John O’Donahue tells the story of a journalist who wanted to interview a native South American chief.
Before acceding to this request, the chief asks to have time for the two to be together beforehand. On meeting he begins to stare intently into the journalist’s eyes. At first deeply unnerved, the journalist enters into this deep gazing and for two hours the two look upon each other in silence. The interview then didn’t needed to follow.
O’Donahue makes the intriguing allusion, ‘In the human face, the anonymity of the universe becomes intimate.’
We are the strangest of animals thrown out by a universe which appears to be accidental in nature: the Human face looks out on the vastness of the universe and ponders the “infinity of interiority” amongst the many infinities of the macroscopic and the microscopic, many worlds and universes.
It is perhaps in the coming to see and understand these worlds we find in one another’s lives, we come to see and understand our own life.
Italo Carvalo has his two characters Kublai Khan
and Marco Polo at the end of a day ‘silent, their eyes
half-closed, reclining on cushions, swaying in hammocks,
smoking long amber pipes,’ each in a train of thought,
sometimes meeting across a presence they inhabit together.
Polo has been describing to the Khan the cities he has visited which turn out to be one, or one part of a city where he was born (I share this at length because it’s a lovely, illuminating passage):
Marco Polo imagined answering (or Kublai Khan imagined his answer) that the more one was lost in unfamiliar quarters of distant cities, the more one understood the other cities he had crossed to arrive there; and he retraced the stages of his journeys, and he came to know the port from which he had set sail, and the familiar places of his youth, and the surroundings of his home, and the little square of Venice where he gambled as a child.
Can it be, in the meeting of many new lives into which we gaze intently, we come to know and understand our own life? If it is so then it is a strange thing, in a universe as cold and indifferent as we believe ours to be, there should be found such shocking warmth and intimacy – hardly yet explored.
Arriving in each new city, the traveller finds again
a past of his he did not know he had: the foreignness
of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies
in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places. …
“Journeys to relive your past?” was the Khan’s question
at this point, a question which you have been formulated:
“Journeys to recover your future?”