The Garden Party

May 11, 2010 § 10 Comments

“Man remains a mystery to himself,” writes Madame de Salzmann in her upcoming book The Reality of Being.  “He has a nostalgia for Being, a longing for duration, for permanence, for absoluteness–a longing to be.   Yet everything that constitutes his life is temporary, ephemeral, limited.  He aspires to another order, another life, a world that is beyond him.  He senses that he is meant to participate in it.”

I once heard that the Latin root of the word “nostalgia” has to do with longing for one’s true home.    Something deep inside us is homesick for a place most of us can’t recall ever visiting, consumed as we are with life.   Even the very best of us are up to our eyebrows every day trying to have life be this way or that way (which is like herding cats in my experience, but still there is stuff to be done).  We rarely get a chance to stop and just be with what is.   And yet something in us knows.

The great short story writer Katherine Mansfield (who also happened to be  a student of Gurdjieff) captured this in her short story The Garden Party. As she bustles about helping her mother prepare for a lavish garden party on a beautiful spring day,  Laura, an upper class young English girl,  is painfully aware of her seeming difference from the rest of her smug family:  “Oh, how extraordinarily nice workmen were, she thought.  Why couldn’t she have workmen for friends…?”  When Laura hears that a young workman has been killed, she briefly thinks the party should be called off, even though the accident occurred quite a ways off in a mean little village that is actually the “greatest possible eyesore.”   After the party,  Laura’s mother presses her to take a basket of left-over sandwiches and cakes to the poor widow and off she goes- marveling at how much more sensitive and aware she seems to be, even having visited the horrible village before (“one must go everywhere; one must see everything”)–even wondering if taking scraps from the party would be appreciated, etc.

Laura delivers the sandwiches and is pressed to go into a tiny bedroom and view the body.   She dreads it.  Yet, seeing the peaceful countenance of the dead young man, Laura realizes that there is another possible state of being–entirely finer and higher than her seemingly fine awareness:  “What did garden parties and baskets and lace frocks matter to him?  He was far from all those things.  He was wonderful, beautiful.  While they were laughing and while the band was playing, this marvel had come to the lane.  Happy…happy….”

All the while, we go about our busy, busy lives, trying to think ourselves into a higher and finer place, as we are pulled this way and that, all that time another life is possible, just waiting for us to remember.

§ 10 Responses to The Garden Party

  • Luke says:

    Thank you for this Tracy. I love that last paragraph, it truly hits home (points to center of chest area).

    Luke

    • tracycochran says:

      I believe that is where our true home and Being is (places hand on center of chest area)….thanks!

  • Susan Osberg says:

    The sensitivity Laura has to see beyond the protocol, to see the workers who are invisible, to look into the face of a corpse and see peace is being awake. Home is not only in the afterlife, the return as it is called, but in that amazement and awareness that Laura suddenly has when she sees more than what is given.

    • tracycochran says:

      This is true! Laura does see beyond what she think she knows, especially at the end of the story, when she glimpses the peace in the face of the young man who has passed out of this world.

  • joyce kornblatt says:

    Reminds me, too, of James Joyce’s story, ‘The Dead.’ How the numinous is always right before us, if we can see…

    • tracycochran says:

      Yes, and in life as in “The Dead” we often become aware of it just in those moments when we see how oblivious we are, how taken by vanity and delusion. Joyce, I find myself thinking often of your story in “Life after Death” of the breath…that being part of the numinous is really always just a breath–or an exhale–away.

  • Ron Starbuck says:

    There are two things I would like to share early this morning, one is a link to a blog written by Kylene Beers. Kylene is friend, who is now a cancer survivor.

    Dr. Kylene Beers is Senior Reading Advisor to Secondary Schools for the Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College, Columbia University. She is a teacher of teachers, a wife, a mother of two children, and a good writer as well.

    This is her story of that journey. It is an honest and moving story, one I hope you will read.

    http://kylenebeers.com/blog/

    The other thing I would like to share is this poem about winter and life after death or near death. The poem ends with these words.

    “Death may be long, forever even
    or not perhaps,
    but life I think is stronger still.
    Life is always calling us back to life,
    even back from death,
    life belongs to life.”

    The poem was actually inspired in part by a sermon written by the 20th Century theologian, Paul Tillich, who taught at Union Theological Seminary in NYC.

    The original poem is here.

    http://ronstarbuck-poet.blogspot.com/2010/01/winter-pays-visit.html

    Happy Friday Everyone.

    Ron Starbuck
    Houston, Texas

  • Jasmine Lamb says:

    This post brought to mind these two quotes:

    “our longing is our pledge, and blessed are the homesick, for they shall come home.”
    — Isak Dinesen (Babette’s Feast and Other Anecdotes of Destiny)

    “The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing – to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from – my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”
    – C.S. Lewis

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