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Translucence

I applied for a job out in Monrovia last week. My intuition is that an interview will not be forthcoming, but the opportunity caused me to realize that Pasadena is a center of activity that resonates well with the forces that attract my attention. Not only are JPL and CalTech premier technology centers, the latter hosts the Skeptics Society, a community of relatively free-thinking people. Just down the freeway in Claremont we have a divinity school, public policy college and Harvey Mudd. Sierra Madre hosts Reasons to Believe, a group of Christian apologists led by the Hugh Ross, who is nearing retirement. Finally, I’d be able to join the contact improve community, work out at the Bikram studio, and hike in the San Gabriel mountains.

But in my reflections on the general milieu, a specific personality came to the fore. It was a part of the experience at last year’s Skeptics Conference that I didn’t reveal at the time.

In reading intellectual history, we almost always find that liberal communities have as their nucleus a forum in which self-assured and beautiful women can meet brilliant men. That was readily apparent to me at the conference, although I found myself a little embarrassed by the age differential between the men and the ladies. Not being an anomaly in that regard, I focused on the ideas that were presented.

But as I was wandering from the conference hall to the snack table, an alabaster woman in a cerulean silk shift caught my attention. The combination was striking in itself, but as she turned away from me, the plunging back of her dress revealed a pink welt where her lower ribs had pressed against her seat. I was completely beguiled by this evidence of her physical vulnerability, and allowed myself to enjoy deeply the desire to protect her.

She froze and turned to glance at me out of the corner of her eye, lips parted gently in surprise, then took refuge with her friends. But as the conversations wound down and the attendees wandered back to the hall, I found her standing in my way, ten feet apart from a little semi-circle of her friends, and had to resist the impulse to escort her back to her seat.

I have my own evidence of vulnerability, deep scars on my face from eczema that did not clear until I was in my late twenties. My father suffered similarly in his youth, and his uncle treated him with x-rays, probably contributing to the skin cancer that left him disfigured at the end of his life. My own case evolved into deep abscesses, left untreated until my mother was approached by a counselor in high school. This left me terribly humble in the presence of women in college, exacerbated by my awareness that when I found a young lady trying to draw her boyfriend’s attention to me, I would be beset by hatred that caused the pimples to burn.

All of my life, I have caught unguarded glances from my intimates that reveal just how disfigured I appear in direct sunlight, and many people have advised me to have my skin smoothed. But I have never bothered, because I almost always found that the pity was replaced by an apologetic smile. The smile seemed to be accompanied by a recognition that it was my heart and mind that were precious to them, and that my outward appearance was only so jarring because of the contrast with what they encountered within.

The evening with the Skeptics Society ended with a performance by a Ukrainian band led by brilliant pianist. I sat in the front row on the left side where I could see his hands on the keys, and was surprised to discover that nobody else sat in the row with me. Rather, the crowd, greatly reduced from the day’s attendance, was scattered around the hall. The pianist was an instigator, though, and commanded us all to get up and dance. Michael Schermer’s wife caught sight of me cutting the rug in my socks, and came over to bump hips with me. But across the center row, I caught sight of the alabaster woman again, clapping her hands and bouncing gently on her heels.

For the last number, we were called onto the stage itself. I found myself dancing toward the piano. The performer laid himself atop the lid and played backwards on the keys while I raised my encircled hands over his heart, guiding energy into him. He finally staggered away, stopping next to his brother, the lead guitarist, pointing at me and shaking his head in wonder. As the number wound down, I turned to go, the calm center of a stunned gathering, and found the young lady offering me her admiration and desire.

I have tried to communicate this before: women are designed to bind personality to matter, and deep in their hearts there is nothing they desire more than to do that in partnership with love. But her wonder reflects a common feminine reality: men want to project their greed into them. As a society, we have conditioned them to accept that, and so as a form of protection they dis-integrate themselves. The sacred vessel of the womb is divided from their heart and mind. My deepest shame as a man originates in the sympathetic cry of my heart in the presence of women that have been so wounded. I try to put them back together again, and the response is often a desire to take me into them.

There used to be a saying about a man “moving heaven and earth” to safeguard a woman’s love. But the wounds on my face are evidence of engagement in a deep spiritual conflict. More than once, I have had visions of offering a woman the earth to tend with me. They flee in sorrow, return it upon realizing they don’t know what to do with it, or surrender it to their more acquisitive sisters. Fortunately, its preferences are clear – while it took me decades to gather it the first time, in the last instance I regained it in a few hours.

Mary Margaret invited us out to Pomona College this evening for her senior art exhibit, and I decided to make a day of it out in Pasadena at the Huntington. As I drove down the 101, I was again in the presence of the lady in blue, and found myself revisiting that scene outside the conference hall. Stepping in front of her, I stooped to whisper “You understand that your skin is suffused with the light that seeks to come into the world through you?” The wonder in her eyes allowed me to encourage her “I can unlock that for you, but you have to understand that it’s too much for your body to contain. You have to let it out into the world – into the trees, the little creatures of the air and field, the very air, the clouds and sun themselves. Do you understand?” She nodded, and I stepped behind her and placed my hand over heart.

To feel her expand in radiant fluorescence that was celebrated by all the world around her.

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