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.