Saturday, August 03, 2013


Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with an appreciation of how unlike me you are.

In all probability, we have some number of things in common. Clearly, we're both fluent in English and both denizens of the Internet. You seem to have some curiosity about matters of religion and/or tolerance for unusual religious viewpoints, or I would have expected you to click away after reading the banner of this blog and the opening lines of the post. We're thoughtful, I believe, you and I. By this point in my musings, all the non-contemplative types have almost certainly gone elsewhere. And if this is not your first visit to my blog, then we probably share some common attitudes and wishes for what the world could be like.

But we're different, too, and if we were to converse our way through a few dozen topics, we would undoubtedly find many points of disagreement and perhaps even conflict.

And there is nothing wrong with that.

I recently encountered, for the first time in many years, a classmate of mine from high school. There was a time (possibly almost the entire time I knew her) when I thought this person was the most beautiful girl in the school -- maybe even in the world, at least for a moment or two. She was very sharp, a keen and clever mind with a rich, intelligent smile and the kind of happy laugh that made you feel very accomplished if you managed to evoke it. But we were on a different wavelength, this girl and I. We were both honors students, both writers, both middle-class suburban children at the outer edges of popular culture and some social norms. Both intellectuals. The same age. In most of the same classes. Yet she didn't understand my writing at all. She once told me something along the lines of, "You're a really good writer. I just wish you would write something serious."

Meanwhile, I dismissed her as a stuffy, narrow-visioned aesthete who looked down on entertainment and was only interested in rarefied, cerebral, self-indulgent explorations of form or technique and dreary, reality-centered themes on human existence.

As the years after high school passed and I widened the scope of my acquaintances, developed a greater appreciation for people whose interest diverged from mine, I often thought of this girl. What if, instead of shrugging her off as my diametric creative opposite, I had been willing to engage her on the basis of our kindred talents, had perhaps explored what it was that so interested her in higher literature, had attempted to make her understand the value I found in fantasy and satire? Might we both have been enlarged? Become fast friends? Dated?

Over time, I grew convinced that I should have connected with her, not just passed through the same halls and classes. That we should have been more to each other than we were. That perhaps our lives should have remained deeply interwoven through all the years since we last saw one another.

And then a few months ago, I ran across her online. She is a regular contributor to a website where she reviews films, and I read a number of her articles, and discovered ... we're still just as different as we were in high school. She likes movies, I like movies, but our responses to them are very far apart. Her reviews are dismissive of films I found entertaining, or, if she gives a thumbs-up to a movie I liked, she singles out for criticism things that I thought were the best parts of the show.

All of which is actually terrific.

It turns out I was wrong about the possibility of us connecting more strongly in high school. I simply wasn't prepared, at that point in my life, to engage someone with an interpretive framework so contrary to mine. Perhaps she was more mature and might have been willing to engage me, but clearly, neither of us would have changed the other's mind in any significant way. It would have required me to be a different person than I was at that time.

In contrast, today I could easily be friends with someone whose aesthetic sensibilities conflict with mine. I enjoy comparative discussions involving disparate viewpoints, so long as they are respectful and good-humored. I got a kick out of reading her reviews and remembering fondly this likable person who happened to disagree with me on some subjects I considered central to my identity.

That we were different then annoyed me. That we are different today cheers me, both because it reminds me that I was actually a pretty good judge of people as a teenager (though not necessarily as good a judge of myself), and also because I now value variety, which tells me how much I have grown.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the crossing of paths unlike our own, and for what it tells us about ourselves and about the world.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Friday, July 26, 2013


Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a story.

My favorite piece of classical music is Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. I have loved it since long before I knew what it meant, since its passionate Eastern melodies seeped into my consciousness from a phonograph record played by my parents when I was a child. As with many beautiful things, the music all but overwhelms me physically.

It grabs at something inside my chest, sends tides of energy surging through my nerves or my veins, and pulls tears from my eyes every time I listen to it.

Not least among the many wonderful aspects of this composition is its subject matter: the story of Scheherazade, perhaps the most gifted storyteller ever to be written of or imagined.

Scheherazade's tale forms the narrative frame for 1001 Arabian Nights. As the legend goes, the Sultan of Persia (having been betrayed by his unfaithful wife) took a new virgin to be his conquest every night, and then had her beheaded the next day. When this tradition had gone on for some time, Scheherazade, a brilliant and finely educated girl just entering womanhood, came forward and volunteered to be the Sultan's next consort. But she was able to postpone her execution by telling the misogynistic ruler a story that kept him spellbound through the night, and which she left unfinished at the break of dawn, so that he allowed her to live to finish it the next evening.

For each of 1001 nights, Scheherazade repeated this feat, until at last she told the Sultan she had no more stories remaining. Having fallen in love with her, he set aside his vengeful obsession and made her his queen.

Like all of the best stories, this one presents us with a marvelous, idealized hero and asks something of us by way of her example. To know exactly what it asks of us, we must consider two crucial parts of the narrative.

First, Scheherazade is not chosen by the Sultan as a consort – she volunteers. She sees something terrible happening, forms a plan, and steps forward at the risk of her own life to stop a ghastly chain of suffering.

She makes the choice to care for others first, to try to save them even if it means her destruction.

She loves her fellow women, and in loving, finds that she must act.

The second thing we must consider is a question: Does this story end happily for Scheherazade?

She winds up as the queen of all Persia, with a devoted husband who adores her. She has saved the lives of countless other women through her bravery and intelligence and talent. She will for the rest of her life have wealth and servants and luxury beyond asking. There is no denying that the story ends triumphantly for Scheherazade … but will she be happy?

She is, after all, married to a man who was a monster. Perhaps if we shrug and say, "That's just how kings were, back in the day," or "Well, it's just a fable," we can conclude that it doesn't really matter that the Sultan chose, in his rage, to use the faithlessness of one woman as justification for a life of perpetual serial rape and murder. But Scheherazade does not say, "That's just how sultans are," nor does she know that she is living in a fable.

This woman chooses a course that, in its best possible outcome, will bind the remainder of her life to a man who, when he might have said, "Women are treacherous, so I now abandon all contact with them," instead decided to sate himself nightly and order habitual butchery for his innocent victims.

Can she be happy, knowing what he has done?

Here, the story forces us to ask another question. When Scheherazade conceived her plan, did she only set out to save her fellow women?

Or did she set out to save the Sultan as well?

If her goal was merely to prevent further carnage, then she ends the story in victory and affluence, but facing what will probably be a long life of melancholy or even revulsion at her continued intimate submission to a beast, albeit a reformed one.

But if she said to herself, "I can draw this man back from the depths into which he has descended. I can make him whole and good again," then the story ends not just in triumph but in joy.

Scheherazade asks us to put others before ourselves. What we must decide is whether it also asks us to believe wholeheartedly in the possibility of redemption.

No one can make that decision for us – the decision to attempt to tame evil and then forgive it.

But it bears minding that the only way the story ends happily is if Scheherazade believed that she could do just that.

Only in risking her life at least in part for the sake of a madman does she earn the truest possible reward.

Thank you, goddess of love, for challenges, for heroism, and for the absolute, pure wonder of real beauty.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Monday, July 22, 2013

Embrace Love

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a suggestion: do not wish for love or yearn for love. Instead, look around you and welcome it.

For me, at least, there is no other way to believe in a world moving forward. If I wait for the good, I simply will not notice when it comes, because the wide profile of the bad will obscure it. Too long I have scraped by and turned inward, nursed a variety of alienations, resented the obvious need for acts of giving. At every turn, I have let ugliness get the better of me, let it turn me away from relationships, society, the world.

I cannot force extroversion upon myself, but I can and must acknowledge that I need others, and that needing them necessitates loving them, and giving of myself to them without expectation of a return. This giving will never be fully reciprocated by 100% of its beneficiaries, but love is about appreciation, not expectation, and if you do not give, as a natural response to appreciating someone, how can you really be said to appreciate them at all?

The only reasonable expectation of others is that they should be beautiful. And there is beauty in all of us if only we look.

Find it.

Appreciate it.

Love it.

And shrug your way through the rest.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the love that can spring from me, if I simply make the effort to allow it.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Friday, February 01, 2013

Keeping It Simple

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a simple thought:

Small things are sometimes enough.

Thank you, Goddess of Love, for that which is at once compact and enormous.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee