Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pain can occlude . . .

Yesterday I ordered a small gelato, half hazelnut and half some sort of chocolate (donatella). I noted to my sister that the hazelnut didn't have any flavor, to which she responded that that was because the chocolate had overpowered it.

I thought about this later on in the day. Why had I ordered two flavors? Wouldn't one flavor always overpower the other? Was it possible to get two strong flavors that didn't mute or diminish each other? Sure I could have cleansed my palette in between eating one flavor and the other, but that wasn't the point: the point was to enjoy two flavors simultaneously.

The same principle holds true in other areas: the pain of a cut finger gets wiped out by the pain of a migraine. Sure, that first, smaller pain still exists, but it becomes imperceptible when the greater pain washes through our system.

This principle of one thing overpowering and/or occluding another also occurs beyond the boundaries of sameness. In other words, pain isn't always occluding other pain. One gelato flavor isn't always overpowering another flavor. Sometimes, physical pain stops our ability to feel, spiritually. Sometimes, the swelling in our body occludes the entry of enlightenment. And sometimes the resultant frustration further occludes the connection we so desperately seek and need.

Maybe faith is the power that helps us remember (or trust that we once felt and will again feel) the connections that are temporarily made imperceptible by pain.

Tonight I wish I were as Annie Dillard . . .

An Annie Dillard paragraph is like the cosmos: both wondrous and natural, both vast and small in scale, both esoteric and exoteric, simultaneously.

How does she write both so naturally and so brilliantly at the same time?

(Incidentally, dILLArd and brILLiAnt share a lot of the same letters, and if you mirror the initial lowercase d in dillard, you get a b. And if you move the r, you get even closer to finding dillard within brilliant: brill_a_ _.)

Dillard observes closely, yes. And she makes insightful connections, yes. But there's something more to her brilliance. Is it raw intelligence? (I hesitate to say raw, because her intelligence oviously supercedes a gift. She has honed it, practiced it, stretched it, and shared it.)

At any rate, Dillard makes intelligence seem as natural as taking a walk or eating "two eggs over easy."

I wish it were that easy.

Note: I am reading Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters by Annie Dillard. I'm skipping around in the book, but so far I really liked the first paragraph of "Total Eclipse" and sections V. and VI. of "Teaching a Stone to Talk."