August is coming up, maybe my most favorite month of the year. The livin' is easy and life and the world around me weaves itself into a hazy tapestry of sunshine, blue sky, tomatoes, raspberries, and dahlias hypnotizing me into believing that summer will go on forever. The seduction of the soft air and navy blue nights gets me every time. And I love it still.
In My Own Private August, I would have lunch with four people who have walked this earth then and now and have inspired me, provoked me, stymied me, made me laugh and yes, soothed me into insight and understanding as I stumbled along my own path, groping for a foothold . I believe they would form the most perfect of companions for good food and sparkling conversation; we would laugh and argue; eat; listen; argue some more. And listen. And laugh. And laugh. And drink icy cold vodka from Finland in exquisite Baccarat crystal glasses. There would be Irish linen on the table with Jaclyn DuPre roses and tulips in a magnificent crystal ice bucket, Royal Doulton china and of course, Gorham silver. What else?
Our table would be set dead in the center of the massive courtyard of Ataturk's magnificent tomb in Ankara, Turkey, where we will nosh on succulent lamb, jasmine rice with saffron, cucumbers, tomatoes and feta and that outrageously fabulous dessert they make in Turkey with the shredded wheat. Only the extraordinary Piazza del Campo in Sienna, Italy, supposedly the most beautiful public square in all of Europe, can be said in the same breath as Anit Kabir. The architecture is stunning in the true sense of the word as is typical of all Islamic art and architecture and the skyline of Ankara peeks into the edges, creating an on top of the world, Perched-Atop-Everest-In-The-City setting. It is the only venue appropriate in all of the universe for My Own Private August and the meeting of the most special of my companions, a theologian, a writer, an outlaw, and a poet.
The first invitation would go out to Thomas Merton. I am quite proud that as a Catholic priest, early on in the American civil rights movement of twentieth century Brother Merton championed social justice; embraced interfaith understanding and integration; explored and mined the depths of the human experience while the papacy in Rome carried out business as usual. Thomas Merton was one of the reasons I converted to Catholicism and in reading him, I have found a consolation and guidance that has helped me immeasurably. On love he said, "The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” My children were small when I began reading Merton and both very strong-willed; Thomas Merton showed me that it is morally unacceptable and outrageously destructive to break their will, even though my own mother swore to me over and over in fits of rage that she would succeed in breaking mine. And I realized that if I was not careful, my own self-loathing would become a part of these two little pink-cheeked curly headed Tasmanian Devils. How could it not? Even today, when I see a lack of discipline or a weakness in my children, I spot myself in a second. In those instances, I know The Dark is about and my footing is slippery. I know then, too, that if I love them perfectly, I will let my children be perfectly themselves. And from where I came from, this was a hard earned lesson. I would love to sit at lunch with Brother Merton and talk about this more and hear what William Shakespeare has to say about perfect love and how he responds to Merton's teachings on mystical theology and contemplative prayer.
So Shakespeare would be my second invitation because of course, he is civilization's all time greatest writer. Shakespeare believed in the fatal flaw that is in all of us and probed and manipulated that flaw that is the human condition into both the most tragic and comedic scenarios ever known on paper. I know that most likely he'll show up at lunch hung over and without a shower, but nevertheless will be riotously funny, keenly insightful and contribute laser-like thrusts and parrys to Merton's assertions, wise cracking, hip checking and eating like a pig the entire way. I know the bar bill will probably double, triple, if he is there but I'd by lying if Shakespeare was not included in My Own Private August. My favorite if I absolutely had to name one? The incredible Love's Labour's Lost. Harold Bloom, another one of my favorite sassy guys, called it "a festival of language, an exuberant fireworks display in which Shakespeare seems to seek the limit of his resources, and discovers that there are none." This piece is a fire in the sky that lights a fire in my soul. Every time. I want Shakespeare to talk about it and how it is that he himself stumbled into completion of this masterpiece so early in his career. Was it his pinnacle? Was everything else just so much billable time after he finished Love's Labour's Lost? And I want to get him good and drunk and find out about Anne Hathaway and his muses. And those limits we supposedly all have. I cannot wait for August.
Up until recently, I would have invited Bill Gates to talk about innovation and competition; two hallmarks of his contributions to mankind but lately, now that Bill is an old married man, he seems to have mellowed remarkably. I think he'd be reverent and respectful to Brother Merton and gush at everything Shakespeare had to say so instead, I'd like to play a wild card and invite another sassy guy that's come up on my radar screen. This guy writes a editorial comments for the local newspaper and is a bad, bad boy; I love to read Gary Crooks. He is a smart ass with no equal and as an accomplished blogger, will devilishly argue and pursue a point well past any modicum of discretion. Not an easy feat for a journalist, most of whom prefer to reside in the ivory tower of the newsroom, putting the receptionists and the secretaries up front to do all the actual talking. While I would not call Crooks' linear train of thought elegant, I would call it sturdy with endless strength and stamina. He can hold his line as if he were an Ironman Marathoner. But it's his wicked sense of humor that belies a keen intellect and the near flawless construction in his writing that makes him irresistible to me. Gary Crooks is a never-miss-must-read part of my week and I think he would be fabulous company at lunch. I would love to see him respond when Shakespeare tells him to find the poetry in his soul. And when the other guy that will be there gives him permission to lay his fears aside and plunge into love, ending the separation of him and his ultimate destiny.
So who would that other guy be? Well, of course, it would be Rumi. How could I not want Rumi? Erotic, sensual, honest, timeless, soothing and deeply loving, and a mystic as well, Mevlana must come and read my very favorite aloud:
If anyone asks you
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
When someone mentions the gracefulness
of the nightsky, climb up on the roof
and dance and say,
If anyone wants to know what "spirit" is,
or what "God’s fragrance" means,
lean your head toward him or her.
Keep your face there close.
When someone quotes the old poetic image
about clouds gradually uncovering the moon,
slowly loosen knot by knot the strings
of your robe.
If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,
don’t try to explain the miracle.
Kiss me on the lips.
Like this. Like this.
When someone asks what it means
to "die for love," point
If someone asks how tall I am, frown
and measure with your fingers the space
between the creases on your forehead.
The soul sometimes leaves the body, then returns.
When someone doesn’t believe that,
walk back into my house.
When lovers moan,
they’re telling our story.
I am a sky where spirits live.
Stare into this deepening blue,
the breeze says a secret.
When someone asks what there is to do,
light the candle in his hand.
How did Joseph’s scent come to Jacob?
How did Jacob’s sight return?
A little wind cleans the eyes.
When Shams comes back from Tabriz,
he’ll put just his head around the edge
of the door to surprise us
Can you just imagine what Mr. William Shakespeare will have to say in response to that and how the two mystics, Thomas Merton, a Zen Catholic, and Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī, a Sufi Muslim, will process through repentance, redemption and resurrection:
"...Ours is not a brotherhood of despair./Even if you have broken/Your vows of repentance a hundred/times, come."
At this point, Gary Crooks will undoubtedly be on his feet, ordering more vodka.
The 'Kan EWA