March came and then she went, in a kaleidoscope of bright flowers and dark silence from me since unusually I have relatively little to say or write about. So, here we are, April come she will. It’s been a month of reflection, extended spells of a hand cupping a chin, Rodin’s thoughtless thinker. In defence of this unusually poetic beginning, I am not altogether oblivious to changing weather patterns, but being incapable of basic floral recognition I’m nothing more than a colour-blind sojourner through the botanical seasons – something of a metaphor for the whole of last month. My idea of a garden is a neat, rectangular lawn, requiring the mower’s blades to remain at a civilised 5cm all season. Instead, I live here. It’s chaotic, wild, hard to manage and really quite beautiful.
Which brings me to what I really wanted to talk about. The month hasn’t been entirely wasted, my online course is well underway but Harvard has been deceptive. To borrow a skiing metaphor, from the top of the hill, the ski trail looks easy. Until you launch yourself down the mountain and realise with a frisson of alarm that it’s going to be a rather bumpy ride and a good deal more challenging than it looked. So it was that I have been mired in a welter of Jewish historical thought and being a slave to Graeco-Roman thinking, it sometimes feels as if I am trying to communicate with a dolphin – we are both intelligent but inhabit different worlds.
By way of light relief, I’ve been reading about communities, how they function, what kind of people join them and so on. Not historical communities such as the Benedictines or the Amish, but modern variants. Many years ago, I was, as always, a flying buttress on the outside of a community – more than one, in fact. One in particular around which I nervously prowled fell apart in a messy, blood-spattered divorce, sexual misconduct and authoritarianism being major contributors to its demise. I counted myself fortunate to have walked away without serious psychological harm – some of my friends weren’t so lucky. Ever since that time, I’ve often peeped through the windows of such places – asking why, apart from injunctions in the fourth chapter of Acts, do people feel the call or perhaps need, to huddle together, share everything they own and live lives of psychological exposure and wild unpredictable chaos. Those drawn to a lifestyle like this often speak of the pain of transparency and it has always seemed to me to be masochistic to expose one’s deepest thoughts and feelings to people who almost without exception are not to be trusted. Because, people are like that. A group of community elders were polled some years ago about the kind of people that they were drawn to and what qualities they valued. They listed forgiving, loving, honest, responsible and obedient – all characteristics of a communal lifestyle. They were looking for the malleable and teachable. Last on their list were those who were independent, intellectual, ambitious, polite, and logical, characteristics of an individualistic, rational way of life. Not unsurprisingly, I fall solidly into the unpopular camp so it is rather unlikely that I’ll be asked to become a member of a shared fellowship any day soon.
April, come she will.