Sunday, March 26, 2006

Circle the Wagons and Dance

The evening of 16 January 2004 I ran the few hundred meters up the hill to a friend's place for a casual get-together. It was raining quite delightfully—very "Texan": big, steady, heavy, but not cold and with water flowing up to my shins almost the whole way. I ran barefoot in somatic joy, my feet plunging through water—cool at top and warm at bottom—down to warm asphalt and then back with each step, while the breeze and rain and exertion caressed the rest of me. My friend was kind enough to take in stride my being soaked and on her couch.

The company and food were great. The conversation swooped and swerved pleasantly and rewardingly; the tone was a comfortable and friendly "light-hearted-but-sober-minded"; "a great time was had by all" and the evening was a smashing success.

Two years later I remember running in the rain far better and far more fondly than the party (my journal provides the impressions cited above). It seems I attend quite a few gatherings like this—light hearted affairs with a type of joy but nothing deep or permanent. The associated relationships are commitmentless except for remembering faces and names and being pleased to re-encounter.

I wonder how these casual acquaintances and meetings fit in with eternal joys.

Sometimes, on our way to Zion, we circle the wagons and have a dance. For the dance to "work" you need a certain number of folks having a good time, but it doesn't really matter who they are or whether you'll be anything to them tomorrow. Sometimes we are "fortunate enough to be never without partners, which was all that [we] ha[ve] yet learnt to care for at a ball" (Pride and Prejudice, I.3:15).

I have "learnt to care" for more. As I age I observe that polite society brings me less pleasure—or more precisely, that the inevitablness of separation tinges the pleasures of union. To my perception these soirées have become more nakedly a matter of being good sports and scratching each other's respective social itches; tomorrow we'll be elsewhere and still be good sports with social inclinations so we'll do it all again with whomever is around. The relationship joys I find in these scratchings are "real" as far as they go, but in the continuum of such joys, they are rather in the shallow end of the pool. I would swim in deeper water, and that requires a degree of permanence capable of transcending the accidents of time and place.

After 400 words I managed to say I want deeper friendships. Assuming I find them, what becomes of social acquaintancing? On the road to Zion we may circle the wagons and dance, but what about once we get there? Will we, on the other side, have casual get-togethers where it doesn't matter who is there (besides your spouse) as long as all are amenable to a pleasant event? It would seem that if there is a continuum of joys that a "fullness" would include the spectrum and not just the deep end, but maybe not. Will "casual" events disappear in favor of weightier matters? Will there even be anyone we only know casually?

Also: Of all the folks I meet "casually," with whom should I maintain contact? Do I brush them off as "not-family" and forget about them after the moment is over, singing, "On with the dance! let joy be unconfin'd; / No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet / To chase the glowing Hours with flying feet" and who cares if we are strangers in the morning? (Byron, "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage," III.23).

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