Cloister Commentary, Day 27: “Small Circles”

Sheltering in place is sometimes hanging out on social media and gathering wisdom from friends, or gathering wisdom friends have have gathered and hope to pass along. My pal Ken Shimamoto is both a wise man and a discerning gatherer, and this quote he shared from composer Arvo Part really resonated with me, especially after I said (sarcastically) to two other friends in phone calls (see below) that we have passed beyond the COVID-19 “honeymoon period.” Here is the quote, which I must pass on to you:

“This tiny coronavirus has showed us in a painful way that humanity is a single organism and human existence is possible only in relation to other living beings. The notion of ‘relationship’ should be understood as a maxim, as the ability to love. Although this is truly a high standard, maybe even too high for a human being.

Our current situation is paradoxical: on the one hand, it means isolation, on the other, it brings us closer. While isolating ourselves, we should be able to – we are even forced to – appreciate our relationships in a small circle and to tend to them. All of this we have to learn before we expect, or even demand, love and justice from the whole world. In a way, the coronavirus has sent us all back to first grade. Only once we’ve passed this test can we begin to think about the next steps. This is a very long process.”

Sheltering in place is sometimes hanging out on the blower, jabbering, sparring, plotting, and speculating with old friends. Yesterday, I had great conversations with two unique individuals I have known for almost 30 years. My former student and longtime fellow hip hop head Alex Fleming spoke with me as he moved vehicularly through his hometown of Chicago. We compared theories about the other mess we’re in besides COVID-19; we talked about caring for, loving, and jousting with family; we groused about the simple fact that it is difficult to have an intelligent discussion with an elder (the kind of person we are both geared to respect) when he does not know (or often care to know) the historical background of the issue; we compared notes, agnostic to Christian, on the positive value of Biblical lessons and the modern failings–and bad bargains–of evangelism; we didn’t even get to music (other than Chicago’s International Anthem label, and that was just me raving), but we will next week. We closed by singing the praises of George Frissell, whose Classical Ideas and World Religion class Alex took in the early Nineties at David H. Hickman High School here in Columbia, MO–and whom I owed a return call, which I made when Alex and I closed. George and I did our usual: breaking down the most recent Better Call Saul episode, and threatening to watch it and its companion series all over again, again. George’s favorite characters: Mike, Kim, and Nacho. My favorite characters: Nacho, Kim, and Mike.

Sheltering in place is sometimes just sitting on the couch with your soul mate, watching some quality programming, sipping tea, and eating five of her peanut butter cookies a piece. I must say that, having read Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, Hulu’s given us a winner of an adaptation, though one episode remains. Should you choose to watch it, you will see some of the best acting done by (presumably) teenagers in quite awhile. Episode 7, in particular–the penultimate one–showcased these youth nailing very complicated and realistic scenes so effectively both Nicole’s and my nerves were jangled afterward. As far as the adult acting goes, Reese Witherspoon has delivered a classic hateable performance (Ng’s original conception of the character is not so much so), and Kerry Washington’s spot-on as one of the more complex streaming TV protagonists I’ve ever seen.

You all hang in there, and attend carefully to your small circles.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

I’m sending this out into the air for this just-COVID-19-snatched jazz master Lee Konitz. He doesn’t play on it, but I know he dug it.

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