Elegant Union (John Clark Smith) - 5

John Clark Smith
A Novel by John Clark Smith

 

12

 

Gretchen was combing her long blonde hair when she heard the knocking. She went to her door and opened it.

“Charity again,” Lazan said.

Aaron Lazan walked gingerly around the room with a cane. A bent over figure, a face layered with wrinkles and a slow gait, he had the demeanor of a slave who had been beaten down for years rather than the esteemed professor at the university students knew.

“Wang or phantoms?” Gretchen answered in a thick southern accent.

“Both.”

“Who?”

“Kropotkin and two others. Wang’s in the corner.”

“Who told you?”

“Fischer.”

“Really?” Gretchen said. “Now why would he do that?”

Lazan stopped and stared at a group of photographs over the fireplace of Gretchen with various people.

Gretchen smiled when she saw him looking at the photographs. None of the photographs was real. She was setting up her space with objects to imitate what someone her age would have.

“Things aren’t going according to plan,” Gretchen said, combing her hair again at her vanity and putting on her make-up. “The phantoms are brow beating him at the Charity Café.”

“Do plans ever go as planned?” Aaron said flippantly, staring at her large print of “The Garden of Delights” by Bosch. “I’ve done my best. I’ve groomed him--”

“--no you haven’t,” Gretchen interrupted, lowering her tone to a gravelly sound. “Ketkar went from being a conservative uninvolved college professor with deep spiritual roots, with no interest in politics or activism or anything but academic stuff—a fine state to learn about existence—to someone who wants to hide. That was not the plan. He was on his way to…well, never mind. But I should never have used you. You lost your grip on existence, and I should’ve removed you. I should’ve known. But Titus entered the continuum. I needed you. But you complicated things with this Charlotte business. மனிதர்கள்!”[1]

“Oh, come on,” he said. “She’s unimportant. Titus is--”

Gretchen stood up from her vanity and marched over to a few inches from his face. Aaron moved back with a look of fear.

“--no one’s unimportant! Actions determine importance. You disrupted her existence on the continuum. Look at me! You bullied and molested her and you still don’t get it. You forced her to comply. You tried to manipulate her existence. Fortunately for you, reality rescued her and she’s fine. And you’re a phantom!”

Gretchen went to the closet to get her coat.

“I’m going to Charity,” she said. “I want you to clean up this business before you’re ambushed by Fischer or Wang. You don’t want either of them to see you. You have a chore. Please seal the holes. If Fischer or Wang sees you, there may be consequences because they despise those who disrupt existence.”

“I’ll get it done.”

“And what is that chore?”

“Deal with my existence,” he said.

“And how are you going to do it?”

“I’m not sure.  But I have a few ideas.”

“You’d better. Fischer and Ratanna are watching. Ratanna may be retired, but she is no less potent.”

“Who are Fischer and Ratanna?”

“None of your concern. Stop shooting at the fabric of the universe. I’m sick of it. It’s you, not the universe, who gets hit. This is your chance. Remember: The bees are watching. Fix your existence. Keep your head on what is happening. Years ago, your job was to keep him there until I say. Now push him out. Do it!”

“Wang?”

“Wang has his own responsibilities.”

“Oriana. She’s a chameleon. Where did she come from? His yin.”

Gretchen shook her head as she put on her coat.

“You know what?” Gretchen said. “Pay attention to your own job. Don’t care about Oriana or Fischer or Wang or any of them. Titus and others you affected are your concern. I want you to read the story of Nineveh again so you think how you’re going to deal with your mistakes. How is this transformation for you going to happen? Or will another, more painful, stage be necessary? There are many states of existence, trust me. Wake up.”

 

13

 

Titus sat at one of the booths at the Charity Cafe. He had been sitting alone, enjoying his beer, when Jean-Paul Marat, Louise Michel, Alice Paul, and Peter Kropotkin ambushed him.

Titus had now reached the point, after several bouts of meditation, where he could ignore the incongruities and extraordinary events. He knew what was happening and expected it. Hexagram twelve of the Yi Jing said so. Heaven and earth are separate. Philosophy was his recourse. It all was a part of a continuum in the wider expanse of the universe. It was a frame of mind, not an explanation, and it consoled him. It had a purpose. He belonged to the purpose. Bring together heaven and earth. Reality was drawing him away from existence. He had to allow this to happen, even if he worried he would return to that discontent again, the same disorder from which he had escaped, the failure to unite with what he called ‘the soul of the universe.’

The phantoms had a bundle of questions.

“Now! How are you organized?” Michel asked. “Have you rallied the women?”

“Do you have a way to communicate to the people,” Marat wanted to know. “You have to be their voice.”

“We have to set up a large protest in front of all the major legislative buildings,” Paul suggested.

“What will you do about the hunger for power in human nature?” Kropotkin said. “You have to consider re-education. How will you manage the society once it’s done? Think in terms of mutual aid.”

“You don’t have much time,” Michel pointed out.

“Here, I have laid out the first edition of the paper,” Marat said. “Why not call it ‘The Cry of the People’? The people need to be heard.”

Their enthusiasm for transforming the society and human habits and beliefs invigorated him and shrouded for the time that they were phantoms. He knew they had emerged from reality and Gretchen. 

“Not sure I have your energy or enthusiasm right now,” Titus said. “I know there’s injustice and inequities, but--”

“--you stood up for the students, didn’t you?” Michel said harshly. “That’s what they were after. That was the start.”

“You care about the rights and needs of the people, don’t you?” Kropotkin asked.

“Do you want things to stay as they are?” Marat added.

“You need to form an organization to lobby the power centers,” Paul said.

“What about your speech?” Michel added. “Only the mind of a revolutionary would say such things.”

What speech? How does he respond to a speech he cannot recall delivering? Existence seems to blink out occasionally.

“You’re wrong,” Kropotkin said, “you’ve started a revolution, and you’ve worked to prevent stupidity and bring justice, and you were there in France, and in Russia, and in Spain, and in China and in Africa.”

“Now let’s not exaggerate this incident,” Titus responded. “From what I’m told I stood up for the students because they were being mistreated. That’s all. That’s not the same as changing the people in power or transforming the society or redirecting human nature or creating a more spiritual vision for the society.”

Titus heard the words flowing from his mouth. Did he just say those words? How far had he moved into reality?

“Not true,” Marat said. “Your speech advocated societal and inner change. You said: ‘We’ve been asleep too long. We’ve ignored the needs of most of the people. The government has been blind to its true purpose because the people in government have also been asleep or they’ve cared only about their own interests. The people have a right, an obligation, to replace it with a new government or, even better, no government and a new kind of community. But not only the people of government have been asleep. We’ve all been asleep. All of us. We all need to wake up! We need to get better.’”

Those words do not sound like my words, Titus thought.

“Do I have to bring Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson into this?” Michel asked, laughing, noticing how Titus seemed bewildered. “Lincoln said in his first inaugural address about how people can fix things. He said that ‘whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.’ And Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence said in the face of despotism and threats to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that it is the right of the people, the duty, to alter or abolish that government…’”

“And we’re not just thinking about a particular nation,” Marat said. “Oh no. We’ve learned a thing or two. We’re thinking world revolution. Global unity. Global community. And by government, we’re not talking about that institution that takes your taxes, but the tyranny over your life, your liberty, and your pursuit of happiness.”

“A bunch of capitalists and elites continue to dominate and deceive the masses,” Kropotkin said. “Economics rule. You can stop this. Make it a world community where all are served and not for profit.”

Titus stared at them in astonishment. Since he had been a professor, he had never talked to anyone about revolution. This pocket of existence was supposed to keep him away from all that.

“Remember this,” Michel said. “Enter through the tunnel in the Black Building. You went there when the carpenter built some special furniture for the holding company and then sealed up the corridor to the Path.”

The Path was an underground shopping corridor that ran underneath the downtown area, now blocked due to the pandemic.

“Yes,” Marat added, “they’re weak. That’s your way in. You can inspire them.”

 

Meanwhile, Gretchen had entered the Charity Café and was face to face with Billy Wang, a man dressed in a bright blue jacket, a sombrero, a white shirt that exposed his upper chest, dark red jeans, and cowboy boots. Though he looked out-of-place, no one could guess what he was.

“Are they coercing him?” Gretchen asked quietly.

“I don’t think so,” Wang replied almost in a whisper. “After all, they’re in his reality.”

“I want him to come on his own. I hope he sees their function. They have a different mind-set. That should open up--”

“--you?” Wang said. “Interfere?”

Gretchen stopped and gave Wang an icy stare.

“I beg your pardon,” she said. “I never interfere. Quite the opposite, sir.”

“His individuality will decide,” Wang corrected.

“Individuality isn’t enough,” she said.

“These are his phantoms, Madam. They build his identity.”

“And you are here to be certain they don’t cripple his return or identity. Ratanna will not like—” Gretchen said, then interrupted herself, “—phantoms must be watched. They can become interference."

“True,” Wang said. “But right now, let’s hope they can help a god emerge.”

Gretchen quickly turned around and faced him.

“It must happen on its own, Billy. Phantoms are only a reminder, not guides.”

“I understand.”

“Do you? Your job is the transcendence of self, not the glorification of self. I’m never quite sure you know that. Have you been talking to Schmidt?”

Gretchen started to move toward Titus but changed her mind. She saw in her mind what Wang was doing and she left the café.

 

14

 

When Titus was walking home after his meeting with the phantoms at the Charity Café, Gretchen was waiting in the alley near his apartment building. The alley was lit only by the lights from the rooms in the building. Since it was two in the morning, only one light was still on. When Titus walked by the alley, she called out to him from the darkness.

Titus heard her and stopped. Though it was dark, her blonde hair and flamboyant clothing were unmistakable.

He nodded

“Be careful,” she said. “The time has come.”

“I see that.”

“The world’s at a delicate place.”

“What has that to do with me?”

“It could easily shift with a single catalyst.’

“I don’t understand.”

“Look to the greater cause,” she said.

“And the phantoms will guide me?”

Another unwanted and unplanned event, Titus thought. He turned away to walk toward his building.

Aaron stepped out of another alleyway.

Titus froze, shocked to see his friend alive.

“Move on,” Aaron said. “You’ve achieved all you can as a professor.”

“I’ve loved the work.”

“It’s not your work.”

“I’m unsure.”

“Each work has a seal, a point of golden revelation. You’ve never attained that seal because it’s not your work. That is the work of an existent entity.”

Titus again saw the power of Gretchen behind Aaron’s appearance. He began to walk away.

“Titus,” Aaron called after him, “I can’t atone for my existence without you accepting your reality. I can never be you.”

“Gretchen?” Titus asked.

Aaron moved back into the darkness.

 

A man was sitting on a sleeping bag on the other side of the alley. Beside him was a box of crackers, a water bottle, a couple of books, and some random papers. He wore a coat too big for him and a painter’s white hat splattered with different color paints.

“Ask,” Titus said softly. This word and the following dialogue seemed  to spring from his being without being willed, as if he was mouthing code between spies, or a part of his brain had suddenly opened up.

“You’re here, finally,” the beggar said. “I’m Karna.”

“Never was there a time when I was not here, nor you, Karna.”

“What must I do?”

“Bring no externals to your actions. Control your desires. Be free, be responsible.”

“I’ve done that.”

“Is each of your works a sacrifice?” Titus asked.

The man nodded.

“Then rise,” Titus said, “you are τέλειος[2].”

“Thank you.”

Gretchen caught up with him and was witnessing the exchange with a smile.

“Come, Karna,” Titus said, “we shall join the battle together.”

Karna took off his ragged long overcoat and underneath was a long gold shirt and black pants, both glistening. He wiped his face and removed his painter’s hat and his shiny black hair fell to his shoulder.

“Is it right for us to ask for change?” Karna asked. “The world is helpless and ignorant.”

“Not ask for change, Karna,” Gretchen corrected. “Be aware of what is change and nurture change.”

“Ask yourself,” Titus said. “What survives? The outer coating of ignorance or the inner essence of self?”

“Is there self?” Karna answered.

“There is something that is aware,” Titus said.

Gretchen nodded.

“But they’re helpless,” Karna said. “They aren’t warriors.”

“It’s an eternal cloud, Karna,” Gretchen said. “Cease thinking as the beggar among the sages, and introduce who you are, the warrior. What is greater, what is more worthy, than fighting for truth and wisdom? In any case, you should treat pleasure and pain, victory and defeat, gain and loss the same. We don’t fight for rewards. Be indifferent to such things. You are beyond the snare of delusion.”

Titus and Karna walked together to his building. A few steps behind them followed Gretchen, her smile still evident, yet tears flowing.

Titus turned around, knowing she had something to say.

“You’ve seen the disc,” she said.

He nodded.

“Never forget it, not only for yourself, but for all. It’s a reminder of error and success.”

She said no more and went on her way.

Titus was happy she left. He did not want to hear about the disc, even though she was the first to mention it. He didn’t want to hear about anything, or know now about Ratanna, or the situation with Lazan, or the situation with Oriana or Fischer, or the protest, or the silhouette he saw on the blackboard, or the class with Chernyshevsky, Shankara, and Leibniz, or the meetings with Michel and the rest. Already the discussion with Karna was confusing him. He wanted to be left alone and return to the life before he picked up the disc. He felt like he was awakening from a terrible and constantly interrupted sleep, and each time what he saw when he awoke disturbed him. The comfortable bed of his ignorance and simple routine were now slipping away.

Karna and he climbed the stairs to the door to his apartment.

“You have visitors,” Karna said before they began to take the stairs.

Titus thought: Was there no rest now?

Outside his door, three figures stepped forward. They were strangers, but, without hesitation, he invited them into his home. No other option was possible now. Every force, every option, must be accepted.

“Zhuang Zi, Mahavira, and Siddhartha,” Karna identified them to Titus. His recognition of them might have been surprising a month ago, but not today, not after the other events.

Titus acknowledged them as if their visit was expected and routine, but the presence of the founders of the Taoist, Jain, and the Buddhist visions took his breath away. Was he soon also to see Mohammed, Shankara, Jesus, Zoroaster, and Moses? Gretchen was indeed impressive.

After serving them tea in the living room, he waited upon them to speak.

“We have come for the revolution,” Zhuang Zi said. “We’re ready.”

Titus did not ask, ‘What revolution or which revolution?’ Such questions, in light of his recent experience, had no value. Of course there was a revolution coming; there were always revolutions coming. Many he had participated in. But what was this revolution? What kind of revolution? Michel and the others expected revolution. Gretchen had another choice in mind. Fischer was talking about revolution. Wang was open to revolution. He supposed Plotinus too was thinking of something revolutionary. Karna was ready to battle for revolution.

Yet for different reasons, Titus did not have enthusiasm for revolution. The three ancient ones mentioned revolution and from their suggestion flowed many experiences from which he had learned what happens when you think and act upon revolutionary impulses or when you try to start, stop, or change a revolution. He did not disapprove of revolution itself; but the aftermath was the concern. Either people refused to do the hard work that happens after revolution, or they changed the revolution into some form of tyranny. Yet he did not want to become his brother Fischer, that figure who hated revolution above all things.

One way or the other, he would always be faced with Fischer. Fischer would always be there to observe everyone he nurtured. Fischer wanted to know everything Titus did, though Titus ignored what Fischer was doing except when it blocked his own efforts.

Titus nodded at their interest in revolution. He had questions, especially when that statement came from three spiritual masters whose reforms were continuing to cause revolution. Also, they were speaking as a group. What revolution could they mean which they together would help cause?

Yet while asking ‘what revolution’ might be crucial, at this point he felt it would be the wrong question. The question to ask was the question he would like to ask each phantom and each who led him to this point: ‘Why ask me?’ But once that door opened, he must face the answer, because he knew the answer and did not like it: It was his godly work.

The next question would appear: ‘How can I make revolution?’ That question had no answer and perhaps was a useless question. Each of them had already assumed revolution was the answer, but no one had explained how he would make revolution and what kind of revolution each had in mind. Certainly, the revolution of Marat was not the same revolution as the revolutions of the three ancient ones now sitting in his apartment. No matter. Regardless which revolution, Fischer would be there.

Talking to himself in his mind, he said: ‘Yes, I have read and studied the works of Zhuang Zi, Siddhartha and Mahavira. I have read works of Kropotkin, Marat, and Michel. Their ideas and practices are well-known to me. It was not a coincidence that Chernyshevsky, Shankara, Leibniz, and Plotinus, would appear in my classroom, or that the infamous Johann Kaspar Schmidt had his say. Their lives and works were also familiar and in their own ways revolutionary. About a few of them I have published articles. But knowing their lives and ideas was not the same as making a revolution. He was a professor, a scholar. Who among them was a professor or scholar? Lawyers, yes. Teachers, yes. Intellectuals, yes. Paul earned a Ph.D. Michel was a teacher before the Paris Commune, but she was a revolutionary even in education. Chernyshevsky was a teacher of literature. Marat was a doctor who had published political and medical works before the revolution, but his writing advocated revolution and he was innovative in medicine too. Che Guevara was a doctor. Goldman was a seamstress and then midwife. Schmidt was a teacher. No professors. No scholars.  Kropotkin came close.’

The possibility was unsettling. Who did these luminaries think he was? They only knew him as a professor.

The three spoke no other words, as if he would understand their presence and their roles. After finishing their tea, they bowed and departed.

“May I see the disc?” Karna asked after they left.

Titus went to the desk, picked up the gold disc and the magnifying glass, and handed them to Karna.

Karna in detail scanned the disc.

“It’s already happened,” Karna said.

“What?”

“You’re the savior of humanity.”

“Look at the other side,” Titus said, ignoring the statement. “Look at the word around the top.”

“Yes, I see it.”

“Pamoghenan.”

“Yes, pamoghenan,” Karna said. “Exactly.”

This was the first statement of Karna that not only surprised him, but also was welcomed in an odd way. He came over and sat across from Karna in the armchair.

“And how do you know that word?” Titus asked.

“Because I seek pamoghenan,” Karna said. “Because of you.”

How ignorant must I be before I have some answers? Titus thought. Was I not once someone who knew such answers? How deep in the mud of existence must I be to know so little?

Titus stood up and began to walk around the room without replying. He asked himself: How was this possible?

“You seek pamoghenan?” Titus repeated.

“Yes, I do,” Karna replied.

Titus sat beside him on the couch.

“But ‘pamoghenan’ is carved above the entrance to a building on Adelaide Street,” Titus said. “I’ve been in it. It’s a boxing academy.”

“Yes.”

“This doesn’t surprise you?” Titus asked.

“Does it surprise you? If I seek pamoghenan, does it seem strange that a building would have that word carved above its entrance?”

“Of course, it’s strange. Pamoghenan? On an old building used for a gym.”

“Only the unusual has interest.”

“And the disc?”

“I know you know all these things,” Karna said, “but I will comply. The outer gold reflects the inner gold. It’s a talisman. Do you see here the tiny hole at the center?”

Titus looked with the magnifying glass and saw the hole. He could not understand how he had missed it. He could not understand how he had forgotten it.

“A thread is placed through it so it can be worn or hung,” Karna said.

“And what of the name Ketkar?” Titus asked.

Karna stared at Titus with a face of sorrow.

“At some point, you must take your place. Your mind is tired and is trying to block you. But the spirit is powerful and full of energy. This talisman indicates that it’s happened. The continuum has folded. You see, don’t you, that the sea is folding and parting? The icy surface under which you’ve lived is melting away. You must not let Fischer--”

“--icy surface?”

“Those who have advanced can see through the ice,” Karna said. “They have knowledge, but they don’t have wisdom or benevolence because they haven’t touched reality. They only see glimpses of it through the ice. But you have melted the ice, your heart is pure. For some time. You can involve yourself--”

“--I think you’re mistaken. Consider what’s happened. If necessary, I can show you.”

“I’m not mistaken,” Karna said. “The more you take action, the more you melt the ice. The more you touch reality, the more names you’ll have. Somewhere in the universe, you’re a child. Somewhere in the universe, you’re an old man. Somewhere else you’re living another life. In another universe, you’re you, two hours ago. You are one thousand beings and yet one, you today. You are the one from whom many arms sprout. Reality is you. You are a god. You are the one we become.”

Titus slumped down on the chair. He placed his hands on his head and looked down on the floor.

“Yet I have tired you,” Karna said.

Titus went to his bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed without undressing for a long time, without thinking or doing anything. His mind was so full, it was empty. His left leg was shaking. He grabbed it with his hand, but then his right leg began to shake.

Karna will need convincing, he thought. This world to him remains a conflict between great families in which the most righteous triumphs.

Titus slipped to the ground, crossed his legs, brought his hands together, his thumbs under his chin, leaned forward, and touched the ground with his forehead. Quietly he began to chant: “Pamoghenan… Pamoghenan… Pamoghenan… Pamoghenan…” After an hour of chanting, and meditation, the many arms appeared and, like steam on a hot day, he dissipated.

 



[1] Humans!

[2] τέλειος can mean “complete” in ancient Greek.

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