15 January 2018

False Spring

Every January, there is a day or two where things become unseasonably warm. You feel a sort of British guilt that the winter seems to have gone away. With some luck, the weather report will warn of snow and sleet later in the week and you can relax knowing that you aren't getting away with anything and the whole of it will back sooner rather than later. You can walk up the street to take care of whatever errand needs taking care of and think, well, you have to enjoy it while it lasts.

A year ago, I couldn't have imagined that I would be standing in a shop trying to pick out tiles for renovations on our house, but that is what I was doing this weekend. Now, I have some elementary knowledge of building materials and VAT costs for builders and negotiating techniques. A year ago, I wasn't sure we were going to get our visas. Now, I seem to have put away any concern about the impermanence of life in the UK or the house on Victoria Road with all the British assurances I can now give about how when one invests in brick and mortar, one is guaranteed a return. I say this, but it's not entirely right.

I attribute this lack of concern for the future to meditation and Donald Trump. These two forces are duelling, different sorts of nihilism — one extremely positive, the other an acceptance that evil wins out eventually anyway. The vicar this Sunday spoke about homelessness in a poignant way, refusing to come to a happy conclusion. How we all want to be seen as doing good, but don't actually want to make any sacrifice — I then wondered if anyone can do good at all anyway. I shamefully helped a woman up to the alter for communion, shamed because my initial thought when she asked for help was smug, about how good I must appear with my beautiful wife and kids, the perfect sorts of immigrants. The atheist husband, dutifully coming along and participating despite his own misgivings. I'm a hypocrite from every angle.

During the creed, I don't recite any line except the last one: the life of the world to come. I recite this because it reminds me of the Mountain Goats, but also because if there's anything I hope for, it's that. Some life in some world to come. Not after death, really, but what comes next, the now that one hopes to stretch out in front with some certainty. Donald Trump and North Korean missiles aside, of course.

What is there to be afraid of, if not the possibility of something bad happening in the future. Last night, at ten forty, the doorbell rang, and I tensed up with fear, before going down and realising that it had just rung. The doorbell is old, it does this sometimes, but when I laid back down, after checking and locking the backdoor, I thought about spirits about evil and a story or stories my father had told about praying evil spirits out of the house, asking for angels to watch over us. Now, and last night lying in my bed, this all seemed silly, despite the fear that washed over me in the moment and my desire to reach out for something outside of myself to steady me. I took a couple of deep breaths. No one was going to kill me, the house on Victoria Road is old, not haunted. There are plenty of things to fear if I need to be afraid — best not worry about ghosts or evil spirits.

Something must be said about ontology and reality — I keep trying to parse this in conversations with people in an annoying way. My brother said after I told him that my wife had been telling people at church that I was an atheist, You are, no? I am, yes, I am, but it's complicated, isn't it. God is not real in an ontological sense, but he is real in the sense that he is the ghost captain of the ship behind a closed cabin door. You put your ear against it and think you hear the scratching of something inside. If you're a believer, you say it's the thing you believe in and you pray for angels to watch over your children. If not, you say it's just the sound a ship makes.

What you say about the closed door and what you project behind it makes reality what it is. When you meditate, you don't judge the voice or speak to its realness. You just accept it as part of your experience, without judgement. It doesn't matter if the captain is there or if he is speaking, isn't it. It only matters what you hear, and what you do with what you hear. I'm not happy to say there's nothing to hear, that sometimes doorbells go off without any reason. It's just the truth, it's just not real in an ontological sense. I'm sure you can make it real in another sense.