Being there

The simpler things are, the harder to explain, and it follows, to understand. Every serious “science kid” understands this. There is an impenetrable mystery, until the penny drops. And then we are no longer outside, but in. Ask Einstein. “Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared.” It’s that simple. Prior to stumbling upon the equation, he was outside. Or the Fibonacci sequence, or the value for π. All kinds of things follow from these, including decimals that go on (“literally”) forever. But they are perfectly simple; themselves, not other things. They are absolutely constant: real. Change one numeral and it isn’t perfectly “pi” any more. We could go on like this.

And anyway I’m not interested in physical or mathematical constants, just now. When he was little, my elder son began finding them. At age about six he announced a proof of God. It is written into the math, unmistakably; and into our world, the immortal into the mortal. By age nine he had forgotten about this, and was already an engineer, with that drollness that adapts for aeroplanes and bridges and computers. I argued that none are conceivable without God; He has designed a world in which such things are possible. It is on the immortal that the mortal depends. By age ten we are taking this for granted.

The idea of “being there” is among the concepts that I consider to be “too simple to understand.” For it is not an analysis, but essentially a command. Yet it is there, and I have seen it understood by small children. I have also seen it in the old, sometimes; in a certain kind of unquenchable humility.

I noticed once someone “got it” from Blake. Or so he scrawled on the stonework of an abandoned church in England. Perhaps he was on drugs, for he claimed to be at one with all animate things. He was “in the moment” with nature.

Or was he? What could he bring back to prove that he was there? What followed from this enlightenment? A great deal of what pretends to be mystical experience — nearly all of it — has this evanescent quality. We “get it,” but when we come back it isn’t got. It is an abstraction, a fleeting dream. We were privy to a “virtual” thought, only. I doubt the person who wrote that graffito was changed in any permanent way. He did not have even one animate thing in his abstract view.

And yet the most commonplace person (me, for instance) carries with him a golden chain of such “moments,” in which time seems to have receded, and the absolute has become present to us. I remember, from age around six, holding a plum my father had passed me, in the hills above Abbottabad. It was the ur-plum. It is an indelible memory, with which I associate a certain purple I later saw in the late evening sky; the taste and texture of that plum, now universal. Far more would be needed to explain it. In sixty years, I have not got to the bottom of it. It was; it is. “It was real.”

The challenge to us all, today, is to be in the moment, or even capable of being. One must be there, not only in mind. Physically, we are alive and in bodies; there is no other way, than by contact. But we act as if we need not be physically there. We are content to read the news, as it were; to audit the lecture on the Zoom screen; to “visit” a Mass that is being recorded. We are present “in the spirit,” we say to ourselves. But I cannot credit these out-of-body claims. We are humans, not the spirits we imagine.

To my mind, the worst effect of the Batflu is to remove us even farther from the moment, to some unreal abstract space; from that mystical “transubstantiation” in which we are not elsewhere, but very fully here.