Anna gave me a painting of two trees
(thinking, I guessed, of Kahlil Gibran’s image
of marriage, two trees growing together,
swaying and blowing together in the wind,
two trees, not one tree – she said Yes)
two trees in a sloping meadow, the side of a hill,
the grass all around them yellow and parched.
Late summer, then. The year going by. The years.
One day they’ll chop those two trees down.
First one, I wonder, then the other? Or both
on the same day? I know that is not what he meant
but I would not like to be the one tree
left in that painting, the one tree left
sighing and trembling, leafless, in the winter wind.
Nor – even more so – would I wish that for her.
When the day comes – for this is no Grecian urn –
let it be two trees that are cut
down, cut up, whatever, two trees
still, though trees no more. A pile of logs
in the middle of a field. And atop the logs
two birds – a pair of jackdaws – rubbing noses.
When you were ill I feared that you would die.
I held you as we sped along the road,
Siren blaring, held you when the push
And jerk of bored and tired porters threatened
To overset you, sat and held your hand
When you at last lay back, breathed out, and slept.
Time passed – tick – tick – and I too slept,
Slept as I now wish one day to die,
Easily, in my chair, your hand
In mine. Then woke at dawn. Outside on the road
Clouds hold back the day, rain threatens.
Soon the shifts will change, some nurse will push
Me out. I gaze, observe the suck and push
And suck, and suck, of your laboured breathing. You slept,
Now you are calm. What will they do? Death threatened.
Or was it life that threatened? When we die,
Blake said, we are born out of this death: the road
Does not come to an end. Upon your hand
The line of life leads on but vaguely. My hand
Has clear straight lines, lines that push
Up onto the fingers, mark out the road
I tried to read on your hand while you slept,
The road that I must follow till I die.
Your road. Once, more than once, you threatened
To leave me. You did not mean it. I too have threatened
In fury, but when you gave me your hand
And promised to stay with me until we die
I believed though I’d been given the push
So often, seen the door close, slept
Outside the door or on the open road.
And I don’t mean figuratively. Door and road
Were real. Only I was not. Was threatened
As a passing ghost might be. I slept.
Years went by. Now I hold your hand
And watch your lips and hear the suck and push.
It was always me in some sense playing I die.
Outside the road awaits. I kiss your hand,
Feel the push of little veins threatened
By life. I learnt to die while you slept.
The Fool is actually the Soul stepping into the unknown at the moment of reincarnation. And I do mean the unknown. I do not subscribe at all to the view that the discarnate soul chooses (in any sense) its own next incarnation.
Nor do I subscribe to the notion that there is justice in the sense of punishment involved – punishment for sins committed in a previous life.
Is Karma then simply a matter of cause and effect? What goes around comes around? In any one life – in this life – if you smoke too much, you might get lung cancer. On the other hand, you might not. And someone who doesn’t smoke might. Reckless drivers can live to a ripe old age, while careful drivers are killed every day on the roads – often by those same reckless drivers, who themselves emerge unscathed.
And from life to life? If we were smokers or reckless drivers, there is no reason whatsoever to think we will suffer the consequences of that in a subsequent life. But if we did in fact die as a result of a car-crash or lung-cancer, in which we might very well be reincarnated with a fear of fast driving or an aversion to cigarette smoke.
In the same way that a fear, an aversion – even a full-blown phobia – might accompany us into a new life, so might guilt. And this what might seem at first glance to be some form of justice or punishment. But we don’t suffer from guilt, in this life or a subsequent one, if we don’t feel guilty. A Hindu who eats some beef, even accidentally, may be consumed by guilt; may believe that he will be reborn as a cow – or as a pig or a dog. May in fact be reborn as a cow or a pig or a dog, I suppose. But I believe he would be much more like to be reborn as a human with a horror of eating beef (or perhaps any meat) even if not now Hindu.
This is where we must decide what we mean by “sin” and the significance of a guilty conscience. Eating beef, for that Hindu and all those hundreds of millions like him, is a “sin”. We can all think of countless other examples deeds considered “sins” at various times in history and in different parts of the world today. “Sins” vary from culture to culture and even from era to era. Guilt, then, is subjective. What I might feel guilty about, you might not, and vice-versa.
A little poem here:
Not because you think you’re very clever – perhaps you are –
and not because you never keep your word, filling the air with empty balloons full of promises,
but because you let the flowers die.
Like Love, Guilt is personal, not universal, and feelings of guilt not subject to any “laws of nature”.
But is there anything that is always and everywhere considered a “sin”? Possibly everyone everywhere would consider matricide a sin. Note the way Orestes is pursued by the Furies after he kills his mother in revenge for her killing of his father.
What I am getting at here is that while perpetrators of atrocities like genocide and human-trafficking might very well never suffer from a guilty conscience, and such monsters (in our view) as the torturers and heretic-burners of the medieval Inquisition and the present-day ISIS might sincerely believe they were/are doing the will of God/Allah, anyone at all who kills his own mother, for whatever reason, is bound to be condemned, not only by society but by his own conscience.
Guilt is only one aspect of Karma, one relatively minor part of the baggage we bring with us (see that bag the Fool is carrying?) when we step out once more into the unknown. (This is an archetypal image, and must be what John Bunyan had in mind when he gave Pilgrim that burden to bear on his pilgrimage through life.) In that bag, too, are Love and Hate along with traumas like the ones I mentioned earlier. But more of that, and of this whole subject, in other posts still to come …