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Once upon a time in the wondrous days of Yore, I lived in the world of ideas. I had left the seminary of Maryknoll, the Catholic Foreign Mission Society, and took up my pursuit of truth at Fordham University in the Bronx majoring in Philosophy (the Love of Wisdom) -- wanting to find out once and for all:"What's It All About, Alfie?"
I began with the study of Metaphysics (all that is 'beyond the physical') which is a total immersion in the ideas of the great minds since recorded history. I loved its purity and its purpose. Metaphysics became my passion, which was a dangerous thing, for soon I was thinking ideas all-day and long into the night. My personal life was being sucked up above my eyebrows into my burning cortex. I became a thinking man and no longer a feeling man. I became interested only in the pursuit of ideas, great ideas, ideas seeking to answer the great questions ("the One and the Many"--"Good and Evil"--"Life and Death"--"Free Will and Determinism"--"Being and Existence" etc., etc., etc.) by looking at ideas alone--placing one idea up against another idea, answering ideas with ideas, comparing ideas, meditating on the value of this idea or that idea--thinking what I thought of this idea or that idea -- until I forgot to eat--to be for any body—forgot to see –forgot to attend to the realities before me.
I became a living Zombie -- one of the Walking Dead. I was existing completely in the hot electric neuron firing of my cortex. I was interested in "ideas" and nothing or no one else. I was reading tomes of metaphysics. I was absorbing hours and hours of lectures on metaphysics. I was thinking only metaphysically. I became addicted to mental masturbation and was delighting in its exquisite, brilliant pleasures there above my eyebrows.
Then one late Spring afternoon, I left Keating Hall filled with new ideas from another outstanding three hour lecture on metaphysics by a famous professor and walked down Rose Hill absolutely oblivious of everything in front, beside, and behind me. I was up there above my eyebrows in the sacred ivory tower of my brain's outer surface thinking, thinking, thinking ideas. My organic body had automatically switched onto automatic pilot and my robot (Zombie) eyes were taking me safely down the Rose Hill to Fordham Road and the bs station. My body did not bump into any elm trees or stumble off of any curbs. My automatic pilot system was well programmed. I ended up on a bus line, standing next to a waiting bus that was not mine.
My eyes, completely independent of "me" found by themselves this beautiful face of a young redheaded woman up there behind a bus window. I in my total mental absorption with great ideas was unawares of this seeing.
Then my eyes did me a favor. They knocked on my brain saying: "Hey, Czaja, come out of it will you. Look what we have found!"
Slowly but surely, my conscious self began to sink down to my optical nerve signals and I, Paul Clement, became conscious (as if waking from a dream) that I was staring at the profile of a very beautiful face. Now in the ideas concerning eye sight, I knew that my eyes were completely passive -- opening up and receiving reflective light energy waves upon my retinas and thereby "seeing something or someone. And yet in that particular seeing of beauty, I discovered that my seeing was also an active force; my person emerged, and as soon as I became personally conscious that I was staring at her face, she felt the touch of my seeing on her pretty cheek as surely as if I had touched that cheek with my hand or with my lips.
She turned her head and looked back over her soft shoulder down through
the glass window of that bus and finding me in my eyes began an intercourse with me with her eyes deep to deep, welcoming me, embracing my very soul, saying: “Hello--Who are you? Come to me.”
And my heart was saying in spontaneous response: “Hey, you! Yes, yes. I want to be with you. Who are you? Let's talk..."
And then the bus took off with her up the steep hill of Fordham Road. It just suddenly drove away, breaking that intimate, wonderful bond and leaving me behind. I ran after it. I ran half way up the pavement through the afternoon crowd trying to reach her. The bus was too fast, too powerful in its getting away. I gave up the chase, when the bus disappeared over the hill, and I stood there while people passed me in both directions unawares of me. I was trembling not from the exhaustion of the run up hill but from the experience of that timeless communion I had just felt with every cell of my body and with every ion of my soul. I remember thinking/feeling: “What happened to me? How could that have happened? What kind of creature am I that I can be so moved by a look from a woman through a glass window of a bus – from a woman I never knew before and would never know again?”
In that moment, standing there half way up Fordham Road, I ceased being a metaphysician and became an existentialist. I completely lost interest in ideas; ceased being a Zombie; I became forevermore a person aware of what I was experiencing in my here and now -- absolutely attentive to the flesh and blood you of the person or to the sharp reality of the thing before me here, right here in this now. I began staying out on the sidewalks of the city and sitting for hours in the coffee houses, the jazz clubs, the Chinese restaurants that were opened till four in the morning. I was looking for her. I was hoping for the grace of finding her there before my eyes and heart again.
I am still looking for her. Not for the idea of her. Not for her ideas either. I want to be with her again. I want to look at her. I want to go further this next time. I want to listen to her voice, smell the fragrance of her hair and skin, feel the soft silk of her arm, her cheek -- to touch with my fingers her lips. Then, when I am fully with her life to life, measure for measure -- then I will respectfully take up in earnest her ideas, knowing from whence they have come, and I shall delight in them, and I shall respond to them while the planets and our moon move across the night sky and then still while morning breaks there in the East close to the Morning Star.
Two dozen years later, the sweet and gentle President of the Irish Montessori Society, a Kerry girl named Sighne Fitzgerald, heard me lecturing (preaching) wisdom in Yonkers, and immediately booked me to take my act to the land of emerald green fields, fairies, vagabond tinkers, and red cheeked children. She was sure that the Irish Montessorians would profit from hearing what a Bronx man had to say about life, liberty, and the happiness of pursuit.
I was game for the missionary jaunt; after all, my longest voyage across the seas till then had been the five-cent ferry to Staten Island. So with a brand
new passport in one hand and a portfolio of notes in the other, I took off
from Kennedy International on a big green airplane and flew the ocean wide eager for adventure.
When I landed on the greatest of green islands I was greeted by my hostess and her husband, Jack, who quite generously were going to be my guides and companions, driving me all over Ireland during the next five days as I gave lectures in Galway, Limerick, Cork, and finally Dublin.
As a treat that very first day, a Saturday, they took me to the National Gallery of Art. I would have preferred a pub and a pint of stout, but there we soon were in this grand gallery looking at grand paintings. There was an exhibition of Italian religious art from the fifteenth century. The oil paintings were huge. It was a period when the artists depicted gospel scenes in super-human, one could even say colossal, dimensions -- as if the subject matter demanded 4x magnification. It reminded me of the first time I saw a movie on a Super Panorama Technicolor Really Big Screen at the RKO Palace theater in the Bronx of my youth.
After moving from the first room of paintings we entered a second room and were immediately awed by a magnificent floor to ceiling painting of the Assumption of the Virgin Mother. It was quite a familiar portrayal with Mary in flowing blue gown surrounded by puffy white clouds and chubby cherubim as she is lifted up and away from the countryside below.
We moved to the next painting which was the same size and painted by the same artist, really a twin, showing the Assumption of Mary Magdalene! I was shocked.
There she was stark naked with her beautiful long red hair like a thin veil covering her entire lovely body as she was floating mid-air. I could see her breasts, her belly, the fire of her pubic hair, her round thighs and sweet knees, her ankles and bare feet-- I forget if there were cherubim, too, or those puffy clouds. This was a revelation, an astounding revelation! Jesus was gifting the prostitute with the same gift He had gifted His beloved mother: a deathless death, a happy ending of life on earth, rapture from the vale of tears. Assumed up from the ground, no worms would touch the flesh of either of His women--He had loved them so much, and they, His mother and His friend, had loved Him enormously. To the ones who loved much, much is given and forgiven. No decay of their flesh would be allowed. He, Jesus, the God Incarnate, loved their touches, their smiles, their faces, their kisses, and most of all their voices and their eyes which revealed to him their hearts and souls, joys and sorrows. He would not let such loves become dust with the earth's dust.
This I would not forget ever. This I would take back with me across the ocean wide. In the meantime, I spread the good news of its revelation in every lecture I gave in the ancient cities of Ireland. I confess that I am guilty of scandalizing some listeners when I described the beautiful and naked Magdalene. Perhaps I did so with too much relish.
Five days later back in Dublin Town, I gave my last lecture to a gathering of
educators (Montessorians and students from Dublin U.). Finished, I took my seat behind the long table on the dais, left of the next speaker, a professor from the education department, and next to a large vase of beautiful flowers. My lecture tour was finally finished, and I was exhausted as well as exhilarated by it all. I just sat there with my bearded head propped up by my left arm and hand looking out into the sea of faces of the large audience.
Immediately my eyes caught sight of a beautiful young woman with gorgeous red hair about fourteen or fifteen rows deep looking between two heads right at me. She was smiling a smile brighter than any daisy. I smiled back my compliments to what I saw in her green eyes. And then without thought, I winked at her. She laughed and opened wider her eyes, throwing back her head enough for me to see her neck gleaming white surrounded by the fire of her long hair. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was a living apparition of the very Spirit of Ireland.
She must have noticed the look of awe and reverence in my eyes, for then she began to play with me to bring me down to earth where she ruled as Queen. She ducked her head behind the people in front of her, and then after making me hungry for her, she would suddenly peek out from the other side smiling like a happy child. She repeated the trick until I figured out what she was up to with me: she was playing "peek-a-boo" with me. I joined in by ducking my head out of sight behind the gigantic bouquet of flowers in a celebrating display there by my right shoulder. Popping back out, I'd find her there with her eyes wide open and gleaming, her luscious mouth open, too, as if taken by surprise.
We continued this happy dalliance for a timeless time while the esteemed
professor droned on and on.
When she paused a moment to compose herself, I changed my expression from playfulness to a more serious mien, never taking my eyes from her fathomless eyes, reached slowly up with my right hand and plucked a sweet red rose from the spray of flowers right there. I slowly brought the bloom to my lips and kissed it and then extending my hand offered it to her, placing it before me on the white table cloth as a symbol of my responding to her beauty in some meaningful way measure for measure.
She accepted my gift with her eyes, her face taking on a Mona Lisa smile, wistful, inwardly happy. I knew I had touched her heart.
The professor finished his lecture and the audience applauded politely, stood up and began milling around. Some came up to me to thank me for my talk and to make comment on some aspect of it. And then she was there before me looking up into my face, smiling, her fiery red hair framing her face in a strikingly beautiful way. The power of her presence so close was tangible and pure pleasure. There was no one and no thing between us, and for that moment the rest who were there disappeared as did the room and the place and the country and the world itself.
I spoke first. "Who are you?" I asked with awe written all over my face.
She laughed at my being awestruck over her and said with a lilt to her voice: "I am Elizabeth Redmond, and I have been instructed by the powers that be to take you out to the garden to have a cup of tea. So come along now with me."
She took my hand and pulled gently but confidently causing me to jump down from the stage carrying the leather portfolio containing my lecture notes and stuff with my free hand. Now I was standing by her side, still holding hands, and feeling a bit intimidated for she stood as tall as me and her green eyes were bright and lively and daring. She was completely in charge, and I followed her through the throng of the audience toward the many glass paneled door that let to the garden like a second grader being led by his teacher. Her red hair was so long and loose that the ends of it were brushing my held hand as we walked. She had me by more than my hand.
Then we were outside and surrounded by flowers. My Magdalene left me ever so briefly standing there as if I were a statue and was back again before I could even feel her absence and she was handing me a delicate china cup of clear tea. She had one, too, and I watched her slowly bring her cup up to her parted lips and take a sip of the hot amber tea. I was mesmerized by this simple, common happening, and I felt as if I were witnessing some arcane ritual. She made me think of Holy Eucharist. The delicate cookie on the plate she held was a sacred wafer and the china cup of tea a chalice of consecrated wine.
And then the wind blew her hair and it seemed like the air behind her was on fire. She was in that unforgettable moment not only the most beautiful woman I had ever encountered but Ireland Herself.
And so I told her that. Her eyes sparkled in mischief and smiling she asked me if I had an Irish Pound Note in my wallet. I nodded a yes.
"Well, take it out, will you--and hand it over to me," she laughed,
putting down her cup and plate.
So, I put down my tea and pulled out my wallet from inside my jacket pocket and handed her an Irish Pound Note.
She held it up with both hands pulling at an edge making it taught against the late afternoon sky. "Do you see that there lady? The watermark -- do you make it out? What do you see?"
I saw the ghostly image of a beautiful woman's face with long hair there within the open space of the printed pound note.
"I see her," I said. "I see her face. Who is she?"
"It's me," she said with gay authority. "It's me--don't you know."
I picked up my leather portfolio which had some of my notes sticking
out, I was loosing my composure and instinctively was moving to escape
the magnet of her personality.
She said quickly, "You're not leaving, are you?"
I explained that the Board of Trustees was giving me a thank-you and fare-thee-well banquet in about a half hour, so I best be finding my escort and driver.
She studied my face with her green eyes blazing their way into my soul. Then she reached over and took the pen she had spied clipped to the pocket inside my open jacket and wrote her phone number on the top of one of the sheets of paper sticking out of my bundle of notes. She took my shoulder with one hand and with the other went in again to the pocket of my jacket neatly replacing my pen, never taking her eyes away from mine.
"Call me when you get finished with these people of yours. We can be together tonight later," she said in a voice that now had a soft throaty lilt to it that made me take a deep breath before I could answer.
"Oh," I said taking a step back. "Uh, I don't know if that's going to be possible. I don't know when I'll be free---it may be quite late---and I have to check out of the hotel at the crack of dawn to catch my flight back to the States."
She could hear the fear in my voice. She could tell I knew that I would get absolutely lost in her if I went to her that night. I feared I would be a goner. She almost laughed and then spun away from me, taking a few steps, and then tossing her red hair and turning her head to speak again to me over her right shoulder she looked me in the eyes again and said as clearly as a church tower bell, "Be kind to yourself, sir. Call me."