It was one of those mornings. The kind where as soon as you wake up, the world greets you with a shitstorm… an eviction notice, a threatening email from a bill collector, your lover’s suitcases by the front door… take your pick.
For me, it was the 17th rejection to my latest book. For fuck’s sake!
No matter how noble my intentions or how hard I work, the world appears determined to thwart my best laid plans and lay waste to my illusions.
Yes, I’ve trained myself on the life force of clear-eyed optimism. I have accepted the universal law of resistance and have more grit than Sisyphus. But still. There are times when it’d be nice to see a silver lining in my otherwise gunmetal clouds. Just a pinpoint of light at the end of the tunnel, for fuck’s sake!
As I pounded my laptop lodging the 17th rejection to my growing list, dawn broke through the window arrayed in radiant blue.
It seemed insane for me to remain indoors banging my head against the same wall while nature beckoned me with her splendor. So I suited up, wanting to ease my distress by surrendering to her soothing embrace.
Silence is so hard to come by anymore that upon entering the wild, I try my best not to fracture its hallowed stillness, especially not with my first-world laments. As it is, our frenzied, noisy existence has made it impossible for us to figure out what to do in quietude and has rendered us insensible to nature’s austere beauty. No wonder we’re always bored and desperate to find the meaning of life. Like discarded violins in the dusty attic of our past — strings slack, tuning pegs broken, and cracked bouts — we no longer resonate, vibrate, thrum, or harmonize with nature so can’t play our once rightful part in the concert hall of Earth. Not surprised we seem bent on destroying her.
My boots sank deep in snow as I trudged around the entrance gate leading to the trail. I advanced slowly, like a camel, still ruminating. Gusts swept through the tall trees making them groan, creak, and knock against each other producing hollow sounds, toppling large clumps of snow from their branches, and churning the white powder underfoot in diaphanous swirls that pricked my face.
The wind died down. Faint ticks and rustlings, the only sounds… sacred whispers… like a symphony about to begin.
I decided to silence the fretful voices in my head, shed my human integument, and commune with the wild in spirit.
That didn’t last too long…
“Salvation is a sham!”
Disrupting my incipient serenity, the defiant voice of Greek writer Kazantzakis boomed in my head.
“Man’s worth lies in that he live and die bravely, without condescending to accept any recompense; with the certainty that no recompense exists, and that that certainty, far from making our blood run cold, must fill us with joy, pride, and manly courage.”
No salvation, no hope, no expectation of recompense… how liberating must it be to live that way!
“I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free!” is the epitaph on Kazantzakis’ tombstone.
Hope, for the Greeks, is not a gift. It is a calamity, a negative striving, for to hope is to remain always in a state of want, to want what we do not have, and, consequently, to remain in some sense unsatisfied and unhappy. — ‘The Wisdom of the Myths’ by Luc Ferry
As I reached the river and turned right, I recalled these words from Rudyard Kipling: “You’ll be a man,” he said, “if you can dream, and not make dreams your master; if you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same. If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, and lose, and start again at your beginnings, and never breathe a word about your loss.”
Will I ever become such a man?
Joining the chorus of these audacious, carefree men, Nietzsche’s ‘Zarathustra’ accompanied my ascent to the highest peak of the vast wilderness I was in:
“Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman — a rope over an abyss.”
“I love the great despisers,” spoke Zarathustra, “because they are the great adorers and the arrows of longing for the other shore. I love him whose soul is lavish, who wants no thanks… always bestowing and desiring not to keep for himself. I love him whose soul is deep even in the wounding. I love him who is of a free spirit and a free heart. I love him who chastens his God…”
“My God is not All-holy,” echoed Kazantzakis. “He is full of cruelty and savage justice, and he chooses the best mercilessly. He is without compassion, nor does he care for virtues and ideas. He loves all these things for a moment, then smashes them eternally and passes on.”
“My God is not Almighty. He struggles, for he is in peril every moment. He is full of wounds; his eyes are filled with fear and stubbornness. But he does not surrender, he ascends.”
“My God is not All-knowing. His brain is a tangled skein of light and darkness which he strives to unravel in the labyrinth of the flesh.”
“My God struggles on without certainty. Will he conquer? Will he be conquered? Nothing in the Universe is certain. It is our duty, on hearing his cry, to run under his flag, to fight by his side, to be lost or to be saved with him. He cannot be saved unless we save him with our own struggles; nor can we be saved unless he is saved.”
“We set out from an almighty chaos, from a thick abyss of light and darkness tangled. And we struggle — in this momentary passage of individual life — to order the chaos within us, to cleanse the abyss, to work upon as much darkness as we can within our bodies and to transmute it into light. It is not God who will save us — it is we who will save God, by battling, by creating, and by transmuting matter into spirit.”
“My prayer is not the whimpering of a beggar. My prayer is a report of a soldier to a general: ‘This is what I did today, this is how I fought to save the entire battle in my own sector, these are the obstacles I found, this is how I plan to fight tomorrow.’”
I have given my book everything I’ve got. Where will I find the strength and spirit to fight another day?
I reached the summit and sat down under a tree to catch my breath.
Kazantzakis’ God — not almighty, not all-knowing, not all-just and benevolent — contrasted starkly with the one I was raised to trust and believe in. The compassionate one, who answers all our prayers.
But I have since realized that the meek shall not inherit the earth. Blessed are not the poor in spirit. That justice is not always meted out on the unjust. Sinners are not always punished. Life is not game of musical chairs where everyone gets a chair. And that regardless of my best efforts, my book might never see the light of day.
I must come to terms will all this.
“Only that life is worth living, Kazantzakis said, “which develops the strength and integrity to withstand the unavoidable sufferings and misfortunes of existence without flying into an imaginary world.”
When fortune lays waste to our illusions, what can we cling to if not hope?
Sitting deep in snow and lost in thought, I felt a light tap on my head.
As if by a celestial tablecloth bluely shaken on high, a faint breeze stirred the snow-laden branches above me and let fall a glittering drizzle of miniature diamonds which kissed my face with icy pinpricks.
Which made me recall another defiant call, this from author John Cowper Powys: “Do thy worst, O world! Still, still, and in spite of all, will I enjoy thy beauty!”
God changes his appearance every second. Blessed is the man who can recognize him in all his disguises. At one moment he is a glass of fresh water, the next, your child bouncing on your knees, or an enchanting woman, or perhaps merely a morning walk. — Nikos Kazantzakis ‘Zorba de Greek’
I rose and began my long walk to the house in a state of agitated defiance uttering these phrases under breath:
Bring on the shitstorm, I will still enjoy the view!
I will not kneel in prayer to ask an almighty, benevolent God for good fortune. Hereon, I will make my own.
If my book flounders and dies without seeing the light of day, I will start another and then another and never breathe a word about my loss.
I will accept hardship as a man, sharpening my sword against every obstacle on my way, walking the tightrope on the edge of uncertainty viewing the abyss with a defiant stare.
If God insists on testing my resolve without cutting me some slack, I will prove my worth without hope for recompense or salvation. The ascent alone will be my reward.
Waiting for me as I walked into the house was the 18th rejection to my book. For fuck’s sake!
Fuming, I stepped out on the front porch, and with a lit cigarette insolently dangling from my lips, I flipped God the bird.
No lightning struck me.
Regaining composure, I realized my contempt was misplaced. Deserving my rebuke wasn’t God or fortune. It was myself! My ego. The slobbering beast and slavish pursuer of esteem and recompense. Surrender the beast, and you’re free!
With that, I rushed to the bathroom, stared at my insolent reflection in the mirror and flipped myself the bird.