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So it goes ... and we roll the dice

“Those who remain unmoved by the wind of joy silently follow the Path,” said the Bodhidharma.

I assure you, I don’t silently follow the path, but then I find no joy in the wind that ceaselessly blows.

Yes, I wrote that — the wind blows.

For the past month I’ve been waiting for a day, just a day, without the incessant, desiccating wind. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. Every morning, I wake up to a still, calm morning and cross my fingers, hoping the day will remain calm, serene, that the reprieve has arrived.

By nine, the wind picks up, announcing yet another day of wind that will not quit.

The yard suffers; while constant watering mitigates the effect of the wind, I grow too disheartened to stand out in it for very long, allowing the weeds to pop up in places where I don’t want them.

As much as I want to open my windows and air out the house, I can’t do so without seeing lamps tumble or allowing an inch-thick layer of dust to cover everything.

Of course, my problems with the wind are nothing compared with what wildland firefighters are dealing with in Arizona, New Mexico, southern Colorado, etc., but I still reserve the right to complain.

As Mark Twain famously said, “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

Oh, but if I could.

I’d think that, raising three young children, I’d have learned a certain amount of acceptance but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

As far as I’m concerned, too much of life is given to vicissitudes, chaos, the roll of the dice. I get that I’m going to stub my toe every once in awhile and that I’ll get hit with the flu at the least opportune time.

Naturally, there’s no way to plan for those things, but life has taught me how to handle the little setbacks.

As far as the rest, I have learned to shoulder the burden and remain a little guarded. Thus, I consider myself a defensive driver and keep a close eye on the other idiots on the road, I can enter my phone number into the Do Not Call list to prevent having to rush dripping out of the shower for a timeshare offer, or check the oil and air pressure on my truck to prevent a roadside breakdown.

I can curse the wind all I want and I still won’t find serenity, however. It continues to blow and all I can do is keep my windows closed, soak my plants and stay out the ripping air of it as much as I can.

There’s nothing else to do.

This all hit home on Sunday when I read that Clarence Clemmons — “The Big Man” as he was known, saxophone player for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band — had died due to complications from a stroke.

Clemmons was a towering figure in Springsteen’s line up, almost as recognizable as The Boss himself, arguably more of a principal than guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt.

Clemmons was also the best Rock and Roll saxophonist, ever (delineated from jazz saxophonists). If there is any doubt, just listen to his playing throughout Springsteen’s masterpiece album “Born to Run,” especially the solos on “Thunder Road” and most significantly, “Meeting Across the River/Jungleland.”

It’s the latter that Clemmons’ playing really shines, sets the mood for almost 13 minutes of Rock and Roll transcendence: at first ethereal and sad, his riffing builds, pushing “Jungleland” to its crescendo. Then, as the song abruptly slows to a whisper, it is Clemmons who almost single-handedly provides the colors and hues for Springsteen’s sketch:

“Beneath the city two hearts beat/Soul engines running through a night so tender/In a bedroom locked/In whispers of soft refusal and then surrender/In the tunnels uptown/The Rat’s own dream guns him down/As shots echo down them hallways in the night/No one watches when the ambulance pulls away/Or as the girl shuts out the bedroom light/Outside the street’s on fire/In a real death waltz/Between what’s flesh and what’s fantasy/And the poets down here/Don’t write nothing at all/They just stand back and let it all be/And in the quick of the night/They reach for their moment/And try to make an honest stand/But they wind up wounded/Not even dead/Tonight in Jungleland.”

I include the lyrics from the last several minutes of the song because they represent Springsteen’s tendency towards existentialism. Indeed, while the start of the song is a celebration of life and freedom, the joy of being young and aimless (yet, while finding a place in the world), the end is an allegory, an elegy — a meditation on death.

A bare 48 hours after Clemmons passed on (as I write this), the tributes have gone out (several bands honored him during encores Sunday night), Wikipedia has been updated and, well, life goes on.

I think there’s a tendency for us to think that, as our consciousness is snuffed out, the world goes dark and nothing else exists (unless it’s Heaven or Hell or reincarnation as a rabbit or something).

Yet, here I am, writing about Clarence Clemmons who was taken down by a particularly nasty situation, his life and consciousness ripped away after some part of his body lodged into another part of him and wrecked the whole system. No warning, no precursor, just a “Whack!” on the complexity of a body that, having evolved over hundreds of millions of years, still remains vulnerable to something as simple as a small piece of detritus breaking free from one blood vessel and lodging within another.

Just that small, insignificant event and the end was inevitable.

My point is, while, everything might have gone black for Clarence then, here we are, writing, driving our cars, turning out our lights before going to sleep, hearing sirens and wondering where they’re going (and for what purpose), shoving whatever moments or efforts we can into our lives and, when we can, cursing the wind.

Clarence, that Clarence we hear in recordings, may have gone dark but we remain in the light.

Not that we’re much better off. As much as we plan, we can’t predict how the dice will land, snake eyes, boxcars or any other combination. When our number comes up, that’s all she wrote. We are no less prone to that little part of us breaking off and blocking the very essence of who we are.

No one knows and no one can say.

I had a cousin who, while having dinner with his partner, complained of a bad headache. The headache became serious enough that his partner drove him to the emergency room but there was nothing to do there — my cousin was dead. Sixes and fours or whatever, it was his time and there was nothing any doctor in the world could do to save him, even though my cousin was only in his mid-30s.

And so, “And so it goes,” Kurt Vonnegut writes in “Slapstick.”

Nothing will save us, then?

Supposedly, technology is here to keep us alive but I’m not convinced we’re much better off than we were decades or even centuries ago.

As Booth Tarkington wrote in “The Magnificent Ambersons,” “I’m not sure he’s wrong about automobiles,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization -- that is, in spiritual civilization. It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of men’s souls.”

And so it goes.

We may have more technology to keep ourselves living longer but we also have, unfortunately, developed more ways to kill each other. Nuclear bombs, machine guns, nerve gas, biological weapons ... the list is seemingly (and sadly) endless. Indeed, it seems that our best minds have spent more time developing better ways to kill than better ways to live.

I read all kinds of stories regarding a “car bomb” but can’t think of a single incident when a “horse bomb” made the news.

Believe me, I’m no Luddite: I love technology and the positive things it promises us. Within the last few years it has certainly opened my mind to all kinds of music, movies and books. I can assure you that few of my quotes in this column would have been completely accurate had it not been for Google.

But there’s no way for Google or anything else to tell me when my number will come up. And with no health insurance, my chances are much slimmer regarding the prediction of that number. I try to eat healthy but I smoke, exercise but I drink too much. I enjoy the little time I have with my indulgences but I also know that those guilty pleasures narrow my odds for a long life.

Unable to predict where the dice will land and how they’ll wind up, I justify my vices. Although I can climb a mountain well before my nonsmoking friends (thin, nimble and blessed with good genes, I suppose), I know my smoking will consign me to an early demise. So what. I have equal chances of dying in twisted metal or catching a bullet in the head.

And so it goes.

Awaiting the roll of the dice, I know that my only shot at eternity is how I live my life — being a good father, a good person, someone the kids and the old-timers talk about.

I mentioned Springsteen’s “Rosalita” last week and I know that song will stand as a legacy for Clarence Clemmons. The bridge in the middle of the song, with Clemmons’ sax honking as hard as it gets, requires nothing more than genuflection, kneeling at the altar of the man’s greatness.

Given the roll of the dice, we can expect nothing less at our end; a remembrance of what we did, who we were, how we treated the rest of us and how well we played during the bridge. At the end, we have nothing else but how we performed.

As Carl Sandburg wrote, “Strange things blow in through my window on the wings of the night wind and I don’t worry about my destiny.”

I’m not saying our destiny is written — we write that ourselves — but we blow what we blow, no matter how the wind blows.

If we’re Sudanese children, cut down by a soldier’s bullets or our bellies extended by starvation, I’d guess our destiny is fairly set: the world is fairly limited to us.

Otherwise, we’re not into a position to complain. We should be grateful that how the dice lands does not involve starvation or genocide.

And so it goes. May this next roll end up seven-come-eleven. R.I.P. Clarence Clemmons.

jim@pagosasun.com

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