Black. White. Shadow. Light. What’s the difference?
When I was a kid my grandfather spoke of justice; I was taught in elementary school about sin; certain words weren’t allowed at the dinner table; and smelling good was advised over smelling like a ripe armpit.
“Our impulses grip us more than we know,” I was instructed the other day, “and the majority of these motivations are often clever manifestations of a biological imperative stronger than any force.”
“Even love?” I beckoned.
“Yes, even that precious four-letter word,” she declared.
“Alright,” I agreed, “I’m listening,” I said—with a tinge of regret.
“You see, the world is shaking . . . wildly. Standing up it seems level, but if you bend down low and look to the horizon, even the flattest wheat field in Kansas will undulate like the dorsal fin of a Humuhumunukunukuapua’a—Hawaii’s state fish, you know?
“Not sure I quite . . . follow,” I said, now questioning the mental faculties of this elderly woman beside me on a log spanning two creeks—at the mouth of an emerald-green, bowl-shaped lake in Central Oregon; a solo hiker, clad in black.
“My point,” she poked, demanding my attention like a true vampire, “is what I’m showing you right now.”
“Which is what?” I asked sideways, a bit wary of this loner.
“Is” she asked, “what I’m telling you stronger than what I’m showing you?”
“Um . . .” I answered weakly, “No?”
“You bet your ass not!” she barked. “Listen,” her brow tightened, “do you think I can’t see your fear, and you sizing me up? Let me say it again, this time more explicitly—
“Show. Don’t tell.”
“Ma’am, forgive me, I have no idea where you are going with this.”
“Yes you do. You just doubt yourself. All stories are the same, boy.”
“You see,” she bestowed vigorously, “the transgressions perpetrated upon the Hawaiians and their islands . . . the Dust Bowl and virgin plains ravaged . . . greed, wheat and our beloved black gold, eh? No different than a gluten-free vegan shaman, ah? And Guru, please, for Ganesha’s sake, follow a linear and logical path, won’t you?”
I looked on in pure stupefaction, mouth agape, wondering why this whack-job landed in my lap.
“Please don’t hurt me or be too clever,” she whispered, looking dead in my eyes.
“Ma’am, I have no intention of hurt-”
“Of course you don’t, boy—I know!” she cut. “That rant,” pointing to the water beneath us rushing its way to the lake, “was about soup. It’s all soup. Or stew, if you prefer—” she said with a smirk, “there’s no difference.”
“I, uh, have heard that before. Yes, the universe is soup,” replying timidly.
“Sure, but do you know it?”
“Apparently not,” I tried.
“This whole time you have been reacting to my humanness,” she said. “My nature. My biology unsettling you—with force. However, I’ve simply been telling you a story. Just one of an infinite number of stories which essentially says that of every other. Which is what? That all things are alike everything else. The wheat fields, the triggerfish; my tired legs after this hike; your suspicion of me; even love . . . it’s all a big bowl of biological soup—crafted by the stuff of survival and that pesky, persistent imperative we call life. You see, whether you choose good or bad makes no ultimate difference. Why? Because the story goes on either way. But more importantly, because we are the master creators of both. In other words, our frequencies create our images. This isn’t news, boy. Whatever you think always becomes your experience. Period. And I’m not talking about the relentless thoughts puddling on your mind’s surface. Not your silly inner monologue. No, I’m speaking of what you think with your whole body—those deeply buried undercurrents of the soul; that voice which is often hard to hear and readily renounced because its truth is too damn frightening. But below even that, believe it or not, is still just the wacky way of this world demanding itself indiscriminately. The human world of duality and separateness, which . . . you understand are both illusions, right?” asking with steel-eyed deliberation. “Ah, my boy, but do you know that, too? Do you?
“If so, then you’d understand unity with every electromagnetic pulse in and about your body. You would see, hear, smell, taste, love, hate, fear, anticipate, bemoan, and welcome it. You wouldn’t question anything in terms of opposites. Wrong-right, win-lose, happy-sad, pleasure-pain, light-shadow . . . nonsense! You would see no ultimate consequences given your choices. None. Not even death. Rather, you would know that it’s just soup in a bowl. And your life? Whether conducted with piety or apathy, deemed by others a success or failure . . . matters not at all. Not slightly or in any grand scheme. You would see your actions, however high-minded, renowned, spiritual or nihilistic . . . however lauded or chastised, are all merely elaborate hoaxes on you in the form of personal beliefs . . . and as directed by the unforgiving impulses of your exquisite, prejudice-free biology. An omnivital biology, if you will, set upon the three simple and well-known organizing principles of animal behavior: seeking pleasure, avoiding pain and conserving energy.
“Do you see? That what you call religion and love is simply survival in disguise? Darwin, eh? Given that . . . can you forgive Hitler now? Hmm? Can you find hate for Gandhi? It’s just life, boy, on life’s terms. Just a slew of bleeding hearts trying not to ache while they plead to pass on their genes. We don’t know what comes after our jaunt here, if anything. Many believe they do, and they may be right, but those narratives are not as self-evident as my moving lips, the water below us, or the rest of this soup,” her arms waving like ladles. “In that case, and as it’s been said by an artist of our time—it makes much more sense, then, to live in the present tense. Ya’ know?
“Boy, people always ask whether it’s half full or half empty, right?”
“Yes,” I answered, “the proverbial glass.”
“Right. But I don’t care either way. That’s not the point . . .
“Well, what is?”
“Yes?” I asked, feigning interest as I stood, ready to walk away.
“Take care only,” she said, eyes suddenly wide and deep, voice resonant and rich, “that there’s soup in the bowl.”
I squinted doubtfully, which she understood while reaching eagerly for my hand—and with a half-smile and shrugged shoulders pining for reconciliation, she delivered, “Alright, boy, you called my bluff. I care when I’m in pain. I’m a human animal after all.”
“Indeed, you are,” I said, turning my back, pulling away. “And one who—after all your years—knows nothing about real love.”
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Ed: Sara Crolick