Saturday, January 07, 2006

Statistics look back, but hope looks forward...

"... so much to say,
Open up my head and let me out little baby."


Yep, it's been a while since I've posted. This is both cause and effect. Effect first - there's just been a lot going on (ISIT deadline looming ever closer, paperwork for post-doc, moving/unpacking, the not-quite-wedding, and so much more...) And as for cause - the itch of not having written for a while means I'm at it when I really should be sleeping :)

Well, here's today. Which is worth recording; as much as yesterday and hopefully as much as tomorrow.

First, a throwaway impression I had while riding the New York subway. I was sitting there and suddenly had this massive feeling of Swim. Just in terms of ape-man to homo sapiens sapiens to Indians to me-desi to me-now riding the subway.
Took a look around the carraige, and saw people who were the city. The kids travelling to hang someplace. The Angela Lansbury-lookalike who mini-curtsied to the door getting in, bobbed her head as she sub-vocally spoke to herself, and expressed quite complex emotions with her eyebrows to no-one in particular except her knitting needles. The dour MTA train driver napping (hopefully) on his way home. I'm a city man; people-overdose, as it does on occasion, left me with a sudden unreasoning tingling feeling of Joy, personal version of the Lewis concept.

What am I doing back in NYC? Spent last night at my cousin Kapil's place in Manhattan. Here in town 'cos friends (lets call them G and S) were supposed to get married today. I say supposed to, because they instead got married last week, at 10 minutes to midnight on New Year's Eve. In a hospital room. Where his fiancée's dad was semi-comatose (he passed away the next day; he was terminally ill - his disease had taken a very sudden turn for the worse). Also, corresponding deep crisis on G's side of the family.

Yes, it kind of sucks, if you look at it that way.

On the flip side of it, which is what my friends chose to show the world, it was good that it could happen while it was still possible for him to be involved.

They proceeded to turn the ceremony into a blessing of their wedding. It was quite tastefully done. The combined Korean, Greek, Cuban and Belgian families congregated in the beautiful Columbia University chapel



and various people speechified.

Actually, I found the styles of elocution interesting. The young 'uns -- various siblings and cousins -- mostly (with one notable exception) sort of stepped through their prose with almost an embarrassed air. The act of speaking words with the potential of power seemed.. blasé... well, not really, but there was almost something furtive in how they went through prepared speeches without the sonority the occasion seemed to demand. Maybe part of it was because of the speaking in a place of worship - these people are my generation, and presumably have conflicted feelings mixing their likely atheism/agnosticism/self-awareness with childhood memories of worship-and-awe and being acutely aware of the complications of the situation.

And then there was the talk by G's uncle from Cuba, a pastor who "was not a disciple of Castro, and so would talk only briefly...." Now there was a man who knew how to speak. And how to take full (and unfair :) advantage of the echoing sombreity the chapel's acoustics offered him.

He started off with words on how statistics show that the institution of marraige is failing, divorce rates are up, and so on. At which I was like... whaa? you don't use S-words at a friggin' wedding speech. But it turned out the man had a point. A good one.

"... Statistics look back, but hope looks forward..."

"... Your choosing to hope, to show your love with formal vows of commitment, means more to us and to God than the statistics of the past."

And then in the remainder of his short speech he went on with variations on the theme, as pastors tend to do. While I pondered...

... I envy people their faith. Not that I wish to have it; there's no way back from my extreme self-centred atheistic relativism short of a complete re-evaluation of everything I believe in, and not really a desire to go there. I mean, I have this personal religion (which is essentially what atheism (unlike agnosticism - the only non-religion) boils down to) which works fine for me. But the comfort that people (smart people, people I respect, included) get from a bed-rock of faith to stand on seems to resonate with a fundamental need of people. That really is the reason it all works, and however much I rail about the pitfalls of organized religion, I can't really grudge people that.

And the pastor knew that. Not cynically, but because he believed, he drew on this common acceptance of basic actircles of faith and traditions to project a message of continuity, hope in the couple and thereby faith in humanity.

The same message is something I myself totally identify with, though not the framing of it (not least because I haven't had to endure Sunday school ad nauseum). But, to put the message in my own terms would require me to start from scratch, and such an uplifting message would require a whole huge infrastructure. Especially since in my "logical" construct everything is relative, including good and evil. For other people to identify with it would be hard. And frankly, it's not a very evangelistic belief system. Since everything is relative, implicitly there's no reason that this belief system that works for me would work for others; perhaps more importantly, it really isn't important to me that other people think the same way.

Which is another way of saying that evangelistic religions are probably here to stay.

Even S's drama-psychotherapist friend E, who started off for a friend's benefit a description of the... sermon, for want of a better word... with the disclaimer that it had a "Christian-centric heteronormative bias" felt the power of the message. E is a person who, despite being with P for five years and currently carrying his child, refuses to get formally married 'cos of complicated reasons, one of which being society's ideal of marraige as opposed to her own views on commitment.

Heteronormative. That's a good word. And even better word-structure. Desi = Hindinormative. Manhattan denizen = rich-normative. Seinfeld = funny-normative.

Why this particular ramble today?

Carl Sagan wrote an excellent novel Contact, which you should read instead of just watching the movie (which isn't bad). The book has pretty much the only version of a belief in a higher being that I might be able to identify with... if certain conditions are met. Read the book :)

Anyway, in the book, the protagonist, a scientist with a Ph.D. from Caltech, is being interviewed for the position of emissary of humanity to the all-powerful alien civilization and is asked about her religious beliefs. Honest to a fault, she admits to being a atheist. At which point she's asked the perfectly reasonable question "How do you expect to represent the 97% of humanity who believe in a higher being?" And she has to shut up.

It gets mighty lonely sometimes.

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