Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Is

At the end of one of his short stories, John Updike's protagonist Hank, a typical Updike alter-ego (we presume), observes: "Plato was wrong; what is is absolute. Ideas pale."

Updike being Updike you can guess that Hank has this epiphany while observing a potential lover (his ex-wife's twin sister) in her splendid nakedness.

Updike was pretty much the scribe of my generation of American males, born in the 30s into a conventional Christian faith, who came of age in the utterly conventional 50s, and who spent the next decades negotiation the shoals and tidal rips of matrimony and child-rearing.

Our generation was bracketed on both sides by ideas. Our parents lives were more or less ruled by traditional faith. Our children embraced big political ideas -- feminism, environmentalism, sexual liberation, pacifism. And there we were, the transitional generation, having shed the chasuble of faith and not at all comfortable in the tie-dyed duds of flower children, naked of ideas, so to speak, breathlessly discovering the is.

The isness of things has stayed with me. Most of what I've written over the years celebrates the is. One can't live without ideas, of course. They swim about in our heads whether we welcome them or not. But I've never trusted ideas -- those pale flighty things. They are tricksters, deceivers, shapeshifters. But the is is absolute. The is is right there in front of one's nose. One can see it shiver. Caress it with one's eyes. Sniff it. Touch it with one's finger and feel the adamantine hardness or yielding give.

The who and what and why are things we can debate, but the is is. It's something we can trust. And the older I get the more I value it, live with it, lay it up like treasure. The is is always with us.

Until it isn't.