I slump forward tiredly. I am losing my home.
For many days now, even years maybe, I have felt unmoored with an unpleasant listlessness that I evade analyzing. It could be that I purposefully put off this soul-searching, much like a kid who saves his most favorite candy to eat the last. I am not sure. All I know is that I have not been honest in analyzing myself on paper. Maybe one should never analyze oneself. It is very much a childish and vain undertaking.
The steel container I use to heat water for a cup of tea is rattling. Most of the water has vaporized. Just a bubbling steaming little left at the bottom. I turn the stove off, glad that I do not have to pretend I wanted tea. I cast my mind to generic childhood memories fruitlessly trying to wring nostalgia out of them.
I recently read King of the World, by David Remnick. In which, early on, Cassius Clay (not yet Mohammad Ali then) was described thus.
“Sometimes he sounds humorous, but sometimes he sounds like Ezra Pound’s poetry. He’s like a man who can write beautifully but doesn’t know how to punctuate. He has this twentieth-century exuberance but there is bitterness in him somewhere…He is certainly coming along at a time when a new face is needed on the boxing scene, on the fistic horizon. But in his anxiousness to be this person he may be overplaying his hand by belittling people…]
The Louisville Lip did not hold back on his thoughts. He pronounces himself a superstar. An inevitable conqueror of the world. He has fashioned in his powerful imagination a world that can be conquered in a 23 * 23 ft ring, between two humans. If he stopped to think of the absurdity of the proclamation and its legitimacy or legality Clay would not be the legend he is now. A fast-talking, smooth moving, battling gladiator for all times. A man unashamed to exaggerate what turned out to be an era of physical dominance.
People like Cassius Clay to me are an unfathomable wonder. His courage, his single-minded pursuit of, and devotion to, boxing makes me envy his ability to identify his calling in life. In my mid-thirties, I consciously have to remind myself that I do not have to justify decisions. There are friends and family whose world view is completely different, inverse even, from mine.
Many days earlier, hanging up again after a call with my parents I replay the staid Sunday conversation, delayed and metallic through the speaker of a Vonage phone as I put it on mute and stare into space yet again, in my head. I knew I was not having a conversation. I was just relaying news, as I suspected were they. A cursory question about the weather, a tentative allusion to having kids before its too late, how my days went ( a question which drives home the futility of the conversation even more) and an “Ok. I’ll call you next week”.
What had gone wrong? Shouldn’t I feel ecstatic to converse with my parents who were presumably as excited to talk to me? Vaguely I shove these misgivings to the corner of my brain. Some things are better not analyzed. A rational analysis claws away warm love, the lens of adoration and familiarity replacing them with who knows what.
I need to read more. An activity that offers the pretense of higher pursuits but can house strong-minded weak-willed escapists. Maybe even a colony of such tribesmen. Doesn’t every reader have a fear they are evading through their reading?
“I remember in the early sixties how we felt at home about Ali. We weren’t about to join the Nation, but we loved Ali for that supreme act of defiance. It was the defiance against having to be the good negro, the good Christian waiting to be rewarded by the righteous white provider.”
Is a home a place of familiarity and memories? Do traumatic experiences count or are only the sepia-toned memories that lack the cracked details to be counted? I have my share of good memories. I also measure early memories with newly acquired worldviews. A disservice to everyone. Such a harsh temporal measurement of our past always throws up enough evidence to warrant a reformed emotion associated with that memory in us. But then the benign understanding that we are juxtaposing values and customs of a different time onto a bygone hour quickly kills such expressions of defiance. The struggle is in justifying an act of defiance, a struggle that has to overcome that torpid reasoning of futility. How and why could Ali bring himself to be so defiant at so many injustices? Why can’t I still take a stance without second-guessing, third guessing the positions, reasonings, results, emotions, and externalities of such an action? I know why. I think the answers lie in the stewing unexplored intertwined globule of memories and values.
If a home is made of memories, then as you untangle the memories, straightening them out and laying them bare, one’s home unravels. It comes undone with each tug and if you are careful enough not to rend them asunder, maybe, just maybe, you can put them together again exactly how you want to remember it.
Cassius Clay became Mohammad Ali on his journey to peace and identity. A conversion that cost him his love, Sonji Roi. An identity that tried to supplant his exuberance and individuality with conformity and a surrender of a different kind. As was wont he committed. His life and personality changed through his actions, some inconsequential, some monumental. This is where his legendary status is earned. Throughout the tumultuous process of ever-changing political and social contexts, Ali never once doubted his decisions. He forged ahead. Embraced the questionable and wrestled them to submission. He turned everything Ali. He was a living example of how one doesn’t need to know everything to act with defiance. A lesson that one doesn’t have to analyze good and evil to their ends to actually be good. A humbling human fable of how even Kings of the World win more by relinquishing than usurping.
Ali’s (and Floyd Patterson’s and Sonny Liston’s) lives are worth analyzing. Men who lived life king-sized and faced life-and-death situations, made enemies and friends for life, and battled and sparred for the mirth of others. Yes. Those were lives. My struggles, they are petty. Once again I realize that books and reading are not mere escapes. They might seem to be objects in a claustrophobic darkroom, but it is there that I develop my own understanding of experiences. They are a peephole into history that pat me on my back sending me along the way out of the darkroom back into light.
Once again words arranged by unknown people touch my life in ways they do not imagine.
Maybe I do need my cup of tea. A nice hot steaming cup of tea. A cup of tea to accompany my smile as I sit back and take a deep breath of relief. Maybe homes are just a choice.