Thinking of Prophets and Dreams
There’s a book that’s long lived on my shelf, a thick book by a favorite author, Gibran Khalil Gibran, whose Prophet was so meaningful to so many of us during more innocent times when being sympathetic to Islam did not disqualify one from being wise, or compassionate, or insightful, or a harbinger of hidden truths. I’ve started it many times. It’s filled with short works of the kind I love to write, but, for some reason, it always returns to its honored spot above the desk in my study, mostly unread, as though reading it has to be reserved for especially sacred moments.
Today, as I scan news from all over the world to share with students and other readers, news sharing very little wisdom and too much sorrow, speaking of repeatedly repeated mistakes and in large part, of disdain for other cultures, a sad melancholy suffuses me and I think of a world more than half a century ago when things may have been the same but seemed so different. A world where Tolkien, long hidden, had come to light and Herman Hesse refused to promise us a rose garden but shared Siddhartha, and where Kahlil was omnipresent. I recall that in somewhat of a ritual but maybe more a test, I’d gift someone I found special a copy of the Prophet on our first date, hoping she’d already read it and that it would set the tone for at least the first part of that evening, while we shared a bottle of good but inexpensive wine, perhaps a Bordeaux, in front of a small lit fireplace, in a room with a pretty brick wall and wooden floors, … albeit very tiny. New York was expensive even then. And perhaps, if I’d been very fortunate, after breakfast the next morning, a visit to the memories shared by favorite artists at their special home on the West side of the Park where it met Fifth Avenue in the Eighties. Perhaps our conversations, interrupted from time to time by brief, intimate interludes, continued as we explored timeless themes and human nature, and the nature of divinity and numbers and the universe and time, and hopes and aspirations and insights and dreams.
Those days are too long gone, at least for me, but the magic of new generations is that those experiences seem to pass through time and space from couple to couple in different languages and different contexts, in a sense uniting us in our most especially human aspects. Concurrently transitory and permanent, the subtle symphony of opposites so essential to romantic poetry.
We’ve lost so much of the humanity we shared then, we’ve become so much more ethnocentric and conflictive as a species, although I sometimes think that’s true only among our leaders and our media and that perhaps, at a more quotidian level, we’re still the same, or at least latently so, and that the beautiful humanity so thoroughly suppressed during these past decades will burst through someday soon, perhaps in some unexpected, ignored part of our world, one where no oil dwells beneath the surface to mar the tranquility of lakes and streams, and trees and lovers.
I wonder if Khalil’s book is best unread, at least in part, its mysteries and revelations and magic still inchoate, still providing open possibilities from the past towards a future I’ll find comforting, and then back to that special past full of promises still unfulfilled.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2016; all rights reserved