Your Cheatin’ Heart

For one day, the weather finally clears in Oslo, and in the lingering evening from my tiny 15th floor balcony (reminiscent of a hot-air balloon basket – I have the sickening feeling that my evil twin is going to grab my body, leap to the railing and jump wildly for the waterfall) I can finally see more than the pounding spray below me. A sliver of cupped moonlight follows the sun to bed, and far to my left, the harbor – I didn’t know I had a sea view until this moment – reflects the last orange of the daylight.

By tomorrow, according to CNN, it will be cold rain again, and Patreus and Crocker will be tossed softballs by Congress for an easy hit into more war, more lives lost, more disruption for the poor people who were unlucky enough to be in Dick Cheney’s way. The way they got this war started – Rummy and Cheney and Perles and Wolfowitz – that’s got to be a form of cheating? It is hard to keep going sometimes, having faith that the political and the environmental degradation will not overwhelm this human experiment before the work that we do – preparing the next generation of children for this 21st century world – has a chance to take hold.

Each day I travel down the hill to the class in the town center on a five-minute tram ride. The ticket is 30 kr., about $6. No one checks whether you have a ticket,. My American sensibility suggests that $12/day is a bit much, and for reasons too complicated to explain, I have trouble getting Norwegian cash. In any case, I confess to jumping on and off again without a ticket some mornings.

The ethic that we grew up with in the hippie era – it’s ok to stick it to ‘the man’, including the phone company, the government, or anyone corporate, while maintaining a high personal ethic with our fellow individuals. (Supposedly – in fact we were sexist in our treatment of both women and gays.)

Nowadays, this kind of petty cheating is very rare for me – this one was remarkable for its appearance. Nobody wants to pay more taxes than they have to, so that’s simply a form of disguise. But not only can I afford the things I used to rationalize cheating on, but decades have shown me the humans in the corporations – and of course I have a few of those corporations myself these days. I still think ‘the people’ are getting screwed, but the sharply-drawn blacks and whites have all gone for the gray wash like those a friend showed me on some drawings in a museum in Edinburgh.

I have spent nearly $1300 replacing 2 shirts, 2 pairs of pants (a shirt has two sleeves, but it’s not a pair of shirts – why is that?), underwear, and a belt and a toothbrush, toothpaste, and shampoo – and not even high quality clothes. Surely that’s enough? Doesn’t that justify some cheating? But what does the Oslo Transit Authority have to do with British Airways?

In some form of poetry, British Airways coughs up my suitcase in my literal last hour in Oslo – I collect it and drop it onto my flight to Munich. BA offers to pay me £35 ($70) for having lost my luggage – surely that’s a form of cheating? Not even worth filing for, as it will take more time than it’s worth.

As the plane peels out over the rugged and extraordinary coast, I contemplate what constitutes cheating, and rapidly move from the convoluted but navigable pathways of the mind to the wild and stormy uncharted domain of the heart.

I recently had to tell a good friend that he hadn’t made the cut for a team. From the brain’s point of view, it was a straightforward call, but my heart – my compassion and my fear all mixed up – blew the communication, and the friendship was shot out of the sky. I never did team sports as a kid, and I guess I missed out on how to do these things kindly but quickly and clearly.

More recently still, I had to tell another friend – who was much younger emotionally than I ever suspected – that her fantasies about our ‘deep connection’ were just that. This was a blow, as I had thought I had a good friend, with none of the clutter that can gum up the easiest cross-gender friendship (at least in my generation – Misty seems immune to the problem and has equal friends in both genders). But the empathy and charm I use to create the bonds of friendship is all too easily mistaken for seduction, so – all unintended – I was the cheat. I must be so careful, and I hate having to be so watchful, so closed-hearted, so vigilant. Must I so close my heart to live as I am in this world?

But: Thou shalt not commit pain.

And I did.

My dear, sweet, infirm and insane wife understands the pathways of the heart better than anyone I know. A lot of good it has done her (not). Some people ‘get’ her and celebrate her wisdom, some (like my family) see only the surface and shake their heads in disbelief that I am with her, and gloriously happy with her, despite our differences, despite the frustrations, despite the fact that in learning her, I have committed pain.

The human heart is minefield, a battlefield, a stormy ocean, and a nightmare of phantasms all rolled into one. Of course it’s an Alpine meadow, a calm Aegean sea, and an exhilarating flying dream as well. Right now, though, with my body breaking down and my mind running on fumes from too much travel and too little reflective time, my heart and everyone else’s seems terra incognita, ultima thule, one of Dante’s circles of Hell.

I look forward to time off the road, out of this plane, in the arms of the one who sets straight the paths, calms the storms, and sorts the complexities out in simple, direct, and refreshingly earthy terms. Quan, I celebrate you.

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