Friday, January 31, 2014

A Certainty of Tread




[Re-post from January 31, 2007.]

This is a very fine commentary on Thomas Merton. From Bob Lax’s journal dated July 24/69 (less than a year after Merton’s death). Jan 31 is Merton's birthday.  Born in 1915, he would be 99 years old today.  Almost as old as my Aunt Louise who is coming to visit next week and will be 100 in July.
it must be one thing to imagine what a guru is like, another to see one. seeing merton was little enough like seeing an imaginary guru. 
yet he had one quality, particularly in the last years, but even (to a large degree) from always, from even before he (formally) became a catholic: a certainty of tread. 
that might sound as though he plonk plonk plonked like a german soldier as he walked down the street. actually, he didn’t: he danced (danced almost like fred astaire: bang bang bang; or bojangles robinson, tappety bam bam bam) but he knew where he was dancing. 
he did walk with joy. he walked explosively: bang bang bang. as though fireworks, small & they too, joyful, went off every time his heel hit the ground. 
this was true when he was still in college. it was true when he was just out of college, and it was true the last time I saw him bang bang banging down a long hallway at the monastery. he walked wth joy; knew where he was going. 
first time I noted how he walked was on fifth avenue, near the park, in spring (late afternoon, I guess) as he came from somewhere uptown to meet me. bang bang bang. & that time I thought about fred astaire. 
did merton & I make any resolutions as young men? one (& it wasn’t tacit) was to talk simply. merton certainly succeeded in that, & got a lot said in simple (not simplistic) language. 
after merton became a catholic, was living & teaching at st. bonaventure’s, and was being fed good soups by the nice german nuns there, he was more determined to write simply, and about simple things: things they could understand & that would help them in their lives.

8 comments:

  1. This is sure an interesting way of noticing someone close to us: their tread. Merton's tread was lively, according to Lax, and I'd guess Merton's other movements were lively, too. Ralph Meatyard's photos of Merton show this liveliness and playfulness, a complement to Lax's words. "Certainty of tread" says something about Merton's direction toward wholeness, helping the rest of us in finding that direction, too, following along in the dance.

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    1. I think that deep down people know things that they don't necessarily know on the surface of life. Merton lived from that deep down place. It's interesting to me that Merton had a world-wide following of friends, people who caught his charisma. You're right, he helps us all to find that direction. He has certainly been a gift in my life. I don't know that I could find my way without him.

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    2. You remind me that I have to get back to those Meatyard photos, James. What Merton and Meatyard were attempting to capture/convey was definitely off the beaten path.

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    3. Meatyard surely was off the beaten path, I think, with his contributions to photography. The book Ralph Eugene Meatyard: An American Visionary is a good way to see the photos he made (several can be seen online), some a bit edgy. Interesting that the two, Meatyard and Merton, came together, the character of Merton and process of Meatyard fitting so well. Meatyard is one of my inspirations for work.

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    4. I can't quite get Meatyard. I know that he's onto something, and I have to look at the whole of the photo and not just a particular part. It seems that he's playing with light and shadows more than anything else.

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  2. What a fabulous post, Beth. Thank you. I love imagining Merton walking with joy. An inspiration for today and tomorrow :-)

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    1. Helps us to find our own step in the dance, doesn't it? :-)

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    2. "Walking with joy" sounds like a meditation in itself, mindfulness of step and movement, mindfulness of the dance; might be like a modified conga line with grateful thoughts.

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