Monday, August 31, 2015

exposure to annihilation


It was what I often felt before running an operation in public.  No matter how many times I had been through the very same operation in the past, under the very same conditions, those feelings of fear were always present and strong, instead of absent or at least weaker, as I had expected them to become over time.  Then, one day, I stumbled upon the following words:
Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.
At that instant, I was in love.  In love with these words.  I believed that they spoke the truth, albeit in a rather poetic manner.  After all, they expressed what I had experienced over and over again ‒ the fear of being exposed when I was about to launch an operation and the fear of getting annihilated afterwards, metaphorically speaking.  Yet in the end, it was quite the opposite, because I usually felt empowered as a result of my actions. Sometimes, the feeling went beyond empowerment ‒ it bordered on invincibility.  But only for a moment, naturally.

I had long attributed the words to Pema Chödrön, who wrote them in her book, "When Things Fall Apart".  It was only a few weeks ago that I learned that she may have been quoting Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, who had included the words in his book "The Way of Transformation".  So I went looking for the source and discovered the passage below.  Nothing but love.
The man, who, being really on the Way, falls upon hard times in the world will not, as a consequence, turn to that friend who offers him refuge and comfort and encourages his old self to survive. Rather, he will seek out someone who will faithfully and inexorably help him to risk himself, so that he may endure the suffering and pass courageously through it, thus making of it a 'raft that leads to the far shore.' Only to the extent that man exposes himself over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible arise within him. In this lies the dignity of daring.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

journée presque parfaite

I had hoped for a good day, but I was not expecting it to be that good.  I mean, this is a post that was not meant to happen.

It all started on Monday morning in Paris, on my way to work.  I took the metro, getting the opportunity to interact with a few commuters via Operation Metro.  Albeit startled (who wouldn't be?), they smiled and returned the "Bonjour!" when I greeted them.  The best part was that I had wasted no time before I got into the act.  I had not asked myself whether or not to do it, if people were already watching me or were going to watch me, or how weird it was going to be.  With an intense focus, I had simply jumped in and created the interactions that I had set out to create.  Afterwards, I picked up where I left off in my book of the moment: "Ces impossibles Français", Chapter 5, "Au rendez-vous des libertins".  I coasted for the rest of the ride.  My mind was at ease.

After the morning spent at work, I got back on the metro during lunch break.  I had decided to finish scouting Jardin des serres d'Auteuil, a botanical garden within a major greenhouse complex.   I had visited the garden for the first time only the evening before, to determine if it was a suitable location for a future sketcher outing.  Since I had to take three different metro lines to get there, I had three chances to run Operation Metro.  Yay!  Of course, I had my usual anxieties about deciding to stand out among passengers in the metro, but for the most part, I was looking forward to the opportunity.  By the time I got out at Porte d'Auteuil, the closest station to the garden, I had scored only two out of three points for the operation.  Why?  Because on the second leg of the trip, I had interactions that were more involved ‒ and more interesting.

Waiting for the metro at Charles de Gaulle - Etoile to begin this remarkable second leg, I noticed a very pretty girl standing nearby.  Then I noticed that the backpack that she was carrying was partially open.  Which provided an opening for me to go talk to her.  She was accompanied by another girl, but that was secondary.  If I hesitated for a second before approaching her, it was because I was busy appreciating this unexpected opportunity to accomplish Operation Insecurity.  Eventually, I went over.  I said "Bonjour", and followed with "Votre sac est ouvert" ("Your bag is open").  She verified it, smiled and said "Merci", and I left to return to the spot where I was waiting before.  Great.  Wait, I left?

The only thing that saved me from self-torture after this "hit-and-run", as my friend Sophie would say, was another interaction that took place in the metro after it had arrived and I had entered.  Mind you, I was still in Operation Insecurity mode, so I needed to approach another attractive girl to conclude.  As a result, Operation Metro was no longer applicable, and it got suspended momentarily.  In the metro, there was a pretty woman seated at a certain distance in front of me (I was standing).  She had a small backpack on her lap on which it was written "Keziah".  After the customary hesitation, I dodged a couple of passengers in order to reach her.  "C'est pour Keziah Jones ce sac ?" ("Is that Keziah Jones' bag?"), I asked, referring to the Nigerian singer and guitarist who actually became well-known in France for performing in the Paris metro.  "Non", she replied with a smile.  "Il est à mon fils" ("It's my son's").  I developed the Keziah joke some more and a conversation ensued, about the origin of the name, French and English languages, and the like.  In the process, she complimented my supposed French sans accent, whereas I did the same on her English (she was Congolese).  I found it even amusing that she asked me which French words tended to reveal my accent when I said them.  I admitted that some words with the "r" were problematic, and she inquired whether the "l" was also an issue.  I thought about it.  Indeed, my colleagues, all francophone, had once teased me during a meeting when I had said "les rules" (in a French manner), a word that had both "r" and "l" in it.  But I digress.  Eventually, the lady had to get off and thanked me for an enjoyable chat.  What she probably did not know was that I was just as thankful, if not more.

Scouting the garden (after I had eventually made it there) was blissful, just as the day before.  I took the opportunity to explore other areas and to ask the woman working at the entrance about picnic spots and restroom access.  But what really gave me the thrill, just like the day before, was standing on the border of Roland Garros complex, which is literally across the street from the garden.  I walked up this street on my way back to the metro station, gazing at parts of the rounded exterior of Court n° 1 that were not hidden from view by metallic bars and trees.  I was particularly drawn to the surface at the top of the court, on which there was a long series of names inscribed for successive years.  Names like G. Kuerten.  S. Graf.  M. Seles.  A. Agassi.  V. Williams.  S. Williams.  M. Navrátilová.  J. Henin.  R. Federer.  And R. Nadal, over and over again.  I imagined myself linked to these champions, appreciating the moment of being close to the history of the French Open beyond newspaper articles and television and computer screens.

I made the trip back to work via metro, bus and tram and the afternoon passed by.  The next delicious moment happened on my way out of the building.  When I got into the elevator to get to the ground floor, I was the only person.  I wondered if the elevator would stop at an intermediate floor.  And it did.  And then I wondered if the person about to enter would be male or female.  With a slight amount of nervousness, I hoped that the person would be not only female, but solitary as well.  And the person was.  She entered.  I said "Bonjour", she said "Bonsoir" in response.  As usual in these circumstances, I scolded myself for not using the appropriate greeting for the evening.  Yet I was too focused on this rare occasion to care much about appropriate greetings.  When the doors of the elevators closed, I turned to the lady and asked, "Vous venez ici souvent ?" ("Do you come here often?")  She replied, in a more or less serious manner, "Mais je travaille ici" ("Well I work here").  We both stared at each other for a brief moment, her facial expression more puzzled than mine.  An awkward silence set in.  We still faced each other, but we no longer had eye contact.  I noticed a faint smile on her face nonetheless.  A guy got in at a lower floor, but that did nothing to change the vibe.  On the ground floor, the woman got out of the elevator, then out of the building.  I lagged behind, reflecting on what had just transpired.  Needless to say, I was glad about it.  A bit troubled, but glad.

Since it was rush hour, I decided to try out Operation Rush Hour before entering the metro to go home.  I was already out on the street, and the lady from the elevator was nowhere to be found (even though I was not necessarily looking for her).  I spotted a group of three girls coming my way.  Hesitation.  Then I spoke to the closest one as I passed her.  "Bonjour, le mois d'août, vous passez vos vacances où en général ?" ("Hello, in August, where do you usually spend your vacation ?")  "Rwanda", she said.  Here was a reply, and even a reaction, that I had not expected.  In fact, I was expecting a mild form of repulsion (which only goes to show my comfort level with this type of activity).  But no, I was talking with a group of Rwandan girls.  We (they and I) got to know a little about each other, but it did not mean much since we dispersed within the minute.  Later on, I came across a woman who I found older and less attractive than the Rwandans but attractive nonetheless (call me a bit desperate), and stopped to quiz her on when the next public holiday was.  The ideas that I have sometimes.  But she was quite agreeable and played along.  Each time (out of two) that she suggested a holiday that fell on a weekend, I contested her response, saying that it did not count.  So we reached a conclusion that the next real holiday was on November 11, otherwise known as the anniversary of the signature of the armistice that ended World War I in 1918.  We then separated and I completed my journey to the metro, where I did not hesitate to run Operation Metro once more.  Pure joy.

Back at home, I announced an upcoming group outing to Jardin des serres d'Auteuil on the Paris Sketchers website.  I also wrote a first draft of this very blog post.

And to think that these events happened because I decided at each instant to take responsibility for loving myself.

May the most of the following days be similar, or simply presque parfaites.