Departures

It so happens that some of my friends are moving away these days. There’s sadness around us, but also moments of powerful feelings. The last liturgy in which we participate together; the last meal we share together; the last time when we say, “see you tomorrow.” It so happens that all of these moments of life take on new meaning, and, even if these separations are not happy events, they still give life some genuine force.

With time, like all of us, I have gotten used to my own departures – moments in which I die a little. This proximity of death, though, makes everything around me live. The leaf that falls next to me vibrates its energy into my body; the driver who shows signs of impatience is, nevertheless, participating into this final day I have in this space, and so his memory will come with me forever, tainted with this feeling of longing that dresses everything I experience into a warm light of eternity.

Can you imagine if we lived every moment of life as if it were our last one? If I looked into the eyes of my wife as if it were the last time? If I sat around the table with my family as if it were our last dinner? If I opened the door for the cat to go out as it were the last time I did so?

And I remember Fr. Cleopa who, when asked what the greatest wisdom in life was, answered, “Death! Death! Death!” Or live life as if it were your last moment.

 

Advertisements
Posted in Orthodoxy, Philosophy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

An aching love

IMG_7339.JPG

 

Before I left Romania, I considered myself a citizen of the world. Once I left, I became the guy from Fagaras, my hometown. I’m not talking about how other people saw me, but rather about how I saw myself.

I live in the world and rejoice at its beauties, but I still bear the scars of my people. I bear their joys and sorrows. And I bear their history. My blood still boils when I remember Nusfalau, Treznea, or Fantana Alba (for those unfamiliar with the history of Romania, these are places where Romanians were massacred by neighboring armies). It’s just a fact. It is as if I am these pains, even prior to being this traveler that I currently am. I’m not saying that my people are greater than others, but there is no place in the whole world where my heart aches more; where my heart lives more.

At times, people tell me that I have no contact with reality. That Romania has become for me some sort of icon, and so I don’t perceive the real Romania, the one in which persons are treated by their governments as numbers (and, unfortunately, we got used to treat one another as numbers as well). And I think they are right: Romania has become an icon for me, but in a different sense: just like an icon makes the Kingdom somehow present, this icon makes me present. It connects me with myself.

I am in an airport, getting ready to leave again. In some sense, to live my earthly life. And still, why does it feel that I’m dying? Every time.

Posted in Romania | Tagged | 2 Comments

Constellations and Nationalism

 

Nationalism.jpg

Around 20 years ago, I was working at the French Cultural Institute in Bucharest. One day, wearing my ID, I reach the entrance door at the same time with an older man, probably in his late 70s. I stop and, smiling, I gesture towards him to go in first. But he changes his demeanor immediately, bows to an almost 90 degrees, and says, “Mais non, monsieur, après vous.” I was 22 years old. Someone close to his 80 bowed down before me because of my ID that indicated I was from another culture. I think it is an example of a situation in which a man believes that another man is his superior simply because he comes from a different culture. And, to my mind, such attitudes are also at the basis of hateful nationalist discourses.

However, and perhaps surprisingly so, I do not think humans are equal, and I think it is a good thing that they are not equal. Of course, I am not discussing the equality before the law or the nature of human beings which is manifested in the same way in all the members of our species. So I am not saying that anyone is more human than another. I merely point to the fact that for me humans are not equal. There is no person in this world who is equal to my son. There is no man in the world who can be my father other than my actual father, and there is no woman who can be my mother other than my mother. The same goes for my wife and my brothers. But it also applies to all the human beings I encounter: there is no other human being who can take the place of the person with whom I interact at any moment, unless I do not interact with a person, but rather with an object or with the function that a human can perform. If I go to a bank, for example, any employee can deposit a check into an account (so one may say “it’s all equal to me who does it”), but the personal connection that may be established between my eyes and the bank employee’s eyes is unique, irreplaceable, and makes the person who fulfills a job unequal to any others.

In personal relationships, equality is meaningless. The concept can not be applied. I think the same goes for nations. Even if, on one level, I can have various relationships with the people who share my nationality (I may love some, be indifferent to others, be angry at others etc.), there is something that connects me with them, something that makes us one. It is actually interesting how in personal relationships we always constitute one thing, a body, or I would call it a constellation. The constellation of my family lives only with certain human stars, and not with others. I may want to replace that “mean uncle” with someone else, but that would mean that I fully replace the constellation with a new one. I may also want to not have murderers or torturers in my nation, but there are such people, and being there they are also part of my body, of my constellation. So they are my torturers, different from those who commit similar acts in a different part of the world.

I have often read how people who suffered in prisons during communism say that it was an honor to suffer for their own people. Petre Tutea said that he did not want to say anything about the tortures that took place there because he did not want to bring shame on his own people.

It may seem at times that this love for one’s own nation stays at the basis of many conflicts. I think, however, that if it truly is love it can only be a reason for peace. I was born in a family, in a town, in a region, in a country. Each one of them, at different levels, constitute my own constellations, given to me as gifts. I have traveled and encountered people from different families, different towns, and different countries. Doing so, I interacted with other constellations. But I have always done it coming from my own–I am and I will die the child of Maria and Gheorghe, even if I am no longer the boy who was playing soccer on the field next to the hospital. I am and I will die a Romanian, even if I no longer live in that country and I speak and work in a different language. But all these interactions remind me of something: if the constellation of my country is to be beautiful on the sky of this world, it can only be so in connection with others. My love for those who are “mine” celebrates the difference of those who are also “mine” (all other people), but in a different sense. And this is rather because I am theirs, and they all live in me. But this is possible only as long people are not equal for me. If they were, there would be no constellations on the sky; there would be no beauty. Just uniformity and sadness.

The problem with the nationalist discourse, then, does not seem to be the love for one’s own country, but rather the understanding of love as hatred–a corruption of love. If the only way to love my country is to hate my neighbors, then I do not realize that, doing so, I have already lost my country. If nationalism is a problem, this is because people who love their countries as their own constellations do not find in the public space a discourse that can account for their love, and thus they fall into pride and darkness—which is just the other face of the same coin, if we consider the situation with the older man at the French Institute 20 years ago. What we need to remember is that we do not love our spouses by hating all other people, just as, by loving my wife, I do not hate all other women. But my wife is my wife, and her uniqueness stems from her personal relationship with me, just as my country’s uniqueness stems from my personal relationships with the people that share my culture.

 

Posted in Romania | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The journalist and the philosopher

IMG_6250.JPG

The journalist and the philosopher are both engaged in study. Journalists are trained to look at the world around them. They describe it, and they see its sins. And they become righteous.

Philosophers are trained to look at the world inside them, to forget their surroundings. They discover this world with fear and trembling. When they turn their gaze toward the world around them, they see in it the manifestation of their own sins. And they may become merciful.

Or maybe not.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Nursing students and being human

IMG_0472.JPG

Ready to fly. Photo Andrei

There is always a very humbling experience when I participate in a graduation or a pinning ceremony. This is not because I feel that I may have contributed in any way to the development of these students. In fact, I have not–and this is not modesty. The emotion that comes from these ceremonies has to do with something else: I have been a witness to a process of giving birth to beauty. And I emphasize: a witness. Of course, my colleagues and I were there: we had lectures, graded papers, got angry at times, rejoiced at other times, but we still were only witnesses. Active witnesses, but witnesses. Beauty was already present in these students. We may have checked the status of the pregnancy at times, helped them in one way or another, but the beauty in them was growing without our doing. The students who graduate have been through many things. There were times when they may have considered to give it up. But they went on, faithful to the beauty that they knew they had within themselves.

Life truly is a miracle. We often believe we have much power over it, but, fortunately for us, there are moments when we realize that life takes place beyond ourselves. Such a moment is a pinning ceremony, like the one in which I participated today: during it, students thank the ones who have been together with them in their journey–their witnesses. It is an exercise in giving thanks well. Eucharistia.

All of these students will become nurses. This means that they will give themselves to others so that they could bring them back to health, to beauty. If we respond to the suffering of another with our presence, our own suffering gains in dignity, because we become what we are, human beings.

To be a nurse is to be a birthgiver of beauty, and it is moving and humbling to witness it. In fact, to be a nurse, to live life in giving oneself to another, is what it is to be human. It is a fight against loneliness and for living in communion.

 Can you imagine what it means for a philosopher to witness a notion incarnated?
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Free style geometry or the happiness of soccer

IMG_3242.jpg

If death catches me on the soccer field, people can say that I died happy. I am fascinated with this sport, and I always lose myself in this activity–I become one with the happening, those people running geometrically but freely with a ball between two goals. I just got home from one game, and I barely breathe. I had taken an almost two months break from it-various things kept me away from the pitch–and, at my age, such break is felt in every cell of my body after a game. Still, the beauty of soccer–really, football for me–is bewildering.

It may well be that, beyond the pleasure of participating into an activity, what fascinates me is the free-style geometrical beauty of the sport. In soccer, everything is about triangles–I really wonder how come the sport seems to have been invented by the English and not by the Ancient Greeks or the Egyptians, the masters of geometry. 11 people–or 6, 7, or 8 in our old-boy games–move permanently (or to their abilities) to form triangles. Even if someone dribbles with the ball, he does it for nothing unless he is connected, at least potentially, with two other players from his team, in an imaginary triangle that, in its turn, is attached to some other triangles. After all, in a full team of 11 players, I can form 45 triangles at the same time (I let the mathematically inclined readers check my calculations). Can you imagine having 45 triangles in one’s mind while the points of these triangles are always in movement? And the beauty of it is that the 45 triangles themselves develop at every moment, because the players move, elongating or shortening the sides of the triangle. If one could always be aware of one’s triangles, one would truly be a genius on the field. And perhaps the best players of the world are so because of their capacities to form several free-style triangles at the same time in their minds.

Soccer is a game of constellations–it may be the reason why I feel I am in heaven when I play it. And if you think that the opposing team forms its own constellations, every player being at the same time part of 45 triangles (45 constellations), soccer becomes the world itself.  A geometrical heaven of free-constellations-triangles.

Posted in Soccer | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The thirds, nameless people for whom there is no song

Tavi's Corner

Many may be familiar with Taylor Swift’s song Style (I included a video of it below). I have listened to it many times, but it was only this morning that it made me wonder about something: how would “the other girl” feel when listening to it? I do not assume that the song is about real life; I just imagine how this conversation would sound in the third person’s ears.

There’s something very human in these verses: a mutual acceptance based on the understanding that we are made of the same stuff. The girl in the song says, “I heard that you’ve been out and about with some other girl.” The guy confesses: “What you heard is true, but I can’t stop thinking about you.” Nothing special, young people sorting out their relationship. But then the girl replies, “I’ve been there, too, a few times.”

Now there is something quite…

View original post 529 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Small gestures that save the world

IMG_0205.JPG

Photo by Andrei.

 

I read once that people have done experiments with flowers. They researched how flowers respond to love. Apparently, when the plants “hear” nice words and probably good vibrations, they develop more fully and more beautifully than when they are not given attention. But one does not need to consider flowers. It is sufficient to look at children. Surround them with conflicts, and they will often grow with insecurities. They will not trust those around them, and they may often not trust themselves. Or pressure them to achieve success, give them the impression that their worth depends on their professional achievements, and they may often be unable to genuinely relate to themselves or to other human beings.

Love them, and somehow they will be well. In love, they experience something: they discover themselves in relationship with others and see how their worth is not in achieving something for themselves, but it rather flows continually from the relationships they have.

I think there is a sense of freedom that surrounds people who have been loved. They have already “achieved” what is “priceless”: a freely given love which they have experienced without having done anything to deserve it. It’s not that they no longer work. They do, but they do it in freedom, in manifesting what they already are: co-creators of their world. But they are not the masters of this world. While responsible for it, the world does not begin and end with them. They know love already precedes them. And, to the best of their abilities, they give way to it, so they allow it to manifest in them as well.

What am I then doing when I do not love? I contribute to the taste of this bitter world, giving me the “opportunity” to feel superior when I complain about it. And doing so I lose me. I become the mighty judge, in his ivory tower, looking upon the world and being dissatisfied with it. I am utterly alone, for there is no connection that deserves me. I am deprived of love by my own doing. I contemplate the beauty of my world, the beautiful ivory tower that is adorned with my perceived virtues: one would rightly call this place hell. For my “virtues” that “stink before the Lord,” as the main character from the movie The Island says, blind me from the fact that everything good that is manifested in me precedes me and it cannot be achieved by me. There is no love when there is only one. One in one’s ivory tower has already separated oneself from the world, and so from life.

So “love your children,” I would say, but I know that forced love is not love. “Give yourself up,” I would say, but I know that imposing dogmas on another or oneself ends up in transforming our world in ivory towers. But still, even if a nice gesture may not come from me naturally, I would hope I would still do it. The memory of a small candy given to a child without any accompanying lesson may stop him or her from who knows what terrible act in the future. Dostoevsky is a master in portraying this: the small gestures one receives in one’s life, gestures that stem from love and which remain with one as a beacon of light in darkness.

I have mentioned this paragraph in the past, but I feel as I need to do it here as well. It comes from the ending of the Brothers Karamazov:

No matter how wicked we become–which, God grant, we may never be–when we recall how we buried Ilyusha, how we loved him in these last days, and we talked together by this stone with such closeness and affection, then even the cruelest and most cynical among us–if such there be–will not dare to mock the kindness and goodness of this moment! Moreover, that memory alone, perhaps, will restrain that person from some great wickedness, and he will think about it and will say, ‘Yes, I was good then, I was brave and honorable.’ He may still ridicule it inwardly–that doesn’t matter, people often make fun of what is kind and good; that’s only frivolity–but I assure you, boys, that even as he mocks he will immediately say in his heart, ‘No, I was wrong to mock, because one should not make fun of that!'”

The small gestures that save the world.

Posted in Dostoevsky, Orthodoxy, Philosophy | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Christ is risen!… Now… what?

Tavi's Corner

 

Today is the Sunday of the Resurrection for Orthodox Christians. It comes at the end of the Holy Week, the most beautiful period of the entire year. Its beauty stems precisely from the Sunday that comes at its end, because you live every moment in view of the Resurrection. It is a tiring and very emotional week; with every Bridegroom service, every Presanctified Liturgy, with the Holy Unction of Wednesday, the washing of the feet, the Last Supper, the lowering from the cross and the Lamentations of Friday, you walk with Christ on an excruciating path. Even if you spend hours upon hours in church, I don’t know of a more productive week, and I truly believe this is so because, although you may believe you walk with Christ, it is He who walks with you. Participating in the act in which God glorifies himself, on the cross (!!!)…

View original post 495 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

I Am a Nobody for Whom Someone Is On a Cross

Tavi's Corner

When I was a child, my aunt took me one day to a monastery close to where I lived: the monastery at Sambata de Sus, Romania. A blind monk lived there, Father Teofil; he had fame among people. Some were saying that he had clairvoyance and that he sensed characters, seeing what people did. I was really afraid because of that. I was a child, but there was something of which I was ashamed. I do not remember what it was, but I clearly know that I did not want my parents to find out. I went to the monastery wondering how much this monk would see through me. In fact, I did not want to go there and I did not want to see him. Of course, I did not confess my fear to my aunt–why would a good Christian boy be afraid of going to a monk?–but I…

View original post 606 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment