A DIVISION OF ANGELS
Hierarchies aren’t necessarily set in stone, some form like an aggregation of fish, coordinating with their surroundings and each other… alert, vigilant, at the ready… from that nebulous gathering to the tail… swift, fluid… a close-knit school, within seconds.
I’ve been in plays worthy of that indivisible shift… a mercurial ensemble that moves to the cue, with precision and order, tightly choreographed, like a shoal of fish. Watching from the front, the production might seem different on consecutive nights, because the emphasis in rehearsals was determined by the inner life of the character. This isn’t to say external form and style are any less important… it’s just that there’s a broader focus, on complex psychological roots that use the emotional pallet, to dictate the physiological and hierarchical tack. Commanded by a character’s thoughts and feelings, the body needs to be agile, able to accelerate on an emotional pin, nought to sixty in an instant… pinpoint sharp. Physically fit? Yes, but not at the expense of narrative.
Setup like this a parody can be life-saving, thought provoking, deeply personal, exhilarating… so convincing, we sit in a seat of faith accepting a tall tale as absolute truth.
Political and legal professions are two examples in our lives, implementing a familiar drama, built on the back of complex hierarchical ascent. They too are fixed and factored, by a cast jockeying for position, with that glance of the eye, a comforting word, that place in the pecking order, a little subversive planning, that slap on the back, a kindly smile, that knee jerk reaction, conscious and subconscious fears, that turn of the screw, a casual remark, past regrets, that binding hand shake, future needs, cravings, desires and so on.
Be it in the arts, sciences, religion, medicine, politics, or any which way… when methodology nurtured in hierarchy delivers, the framework, that produces such considered conventions, can seem as if it’s made-to-measure just for us.
Stories told in books, on stage and screen, have taken me to the edge of my seat… I’ve laughed, cried, churned outside in while the pin dropped, then paced out with excitement and intrigue at the next turn of the page. There’s been secure footing, space to breathe, to rock, to roll, to think and swoon on the tide of music echoing out across the airwaves… combining art with engineering… I’ve travelled far and wide in aeroplanes, on high-speed trains, in hydrofoil ships and fast cars… I’ve shared gastronomic highs and lows, with friends and foes, in some of the finest restaurants throughout the lands… computers provided a platform to write… builders and architects a place to live… the doctor’s order, a new lease… I’ve been looked out for by the constitution, enlightened in subjects taught by leading practitioners at the height of their game, in classes that transform our lives.
None of the above would have been possible without a chain of command, bringing the model, the invention, design, books, films, a project, the operation, a house and so forth, to life.
It’s clear that aspirations in leadership and governance, some good, some bad and much indifferent, brought me security and domestic survival, in a freethinking society, that prides itself on the right to satirise and question our adherence to these dedicated hierarchical forms.
There’s no doubting a diligent captain, along with a crew’s skill, assures an outfit is shipshape, able to run at optimum speed when necessary.
And yet, placing hierarchy at the heart of our reality, where the sole purpose of being human is based on a priority of how important we think we are, remains troubling.
Stemming from a relatively small part of our brain, diplomatic and democratic hierarchies produce erudite communities, challenging us to rise through the ranks, sometimes risking life and limb, for humankind and civil freedoms. Nevertheless, as empathetic and emphatic the means, however significant the outcome, brushing aside the greater part of our existence, for a people system, is like draining the sea for fish, it doesn’t make sense.
If I was born to evaluate my time on earth according to theatrical assent, I’ll no doubt finish somewhere near the bottom of the pile… assuming this attainment marks out the sum total of my life, then I’m an expert in that lowly field and the default purpose, for my being here, finishes here.
As with actors, humans are two a penny… whatever the business, the profession, the industry, be it in entertainment, academia, the sciences, economics, politics, law and so on, there are a disproportionate number of hierarchies to fulfil and we’re told that less than one percent, of a majority populous, take the crown.
No matter where we are on the scale, whichever way the cards are dealt, perhaps we need to step back from identifying a cultural superstructure, as the width and breadth of being human? Fixated, as we seem to be, with this incline of apparent certainty, are we not turning that which is unsure into the devil’s lair, cutting ties with nature and losing our biological and cosmological intelligence?
Why inherit such a limited birthright?
Let’s just say, for the sake of a healthy perspective, the best of our hierarchical manifestations are miniscule gems in an ever-expanding universe. Then, holding that viewpoint in mind, refute the fact that leaders, teachers and parents, nurturing a belief that life’s main event is a utopian stronghold, found at the apex of academic and occupational success, don’t bring a poisoned chalice to the table.
Like most of my generation, I was conceived and brought up by parents who came through the horrors of the biggest war the world had ever experienced. My mother’s first husband was killed in service, leaving her widowed with two children. My father’s rank in the army, saw him and his squad, suffer horrendous mental and physical torture at the hands of the Japanese in Burma.
It’s hard not to wonder what all that deeply invasive horror, stamping out the middle of the twentieth century, was about. Why did we have to lay down two massive World Wars, where my parents and millions upon millions of others were either killed, broken into submission, or traumatised to the bone? Were they just wars?
With the jackboot genie back in the bottle and a continuing struggle with their private interfamilial demons, although mum and dad were loath to admit it, they had a cross to bear.
My father suffered flashbacks and nightmares, after serving his country overseas, for the rest of his life… yet his greatest fears were met as an author and poet, judged and tried, by the publishing fraternity.
My mother was equally versed in the written word, which suited my dad perfectly. She had a sharp, well-informed mind and could always come up with an answer, or an opinion, when prompted, particularly in matters of verse and prose. But when my mother’s keen intellect, or motherhood, didn’t equate, she would invariably hit an emotional vortex.
I wasn’t threatened with the gas chamber, or a torturous end at the hands of an egregious leader… yet throughout my childhood and later in the workplace, I found myself strung out, confused and deeply entrenched in the formalities of a hierarchical rig, guised as a freethinking package… for your own good.
For this sovereign belief, I did my best to do what I was told, clinging to the ledge, until it was no longer possible to hold on. And I was one of the lucky ones. From the proletariat to the bosses, didn’t matter which side of the tracks, passed, failed, grandiose, or not, too many of my closest friends and family, convinced by the formalities and subsequent placing of relevance, didn’t make the drop. Addiction, kill or be killed, depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy, suicide, you name it, the hard grip of social science had done with them… a branch of people classification that shoved them into the pathological grinder of worthlessness.
As a small person, my fourth year on the planet, I suffered a misfortune with an older boy at the village school, where my parents and teachers, those who were supposed to look out for me, turned a blind eye. But that didn’t preclude the fact, that way above the rubble, another eye observes from the wing.
Despite the high degree of trauma, I remained alert enough… and this was to be the first of many impactive sociocultural lessons, prompting me to wake up to the fabrications, masquerading as virtuous, adult, truths…
I remember how the ploy started… sat at my desk, I found I could be in two places at once. Whilst retaining a heightened awareness, for my immediate surroundings, I got proficient at zoning out. Beginning with miniscule leaps, I’d get as far as an empty playground, then pushing the envelope, with a hop and jump, hover across unfocused roof tops, down dip and over dale, like a will-o’-the-wisp… joining the river to greet the sun, sparking an open pathway, across a flat shiny surface of water, to the open meadows… the further away the better.
Back in the classroom, the light was on and there was nobody home… thereby sat a fool… but Dumbo wasn’t without fire… there was consolation in being absentminded and humiliated accordingly, the cane saw fit to beat him less… more than that, he glimpsed a magical incandescent forest, then dissected, chopped, picked, tampered and cut it up, turning the pieces into fragments, for some sterile results, on a starched sheet of paper…
In line, queue up and they’re off… always dashing, rushing for an answer… pulling up the rear, there was absolutely no time… no time, to find that distant hum of the dragon fly, reassuring doves, harmonising chords on the bough, heed the call of rowdy sparrows, rising in expectation of unexpected kingfishers, weaving a cracking melody, while the startled squirrel, drum-brush busy, garnishing food for the feast, skips a beat, as they clock returning salmon defying the eye, as well as rapids, for the bell… unless… unless… far afield, cross hillock and dale, tiptoeing through the buttercup meadow, clambering the forgotten kissing gate, apace to a smell of fox, mind the badger’s burrow, over broken stile, way beyond heckle and applause, in that all-encompassing hymn… I rest my heart awhile… unless…
Come along, hurry up, no time for that now and no time soon!
Life’s so very short, just a little more, please, to find what it’s like for the place where trees live to befriend us?
No! You’ll thank me in the end. You need to get ahead!
Can the sun exist without sky… do elephants cry when they’re upset… what would a tree be without earth… can I have dreams without my body… is what we breathe truly invisible, are clouds really God’s thoughts?
Enough already so soon…!
You might say that it’s normal for children to be forgotten, or shutdown, by the aspirational mistakes made by adults trying to do their best in child care and I’d have to agree; I’m a parent, a father, with a gamut of rights and wrongs under my belt.
It was to be decades before I accepted that repercussions, driven by the fundamental loss of our defining nature, are passed on from one generation to the next… along with this innocuous claim…You’re nobody, unless you’re somebody.
A well-known English actor once advised me to be far more ruthless, if I wanted to make a mark in show business. Come on, they said, think of the glory, the accolades, the money! As I stood there, trying to sum-up a quick response, they hissed like a venomous snake, then spat out how they’d clawed their way up the ladder. That won’t really work for me, I countered… I‘m still trying to secure a deeper stability for the adult, entrapped in the physical, by making peace with the little boy struggling with the weight.
Waiting at the station, in the short time left before the last train, I began to expel my smug reply and the advice, because the impression made me feel edgy, like steel. In absolving the slicer making mincemeat out of my brain, warmth trickled back to heart.
However high I climbed, wherever I ended up on the score sheet, whether it’s a sore loser, pissed with the process, or the breadwinner, showered with superlatives, sacrificing a life for that myopic throne at the top, seemed like taking a sword to the sense of wonder.
A frost was starting to catch the iron rim of the bench. I got up, stamped my feet, then walked down to the end of an empty platform, lost to the world.
A staccato shriek broke the silence, short static bursts, announcing the cancellation of the train.
I looked up from the stepping stone of thought, to the night sky.
A billion years of interplanetary shifts, where nothing and everything had changed.
Ever the child, seeking harmony of play, I began as I end, a mortal creation, heralding the ground, between this world and the next… somewhere amid the letters of a snowflake and the stars… set by a human story of love, trust, conflict and pain… stands the man.