I and Thou [a Short-short Story]

I pray before a triptych at the Met, Ave Maria Plena Gratia, genuflecting as Gabriel before the Queen of Heaven. I remember growing up coming to think after having been told that Protestants and Jews were too materialistic–I had family who said as much at the tables we’d sit around for weekend dinners or holiday dinners, most of them religious holidays turned into secular events. I do not want to imagine what Protestants or Jews thought or said about Catholics, which is not to say most or many or even any had to have said something derogatory about Catholics–I cannot even say that most or many or however few Catholics said anything about Protestants and Jews that Jews and Protestants would not like. I know my immigrant friends from the Soviet Union are more materialistic than they would ever admit, ever be able to admit. Humans are not beings of spirit, but beings of material, only material, therefore relationships have a habit of becoming means to ends. This is always present in every communist philosophy–materialism, right? Communism is a materialist philosophy. (You know what I am saying, so do not pretend that you do not. [That is for any Soviet formed objectors who refuse to understand that Communism is as materialistic–perhaps even more so in its metaphysical constructs {itself, a seeming contradiction} than Capitalism.])

What is it that I am saying–to say or not to say in spite of objections. Do I think the same as I did then, about Protestants, about Jews, about any of the others–everyone is other to every other person in the world, and that is true in spite of categorical arrangements. What did I think then when I was a boy around the table at home, at friends, at family? How could anyone ever think the same as he had years and years ago–not even the things he agrees with, the things he imagines he thinks same about years and years later. I think as would the monks, or a hermit perhaps in a cave in the mountains. I remember a portrait of Jerome by Da Vinci, the former who was the first comprehensive translator of the Canonical biblical texts into Latin and a friend of Augustine. Jerome is in anguish in the wilderness with a lion ready and waiting nearby, and with his candle and book and quill also nearby outside of his cave. A city is seen in proportion to its distance, Da Vinci one of the first to introduce perspective and the relativity of distance into his painting. I remember a print of this when I was boy. I felt for him, bad for him, related to him in my onliness, sometimes in my room as he was in his cave, or so I like to tell it, knowing the sympathy it might evoke.

I had a dream the other day about Jerome in the wilderness; there’s always someone in the wilderness. I recall a Sister in Catechism class telling us the life of the Baptist. I liked the Baptist when I was a boy. The Baptist spent a lot of time in the wilderness with the Essenes, a radical monastic group of celibate Jews in the desert. Jeremiah became a friend in reading when I was a teenager. The Lamentations fit my mood, pretty much the zeitgeist too. Yes, I read from the weeping prophet and saw the relevance today, or then, when I was younger, although then and now are one time when time is considered prophetically.

Anyway, Jerome stands above my side of the bed in the dream looking down on me watching you (this is to you, your form–all that about Velasquez, you know–we made it to the Prado last summer in Madrid [this was written a few years ago in a journal I had been keeping at the time]). I see him but do not move my eyes from your form, the line of your torso in the street light lit room, the bed by the window facing the floodlight that bounces off the wall to meet the street light on the bed. I hear him say something in the dream. The lion the lion! The medieval galleries are among my favorites at the Met. I love our day trips to the Cloisters. I find myself sometimes saying a prayer before a triptych on wood . . . the Louvre was the only place in Paris we went to twice.

I wake from a dream where I had been wandering in the desert. I don’t usually dream of deserts or dream of wandering, but in this dream I was doing one in the other . . . I watch you lying naked along the edge of the bed nearest the windows, Velasquez has nothing on my eyes. The light shines on you as well as the wall perpendicular to the windows, a triptych of frames, I imagine an altar panel in wood from the middle ages, I recollect the fragments of medieval sculpture at CLUNY in Paris that February–terminally gray, I recall having said. I remember the room Marie Antoinette was kept in before she was guillotined . . . I tried to imagine nbeing guillotined; I imagine mobs of American Jacobins guillotining Wall Street CEOs in squares in Manahattan.

La Concierge . . . I see the gray stones in gray light under gray skies . . .the sun decided to shine on our last day, the day she puked in the street in the morning after breakfast on our way back to our room, was it bad snails from the night before, I do not know, it was a cute place, tiny, really, the owner was sweet, the food was good I think I can recollect . . .

Paris was beautiful even if gray for nine days, overcast horizon to horizon, as far as our eyes could see from atop the Arc du Triomphe, from atop Montmartre, just below Sacre Coeur. Gray, gray and more gray. Terminally gray for days . . . how many days without the sun, without foiliage, no green on the trees, who the fuck goes to Paris in February? We would go to watch the Eiffel Tower shut off when we found out when the City of Paris turns off the lights, and we did stand on the sidewalk along a wall of L’Ecole Militaire, where Napoleon went to school, to watch the light show from the Eifel Tower and wait for it to go dark.

What then do I say, do I do, and why do what I should? I have not determined this should, have I? I do not. No one does, not really. Does anyone have it in him to abdicate all responsibility to the shoulds and the woulds of his life? I have and I haven’t found the courage. There are enough people who try to make out of this special abdication a lack of courage, saying that it is not really courage to refuse to live up to Super-Ego impositions–I am losing my conviction for this argument. A few more words. They do say that it is a form of cowardice to not live up to the shoulds of one’s life . . . but who are they and who am I? Who are we in this social responsibility, the responsibility each of us has to another–I and thou, you and I, this I can take; we is a mistake if it is not I and Thou. The turn was awfully quick here. The culmination perhaps too rapidly achieved.


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