dystatic's documentation for a recent mail art show arrived today. The documentation was really cool--a little oblong booklet, bound with a simple Acco clip, with photos of the art enwrapped in pages of scientific content. My own contribution, a curious combination of an opaque corruplast card, a transparent corruplast card, and play dough sandwiched in between to serve as "chemicals" within the sketched beakers, looked almost good when rendered as photos in the documentation. Other contributions were positively breathtaking, and all were entirely in earnest, even when satiric.
As is the way of such things, though, my mind's eye did not linger long on the "art" of it all, and certainly not at all on the technique of it all. Instead, I started to ponder this notion of chemistry. I was reminded last weekend of a man who was abruptly moved from a PhD program to an accomplished master's in chemistry through the simple expedient of blowing up the laboratory one time too many. But I don't mean that kind of chemistry at all. I mean
Because most of us are easily infatuated creatures, we all are all too familiar with the chemistry that arises from physical attraction to someone. I remember the first two times I was in the throes of this incredibly chemical reaction. Heaven can hold no such pleasure--Hell can hold no such heat. This form of 'chemistry' has an importance, but it does not concern me here. After all, this sort of thing is intensely hormonal and pheronomic and reminds me of that illegal drug folks took a few years ago, in which one used a little smelling-salt-like beaker to get a quick rush. The problem is that the rush fades. It's like a dangerous magick--inflamed, alchemical, transmuting lead into gold--but the magick wears off! If the underlying metal is base, then the entire reaction proves to create only dross.
I'm also not as interested in that fellow feeling that results when a friendship utterly "makes sense". I remember once being in a college church group, when one of the participants unhappy with the group's camaraderie pointed out that his hockey team back home was much more close-knit than ever the church group had been. In some ways, this was an effective rebuke. In other ways, though, I found the logic of this position flawed. It's easy to like people with common interests, common goals, and common outlooks. But this sort of scientific matching of similarities is less a mark of genuine closeness than a mere alignment of the tinkertoys. I find nothing wrong with friendships among identical people, of course--I have many friends who are not altogether different from me, as much as I like to think that gurdonark is utterly unique, and perhaps even weird in a very good way. But this sort of friend is not really my topic today.
Instead, I am intrigued by the chemistry of soul which arises although neither hormones nor logic dictates that it should appear. I have presumptuously titled this "soul chemistry", but neither the first word label nor the second word metaphor is entirely accurate. Sometimes one meets someone who bears no possibility as a lover, a co-parent, a leader, a follower, a helper, a family member or any of the other whimsical or logical roles in which people "serve us" in our lives. Once in a while
we just meet people with whom we connect, in ways we don't understand, for reasons we cannot explain, and without defined goal.
How often does life become a matter of acquisition? We interact with boss and subordinate, merchant and client in a world in which economic and "small p" politics are everywhere--advantages gained, advantages lost. We seek out affection or warmth or reassurance or release or ways to act out our private melodramae in dozens of relationships we form and break throughout our lives. We have a permanent family, to which we sometimes add or subtract, which serve all sorts of rooting functions for us. Nothing is particularly wrong with any of that--it is the lubricant that makes our life wheel turn.
But I think tonight of friends I have known, some close, some less than close, in whom the only sympathy or likeness we have had is merely the means of connecting our thoughts, one with one. I think of long drives and midnights in pancake houses. I think of telephone calls that last a million years. I think of people whom I never kissed and never will kiss, people with whom I've shared no intimacy at all. I think of people wholly dissimilar to myself, but people with whom I have shared a moment. I am not sure about literal heavens and figurative hells. But I am sure about moments when ideas connect. I'm sure of that feeling when, just for 60 instants, someone understands.
If I have a "culture rant", it is that our culture now lauds sensation over all things. Even the word "love" acquires a physicality--it's eros or philios all too often, agape never enough. I think that in this world in which we are all a bit desperate and misunderstood, it is sad that insight and understanding are less prized than a hundred more immediate and less lasting rewards. We live in a time of seekers after arcane mysteries, when all the mysteries reside in the pupils of a listener's eyes. I'm not arguing for a mind/soul/body connection, as I think the distinction is only rhetorically useful. I'm certainly not arguing that love and family and infatuation and intimacy are unimportant. I'm just saying that in this time we prize a form of emotions we call "love" so highly, but we don't
cherish "understanding" nearly enough. The founder of the Baha'i faith said that "the earth is one country and mankind its citizens", but all too often we live as if we were all individual citizens of little islands, satisfied only by emotion.
I write tonight, to put in a quiet word for what I'll call "soul chemistry". Soul chemistry is the concoction by which two people
with no particular reason or compulsion to do so somehow link in some way imposing obligation on neither. It's not about physical or economic or familial or power sharing or exploitation. It's just when two people can speak to one another, and really "get" each other. It's a form of friendship based not at all on greed or lust or need. It's based on the communion of two saints. Sometimes, it's true that other relationships grow out of this beginning. But I celebrate the fact that a friendship struck based on sympathy of mind alone is a tremendously valuable thing in and of itself.
In my life, I have had a handful of situations in which this peculiar "soul chemistry" has arisen. The result of such evenings and moments did not provide me with physical release, or material comfort, or a meaningful advance of my goals. The product of this chemistry is merely a look of deep insight, a live-wired mind, and endless conversation less notable for its "achievements" than for its interconnection. I have never gained anything by this. Like Faust, though, I would trade my soul to achieve it. For it is this type of "love" which is, in the words of the Corinthians letter, truly patient and kind, asking nothing, seeking nothing, and trying to avoid seeking its own way. But rather than that freighted word "love", I will choose another word--I choose "understanding". All of my alchemy and all of my logic and all of my inmost dreams seek to understand, and to be understood. Odin proferred an eye for wisdom, the myth says, but what price would one pay to be understood? What price would one pay to understand? I want my friendships to be less about making sense, and more about making a connection.