Friday, February 15, 2013

Why not Hug a Tree?

This story comes from my collection called US Delivery. Please consider reading it. You will find US Delivery here.

                     Eddie was driving down the Jamacaway. He was in no hurry. Even in midwinter it was a pretty road, and the clouds had broken for awhile and the sun now and then poked through. Just another day in the history of US Delivery. But Eddie was a little pissed off at Tom. Tom was a poet and Eddie was a delivery van driver. There were lots of things going on. Why was Tom buried in that book? The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Why didn't he raise his eyes and take a look around. Why should there be a book which could fascinate you away from this real world going by?
  “It's a great book,” Tom explained. “It's about Philosophy. The guy who wrote it, Ludwig Wittgenstein, got notoriously famous in a time when hardly anybody cares about philosophy. When he wrote it after World War I, in which he was a common soldier, he considered that he had written the last word on metaphysics. Then later on in his life he considered, I personally believe, that since nobody understood his last word, how could he think that he had actually written the last word? Which is a cogent thought. I don't think he ever repudiated the book. Some people say he did. It's not unusual to repudiate your own work; it is unusual to really mean it. Sometimes it is hard to make people understand what you have written about. They don't want to believe you when you tell them. You wonder about all the confusion, especially when you have tried hard to be clear, unless you are a general like Russell or Whitehead or Sartre. Wittgenstein's biography is very interesting. I like him because he seems to know instinctively when the object got taken out of multiplicity and put into context with the unity. I think that it is a gift from God to be willing to struggle with objects that way. It's a brave thing to do because you alienate yourself from the rest of the world which hardly ever thinks about anything in relation to unity. In fact they get mad at you if you think that way. They want the multiplicity, because you can make money with it.”
  “But what does that have to do with today?” Eddie said. “We're going through something. Something is happening. And I don't know what. What does it all mean? What is the glue that sticks us all together. Don't you remember what I just said about the man who killed his wife and two children? Why haven't the human race exterminated each other yet? And sometimes in the face of extermination we even love each other.”
  Because this had just been going on. It was all over the news on the radio.
  “I know! and what you say is true, and it is a mysterious wonder. But what does that have to do with me? What can I do about it? How can I deal with it? On the other hand, I can deal with this.” Nodding at the book. “Which ultimately is about unity. All philosophy is about unity.”
  “I say just the opposite. What can I do with your unity? Where is it in the world? How would I know what it looks like even if I tripped over it? Anyway, we live most of our lifes in the dark, tripping over stuff, and half the time lost in discord. Then sometimes real happenings show up in the darkness. Then that's when you put up the dreams and try to do something, try to help out somehow.”
  “The trouble with that, Eddie, is usually it's all done with by the time you get there and all that's left is for the bruises to heal. So you're just getting in the way, wasting everybody's time, when you could be studying the beginning.”
  “The beginning? What's that?”
  “What preceded! Take war. You can complain and bitch, send sons and daughters into the battle, and genuinely grieve when they get killed. Or you can ask the eternal questions, like: What hath God wroth? Or you can shout at the suffering, the death and dismemberment: Thy will be done! I think it is as well either way. I wouldn't want to judge. But for me, who I am, what is important is how the beginnings work. Eddie, I know our comrades suffer, that life is hard, that it doesn't make much sense sometimes. But what is that to me? I am too busy. Why even should I care whose fault it is? I don't know how it came to be that I am plugged in that way. But I think it is important for somebody to study beginnings. That is what culture is, it hooks people up to beginnings.”
  Eddie said, “It is a sin to lose touch. It is a sin even to separate for a minute. Your hands must always be in it with dirt on them. I hate those snotty bastards who preach culture, but they never pitch in, they never cooperate, they are always in a sort of never-never land. They never see themselves as an influence on what's happening.”
  “Nobody is in never-never land. They may wish they were, but they aren't. I know where I am in space. It's just that, doesn't being in real space seem routine? Just a little, while Wittgenstein on logic, for instance, is…it gets to the head. And I find that much more pleasurable. That thought stuff rattling around in the head. Oh, what bliss!”
  “It's cold, Tom. How many times have I told you that? All that stuff for the head is cold. And why do you say it is pleasurable? You make it sound like you are addicted to pleasure. Why do you say that? When you should say, ‘I am addicted to what is important.'”
  Tom turned toward Eddie slowly, studied him, “Who are you to tell me what is important?”
  “I have more experience in life than you do!”
  “You do not!”
  “I do to. And if you spent less time with your nose in a book or a blank sheet of paper, and you lifted your eyes, and you honestly looked at what was out there, you'd know exactly what I am talking about.”
  “I should someday attempt to explain to you what vanity is,” Tom said turning away.
  “Tom, if anybody should know about vanity, it should be you, who writes poetry. Do you actually think that you have anything to say that's different or that hasn't been said a hundred times before? Or even worse, that you could say it in a way that is somehow superior?”
  “Oh yeah, and you're going to tell me that all this snooping around that you do is going to lead you to a spiritual awakening? The way you're always checking in on the girls in the combat zone, gadding around the big city? Is that what's going to make you a believer?”
   “Do you think I'd be gadding around if I knew? It has to be somewhere. I think you have to put your hands on the facts of existence, and after you walk in the ashes, you should do something, you should hug a tree. Here!” All along the Jamacaway in the middle strip and in lots along side the road were trees and public gardens. Eddie pulled over into the turn off. In summer this garden was often pretty; anyway it often caught his eye. In winter there was at least the stand of oak trees, but winter foliage too, and fir plants of some kind. “Come on! I want you to put down that book and hug a tree.”
  “I don't want to hug a tree,” Tom said. “You nut. You go and hug the goddamned tree.”
   “I intend to. But you come with me.”
   “No! I'm not gonna hug a goddamned tree because I don't want to be a nut like you. I'm gonna sit here and read this book because why? Because Wittgenstein was born with a certain genius, and you weren't.”
   “Who is talking about genius? I'm just talking about hugging a tree, which is a real thing in God's creation. And I'd like for you to tell me how you could be confused about it. You belong to nature, too, or have you forgotten?”
  So Eddie was pulled over and he stopped the van, and it was suddenly quiet in the van, and he studied Tom. “Well come on, ya gonna?”
  “No, I'm not because I don't wanna seem like a nut like you are. Ya freak!”
  “Here, let me help you!” Eddie reached for the door latch, pushed it open, and he was kneeing Tom out the door, Tom's book went flying, and he fell out of the van. Tom cussed a profanity laced big city brogue, and they both cussed out each other as they pushed and shoved each other till they ended up in front of a tree.
  “This is one of the tallest ones. Look!” Eddie said, bending back to look at the top limbs. It was perfectly straight without a single branch for the first 20 or 30 feet. “It's a red oak, I think. I think it is beautiful. I am going to hug it and kiss it.”
  But that was Eddie. When he was a child he used to dream about what it would be like to be a North American Indian say 1,000 years before the Pilgrims. Fitting in with that enormous nature, its rhythms! He'd find the soothsayer, the medicine man! Silence in the big woods! Hunt! So Eddie hugged the tree. Tom snickered, scratched his head.
  “Come on! Now you do it!”
  “No! Don't wanna!” Tom shouted. “Because I don't want to look like a freak.”
  But Eddie pushed him up against the tree, and Tom put up his arms and almost did it. Then he stepped away, adjusted the bill of his ball cap and headed back toward the van. Eddie laughed at him.
  “You're running away from the real thing, aren't you? Because you don't like it. Because you're scared.”
  “No I'm not! You're delusional.”
  Tom jumped in the van, slammed shut the door, retrieved his book.
  Eddie stood among the trees, sighed, because he had a long way to go before this day was done. Why did he so often look forward each day to a time when he was done and had nothing to do? So he could dream about hugging a tree.

A handsome young Oak, straight and tall.

A nice, youthful trunk for hugging.