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Allegory of Arithmetic, Laurent de La Hyre, 1650
"I might never get to breakfast or Damascus this morning …"

In the unlikely event that any of my grandkids ever ask me what I've learned about life, I would most probably respond by telling them that life seems to me to be an extended allegory, that reality isn't one percent of what it's cracked up to be, and that I believe that making meaning might be my primary responsibility here. Nothing seems as it seems and everything, every sensory experience, every dream, might carry a vast array of alternative meanings, depending. Depending upon me. I deeply doubt that a cigar is just a cigar, even sometimes, but each radiates possibility, depending. Depending upon me. I could choose to render that Freudian smoke to be simply a cigar, but what could possibly be the point of interpreting it so unimaginatively? Better sometimes, I believe, to perceive it with a touch of wonder, to check the context and discover some more meaningful understanding. It could be the clue I'd been hoping to appear that might just lead me to resolve the great mystery, or, alternatively, I could just perceive a mundane old cigar. Vitality, in my panoply, demands this more personal engagement, where I feel obligated to at least try to unwrap some deeper meaning from every blessed event and sensory experience. A rose might well be a rose and also a rose, but I also suppose that it might also be a harbinger of anything, a semi-secret messenger intent upon finally cluing me in. It utterly depends upon me to see through its initial instance to interpret something potentially more significant. All my experiences depend upon me being present.

Saul, when on that fabled road to Damascus, experienced a perfectly Standard Type 1 Revelation.
Voices directed him to pay closer attention, that important information would shortly catch up to him, and so it did. I suspect that anyone traveling that road that day might have experienced a similar fate had they been paying closer attention. Most travelers probably had their Sirius system cranked up listening to oldies, whatever came standard on that period's donkeys, and so missed receiving their personal divine message. I usually drive around with my Sirius system cranked up listening to oldies, too, so I'm not chewing on anyone's choices other than to say that any place and any time might bring "voices" harkening significant messages. Heck, even Sirius sometimes seems to broadcast pure synchronicity pulsing with meaning, when an absolutely perfect tune shows up with exquisite timing: Appalachian Spring comes on when I'm driving through Appalachia in springtime or Jackson Browne commences to croon about a girl my Lord in a flatbed Ford just as I'm driving into Winslow, Arizona. Revelations seem common as Iowa corn in Iowa. Noticing them's the thing.

I suspect that the very presumption that I'm surrounded by allegory helps me perceive what might pass as simple reality as representing allegory instead. It's far too easy to overlook even obvious blessings due to simple inattention, and nobody can persistently maintain full attention; and inattention, too, likely carries clues, just like every experience does. I catch myself yawning and sometimes see that I've been boring myself again and that the universe is trying to help me see so that I might choose differently. Every damned thing's a potential clue, though I might, on my better days, perceive a scant one or two per ten thousand clues sent my way—theoretically, anyway. It only takes one to spark an insight that might change everything for me. There's no shortage of inspiration, but more often a shortage of inquisitive attention. I'm not always in the market for a new perspective. Sometimes, I'm perfectly comfortable with a cigar just being a freaking cigar, and I want to avoid becoming so immersed in mustering clever metaphors that I cannot simply live.

LivingAllegorically means that I get to own the quality of my experience. If I find myself dissatisfied with the quality of my experience, I feel enjoined to attempt to muster another, more satisfying, interpretation. I might have missed the bus but nothing prevents me from insisting that the bus actually missed me, and then ascribing some significant meaning to the experience. Maybe I had not been noticing that many busses had been missing me lately and that I might take this clue to heart and consider a change in my old routine. Whatever anything might mean seems possible, reasonable, and I'm in charge. I could default to feeling victimized or opt to make some less demeaning meaning from the experience.

Had I understood that arithmetic was pure allegory, it might not have so easily had its way with me. I'd convinced myself that it somehow stood for reality rather than that it might have been simply an extended metaphor, and that getting an answer wrong represented just as much progress as guessing correctly if it led to a deeper understanding of the allegory. It deeply offended me, and I never suspected that I was the one offending myself by interpreting the whole business as somehow existing as a reality rather than as an infinitely more malleable allegory. I mistook my inability as defining something about my native mathematical abilities, as if I was supposed to have been born knowing the one true meaning of mathematics. Failure to see allegory can carry significant costs. It rendered me essentially innumerate. Or, I should say, I rendered myself innumerate. I wonder now why none of my teachers thought to mention the nature of the beast they were teaching. Could it have been that they hadn't seen that they were LivingAllegorically?

I would caution my grandkids, though, while regaling them of the many benefits from LivingAllegorically, that this philosophy carries perhaps the greatest personal responsibility. It ain't for crybabies. If every experience exists pregnant with potential interpretations, one must pay attention, prepared to make those meanings, or not. It remains a choice one makes whether embraced or not. Not making meaning also makes meaning. Saul stumbled upon his revelation, though I think it important to consider that his revelation was likely also stalking him. The transforming experience probably amounted to a convergence, one of ten thousand impending at that moment. It could have gone any way, even sideways. The apparent underlying uncertainty of this universe interplays continuously, inviting everyone to play along. I think it best for me if I consider the engagement as a form of play, not so much an onerous responsibility, but a form of continuous recreation, a curious form of background staycation, where the pregnant potential for difference always hangs. I mostly prefer to see cigars as cigars and roses as simply roses, but once I know, I cannot unknow the potential every cigar and every damned rose might carry.

In one respect, I sit looking out the same damned window at the same damned backyard every freaking morning. In another respect, I sit peering into a mirror, the scene playing out before me potentially informing me. That deer, apparently the same one visiting every morning about this time, stands somewhat strangely today in the long shadow of the spruce tree. I wonder what that perspective could be telling me. Of course, it's me telling me again, but with a subtle significance. I might see something that's been haunting me standing there, something only distantly related to shadows and spruce trees. Something seemingly sent especially for me in this moment, and another puzzle piece slips into place. How damned fortunate for me that I just happened to be here in this moment, glancing up from my keyboard to witness something of such profound significance. The next moment might carry another, and also the one right after that. I might never get to breakfast or Damascus this morning with all the damned revelations going on around me, just like every morning spent LivingAllegorically.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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