engagement, even death. The Athenians knew that in 430 BC. Probably we shouldn’t allow it to be forgotten.

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