One day I may look back on my life and realise that my first love was not a person but a place…
Our world is full, bursting and strained like never before. We have the power to suppress disease, pacify hunger, come and go as we so choose. Things have grown, unfurled like ivy tendrils that are infinitely rich and thick. Buildings tower like divine beacons. Men (regrettably) have the power to take a life at the touch of a button. Information flows like a cascading fluid. Men try to stop its flow, to cork the bottle of knowledge…but the seal leaks, the fluid still flows and men and women slake their thirst.
Men leave the fields, pace the cobbles of glimmering cities in the night. They search for life, advancement and hope. Parliaments continue to tick like well-oiled clocks in homage to the Constantinople, Rome and Athens of the past. Theatres fill with budding enthusiasts, challenging notions of culture, civility and a higher state of awareness. Restaurants feed labourers after a hard day’s work, numb the pains and fill the stomachs of berated men and women. Police cars roam and race through the labyrinth of streets like guardians, sentinels of order, scuttling beetles in a transient hive. Universities pulsate with knowlegde, lighting the way for future generations.
Things move ever so swiftly forward and yet nothing ever changes. We come full circle…and when we realise this the centre may or may not hold.
Maybe time is one discreet event. I see it as a mirror. Perhaps God set us a challenge, taking the mirror and dropping it from a height. Perhaps this is why we continue to strive and to seek. Each civilisation that comes and goes examines the fragments, piece by piece, in an attempt to resolve the pearlescent, glimmering puzzle. We seem to get so far. We fail, slice a finger, lacerate a vein, let some blood, nurse our wounds…we have to start all over again.
We don’t want to finish the restoration of this universal mirror. What would come after? After all, there is more fun in seeing infinitely many reflections and mysteries in the jagged fragments. If we were to fix it and seal every fragment back in place, we would see but one reflection. We might not like it.
It’s above my head. The glint of those fragments sears my eyes. One day, like a hermit in the sun, I sought solace. I sought shade. It was to be found in a cafe. Standing squat and square with four walls, penned in by victorian brick from above and below, it became my bunker. A glass veranda served to maintain a link between worlds. Cars would dance to and fro as their hums and roars blended with the clamour of cups and plates glancing dark wood tabletops.
The place appealed to me through its simplicity. My memories receded from memory when I stepped through the door. Young men served with a greeting, a smile, a handshake or pat on the back, providing a lift. I gave due attention to the pure. The light music numbed the senses and caused the strain in my temples, teeth and neck to relax like a slackening sail. Every motion on the clock face seemed worthwhile, nothing wasted.
I would dive deep into intricate novel plots, surfacing late at night. The place allowed me to focus my interests into mental diamonds, concrete my passions into discrete kernels of knowledge. Things seemed possible. The tea and coffee, above all, captured the imagination. Dark and steaming cups of pure white porcelain dotted the tables. People paused, flared their nostrils and raised the warmth to their lips. Some would even close their eyes, at ease.
One can see why ancient cultures revered the act of tea drinking as a ceremony, a rite of passage. It is an simple act but steeped in symbolism. By stopping, pausing and drinking all other things seemed to stem from that moment. Groups gathered to play chess. Long lost friends held one another’s gaze across tables, the gulf between them peppered with the fragrant steam of hot drinks. Men and women donned their finest clothes; jumpers of wool, scarves of silk, well-made shoe-soles slapped the marble floors.
Despite the calm there was still room for obscurity. In the cafe, as beyond its doors, one still felt lost at times, overwhelmed…but at least there was a platform, sure footing to stand on. It was my breastplate, my armour, a shield from relentless missiles of reality.
One night I withdrew my philosophy notes from my bag. I calmly read over pages of Adorno and Horkheimer, the edges furled and crippled.
“characterise enlightenment as…liberation from fear of the unknown…by acquisition of genuine knowledge.”
In that instant the cafe assumed a voice. Chairs scraped the floor, old men bellowed and children giggled and all the while white china clicked, sang in harmony, reverberating off mellowed walls. It spoke to me.
Let go. Become a free and spontaneous being. Pause. Breathe the air. Don’t fix the broken mirror. Stop seeking more. Pocket instead a fragment of glass, plane its edges, distill it of all its coarseness and carry it with you until the end of your days.
I turned back to my coffee, took a sip and smiled. In my mind I saw some ancient monk of another time and place. With one skilled, steady hand he painted a fay, fine tree in full blossom on faded parchment: It had but a few branches. The monk stopped, placed his brush on the ground.
He turned to his steaming tea and drank.