Nicht Wahr?

A student writes, “My biological mother...saw me for a few seconds after birth. I never felt her touch”. Her father abandoned both of them, and left her with no history and no heritage to build upon.


On a table in a photograph by Daniel Gustave Kramer lies a closed book, the Euserbius Manuscript, stored in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. It contains a chronology, perhaps the first, of the history of mankind, from Eve in the Garden to the year AD 378 when the manuscript was released. We can't touch it, for it is a photograph and therefore untouchable except at a remove. It seduces us with a history that we cannot open and cannot read, the story of one-by-one of us who vanished “in the stream of everything.”


Philip Guston created a painting called “If This Be Not I”.


We are drawn together as individuals in an eternal search for the Why of I. From the ancient Greeks to the prime beef soldier lads slogging through Afghanistan, we ask the same questions and hear the same echoes of silence.

Some of us tread carefully in life, not wanting to disrupt the molecules in the air around us. Ivan Dabrowsky, the artist known as John Graham, warned us against that frigid decorum. You will only, he said, “stampede yourself in a teacup.” Others react like the painter Robert Motherwell, who said, 'It is not always possible to muffle the shriek that lies deep inside everyone”.

The search for answers to these profoundly disturbing questions obsesses the artists, the sensitives, the geniuses among us. Lawrence Shainberg, in a New York Times piece called “Finding the Zone”, quotes this anecdote from “Zen in the Art of Archery”, by Eugen Herrigel:

“When attacked by his Master for being too willful, Herrigel said, 'How can the shot be loosed if I do not do it?'

'It' shoots.

And who or what is this It?

Once you have understood that you will have no further need of me.”

Yet somehow we persevere. As we evolve into traces of lost moments, infinitesimal fragments of dissipated time, we manage to find joy and let our souls touch. Andre Breton phrased it, “the field of the wonderful.”

So to the despairing student I say: In the moment of conception, a sperm and an egg reached out to each other, were drawn irresistibly together, passionately and instantly felt the need to create a new life. You are that new life, and you are the result of a deep and abiding life force. The rest is superfluous – what humans do with their desires, their hungers, their needs and their greeds. Of course you felt your Mother's touch, for nine months of exquisite intimacy. No one can take that away from you. Think of yourself as a spark of energy, as truth in the making. And make that truth into what you want it, and yourself, to be.

You can choose to shriek in a teacup or flail like a sparrow in a hurricane, as the Pop song says. Or you can think, like Robert Lanza M.D., that even though consciousness may vanish, time itself reboots. “You can't put time in a jar”, he says. In other words, it won't be bound in a zealot's box or a politician's slogan. Perhaps, echoing Jackson Pollock, we are all “in” God's painting and we pass the canvas on to those who follow. But simply because you were, I am. And because I am, others will be. And we leave behind us traces of unfolding tomorrows, all touched by the strokes we make today. As Hans Hoffmann told his students, “Nicht Wahr?”. Is it not so?

c. Corinne Whitaker 2010