So anyway I got to Richmond Row, looked into the shops, then stopped to talk to an artist working on a painting beside Victoria Park. (We discussed some of the similarities and differences between poetry and painting.) At the other end of the park, I noticed someone hustling into the beautiful big St. Peter’s Cathedral Basilica. I wandered along the front of the building, ogling the gargoyles that were staring down at me, including one of an actual person wearing big glasses. What the heck; I’m always a sucker for these strange, awesome, somewhat beautiful architectural creations so I stepped inside. Luckily there was only a scattered audience and the back row was empty. I sat there and admired the great stained-glass windows and high arches and tried to follow the voices of the stream of people who read from various things. But I soon gave up as the sound system seemed to conflict with the size of the room so that most of the voices were unintelligible. And anyway I didn’t know anything about the rituals that were performed in silence between the readings so I ducked out, and picked up a copy of the church paper on the way.
A café I had never been in before enticed me and I flipped through the paper there looking for something that might catch my eye. There was a message from the rector, something about a fiftieth-anniversary thing, a photo of a grand new painting of the rector who stood importantly in front of it, with an interview of the artist, nah, nah, hah. And there was a double spread about international students visiting, with photos of actual young people, African, Indian, etc. The article itself, like all of them, was set in an extra large font, obviously for old people with poor eyesight. Which, I had noticed, comprised most of the people I had seen in the pews. Times are changing; this is an increasingly secular world. There was a list of parishioners who had died, most in their 80s, with the headline: We Remember… For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die…
A time to die. Okay, now I was alert and relating. Because I’m slowly getting ready to die myself. And quite often lately I’ve been feeling the size of the arc that goes back to my birth. How short it is. And how I seem to pick up speed along it as I approach the endpoint. Then I read again the first phrase on that line: a time to be born. Suddenly I’m seeing the immensely long timeline of human beings on earth, and also, just at one very precise but random point along it, I was born. And there my arc began. Me. This extremely complicated, very conscious being. Only at that one point. I had no say in when I was born (or where). I could say I was partly lucky, and partly unlucky, but, in any case, my little arc exists only at this one inch along those miles of timeline. I’m stuck with this inch. Can’t see back from it or ahead. Boy! That just feels so weird. If it was somebody else’s life I was looking at, I would just say, well, that person belongs at that inch, and that other person at that other inch, and so on, all along the road. But it’s me, sitting here aware of myself for what I am. And I feel like a cobblestone.
It is so weird to be a unique, very complicated, very conscious human—this special thing, or so it seems—and yet, at the very same time to see my true place in reality: just one little bump on a very, very long line of birth-and-death arcs. We can see how truly amazing each one of us is, then fantacize it to an even higher level of importance if we need to in order to tolerate our smallness--in our arrogance and narcissism or whatever bit of stretching we have going on in our minds--but, that simply doesn’t matter: in every case without exception we are just a little bump occupying our inch of the road. And even that disappears from existence as the wave of the present moment passes over it.