Great stories touch on many themes and give us a long list of things that they could be said to be “about.” As I tell my students, if you think Moby-Dick is just about whale- hunting, you weren’t paying attention.
It came to me as I waited at the desk, thinking how to turn another scattered group toward the day’s work: I want a bell. Not the electric commands that drilled through our younger days,
not some jingly tinkle. No, something small but clear—a signal, a reminder, a request. After Christmas we went looking and my son found a pair of heavy, small brass disks joined
by a leather thong at the import place in town. They had eight raised symbols in a ring, some scratchy lettering inside. When he struck them the pure tone hung for seven seconds
in the air, shimmering and clean as the sun. Of course I bought them. Each day now I put them on the desk, try to keep them quiet. They want nothing but to ring. They desire not to join but to meet.
When it’s time I hold the thong close to each disk and strike them at right angles to each other, as I learned from a man who told me that their true name is tingsha, that in Tibet the monks strike them
when minds start to ramble. Inside, he told me, were the great and ancient words, Om mani padme hum. We might say: See the jewel in the heart of the lotus. He rubbed the symbols on the top: here
is the conch shell, he said, here the prayer wheel, the umbrella, the flower. The students smile each time I strike the chimes, hold them as the sound wavers, fades. It lasts such a long time.
Such a short time. And then we begin, teasing new sounds from the old tongue as we can, taking the next steps across the rocky plain, following the smoky thread on the horizon.
We fold out the map and it tells us where we might be. We study the compass and it offers some names. We open the timepiece and it says, Be quiet. Bring the chimes together.
This 1982 drama directed by Alan Parker is one of the great films of its decade—complex, adult, irresolvable, with a screenplay by Bo Goldman that poeticizes its characters’ anguish. Many of the lines stay in your head.
“I have been even as a man that hath no strength, free among the dead . . . Shall thy loving-kindness be showed in the grave?” —Psalm 88
Some days I feel as old as father Abraham, doddering father of a teen-aged daughter who last week attended her first “real” concert, at the crowded Aragon Ballroom in Uptown. When will my own days feel real again, the frozen clock hands begin to turn again? When will this chemical burning in the veins stop, and hope, perhaps, be recompensed? I wear this long wool coat against the cold that hurts me, covered with two scarves, my face covered to avoid any feeling of cobwebs, with their every thread feeling like a tiny razor blade slicing the skin. There is no ounce of benignity in this feeling. Maybe that is why the winter mask, last week found at Target, most accurately resembles a terrorist accessory, all black- hooded with eye slits. Were I to wear it, I would appear on campus like an ISIS recruit, no doubt a proud servant in his mind, clouded by the violence of the mission and sentence he honors. O the necessary horrors, those airstrikes occurring in the body’s battleground, leveled at the cells. If I were to wear the black hood, guise of a hangman (not the one hanged), I fear that campus security would target me, bucolic space locked down in emergency protocol. That’s all I would be: self-terrorist, strapped with the various wires of my sickness.
On the day the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal, Iowans Bob Vander Plaats and Donna Red Wing had a chance meeting and hugged one another—even though they are culture warriors on opposite sides of the same-sex marriage debate. Vander Plaats heads Family Leader, which supports traditional marriage; he believes Red Wing’s lesbian marriage is unnatural. Red Wing, head of One Iowa, an LGBT rights group, has called Vander Plaats “bigoted” and “cruel.” But a few years ago, at Red Wing’s initiative, the two met for coffee and struck up a friendship. Since then they have been trying to soften the rhetoric of their organizations while still sticking to their principles (Washington Post, July 4).