Of Time and Trouble

One day, on a walk in the mountains with two companions, I was engaged in some idle thinking, or perhaps I should be honest and call it brooding. I had lately suffered a loss in my life that at times left me reeling. My thoughts went something like this:


"We speak the language of death these days.

"Our words are empty condoms, flat tires; and our grammar fails to connect them with any real meaning.


"Oh, death, stand aside; make room for desire. Let us long again for something, anything; let us want again; let us long for longing, want for wanting. End this separation of without and within. We are more than permutations of mind and matter.

"We are more than impotence standing in line in a trance; we are more than the ramifications of mankind's ugly past, multitudinous, malignant mutations."

I guess I had been talking, or brooding if you want to call it that, out loud, because my two walking companions, one a skeptic, the other a philosopher, commented:


"But does it matter if no one cares?" asked the skeptic.

"Care," said the philosopher, "is an abstract concept of another age, now considered fussiness and best avoided. Moreover," he added with considerable animation, "we live in an age of electronic devices and gadgets, machines and robots; and young people, who are as greedy and bad as our worst ancestors, only care about themselves." His animation, I thought, now bordered on anger with his final statement.

The air stirred, and suddenly a puffy white cloud, pure as can be imagined in a powdery blue sky, appeared over the mountains; then all at once some kind of folksy Master stood before us. He looked like some kind of cowboy genie whose brain was stuffed with knowledge and experience. He said his name was Merle and he used to be a country singer but had recently moved to a higher "bunk." He chuckled.


"Gather round, boys," said the Master. "While conceding your various truths, consider this: The single syllable of a lullaby—lull-a-by, lull-a-by—and the driest of dry rhymes—'death' and 'breath'—

can have the reality and the impact of an avalanche; and the chance observation of the pantomime of lovers loving can turn your heart and make it flutter. Small acts of grace may be the greatest. In short, things still do matter in this 'careless' world you describe."


"But what are we doing here in the first place?" asked the philosopher, who was always questioning everything. "Is there some raison d'être?"

"What do you mean by 'here,' boy?" asked the Master. "Can you tell me what 'here' means to you? And please, no French today! Just say what you mean."

Looking embarrassed, my philosopher companion was silent.


"Near never right now and forever," said the Master, "we still have one foot in the Baroque and, if you will excuse both a pun and joke, are not broke. Lately I have been listening to some old music that is new music to me. I'm going to share it with you shortly; it will take you to another place, another 'here.' And next time we meet we can discuss time and trouble, something I know a lot about. Well, now, nice talking to you boys. Someone in need is calling my name." But then he turned briefly to me. "Your pain will pass, friend, then others will lament your loss and feel the pain. Life comes in cycles—I think you know that—and peace is not to be found here. But in your case, searching for the right words may ease your pain, as it once did mine." The music of J. S. Bach suddenly echoed up form the valley around the mountain. I think it was the Mass in D minor.

My skeptical companion laughed; my philosophical one scowled, then smiled slightly; and I quit thinking about posthumous tumors and suspended my moribund banter on life and chance.

The Master named Merle clapped his hands together three times, the air stirred again, then he was gone, as was the puffy white cloud. Only the powdery blue sky remained overhead.
By Louis Martin