Vol. 1, Branded Souls: Chapter 1 (Pt 3)

(Read Pt. 2 here) or from the beginning of the chapter: here

With the squirrel now gone, He sat alone. Silently, Hart convened with nature under her relaxed sky. She mused and offered billowed clouds as a measure of solace. The pastel colored tulips, brothers and sisters of pinks and reds, bobbed in rows, listening too to his thoughts. They swayed and rippled. Even the sprigs of cool wild lilac seemed to lend their lavender shoulders. He had slipped out of his boots and rolled cuffs into his denim pants. The grass was thick but without roughness or barbs.

He watched a bee moving along as if in a dream. It only gave attention and adoration to especially fragrant and bright flowers. Above him, a few birds could be heard warbling in the copse of the magnolia; the song and performance came direct from the pages of nature’s own play. Hart enjoyed the fare and he read along with a deft ear. He moved his toes like encroaching soldiers in the verdant turf and immediately began to feel better like a calm that comes to one after the acceptance of hard news.

Chatting idly, a couple passed along the way, perhaps taking a detour to the city that lay at the bottom of Booker Hill Park. At the sight of this shoeless, unshaven and peculiar man, looking at the sky, sprawled out along the bench, their conversation grew hushed. “Washington, D.C. is more conservative than you might expect…” He whistled between his teeth. His perspective and power wasn’t clear to a passerby or a friend because he kept it that way. It was evident enough to him. His outward appearance was maybe that of late twenties. He dressed in plain clothes but somehow, always seemed to stand out and draw attention. Hart appeared to be quite youthful but his mannerisms didn’t match his age. He moved slowly and spoke deliberately as though every word that came from his mouth had been purposefully drawn for a desired effect.

An unintended silence had pervaded as the couple walked towards him on the path; they had to fight their natural urge to set a queer eye in his direction. “Must be from out of town…” Hart smiled as their curiosity peaked. They glanced over to his direction despite of themselves. Hart noticed, smiled with one eye open, the other closed and nodded his head emphatically. They carried on just as they came, now passing Hart and taking to their course, slowly meandering down the tulip lined, redbrick path. “Good folks, good upbringing.” Hart chuckled and considered them as his eyes opened to follow the entwined figures, slowly descending and out of sight.Hart laughed suddenly, remembering the messy incident and the last group to pass by. That time it wasn’t awkward whispers or a hurrying by.

During that fantastic age of adolescences, ‘the illusion of invulnerability,’ as Hart called it, either plagued or embarrassed those having to carry its weight; to some, it emboldened ego, to others, it inspired foolishness, in the worst case, both. This group took gazing awkwardness to another level but still, Hart empathized- He couldn’t remember when he was at that age or if he ever was a victim of disillusion or vice a versa but he tried to observe everything with equanimity: “Perhaps I am just in some dream world, waiting to rouse from my slumber.”

This afternoon, as he was stretching before his nap, he could hear scoffing from across a hedgerow. A raucous youth had deemed Hart a worthy target. With his crew of equally young men, they hopped over a fence, demolishing a flowerbed. They took a few steps forward close enough to where he sat and established themselves immediately: they let fly taunts and insults meant to wound.

Sometimes I enjoy a jest- it lends itself amusement,” Hart maintained, “…But their angle could use some polishing”. They attacked and tried to undermine him as a homeless vagrant. They gave Hart the other end of it, too with a potluck of tree-hugging and homosexual clichés.

Hart rolled his eyes; his shield was iron, his confidence unbreakable. He understood, “the best medicine in the world is that of laughter.” But there was no laughter to be had with this lot, so he extended the axiom to fit.

“…The next best medicine is discipline. ” He grinned to himself, “Funny is what it’ll be, discipline is what they’ll get.

The most outspoken stepped up, “Hey, dumbass whatcha’ mumblin’ about, you drunk?”

Another shouted from the group, “You’re fucking up our park!”

Hart called softly, not looking at them, “Have you seen what you’re stepping on?”

The kid looked down at the trampled flowers and ivy and finishing a soda can, he dropped it then crushed it under his feet.

He shot back, “Well its our park and we can step on these flowers if we want- you don’t pay for em’, you fuckin’ slob!”

Hart surely passed for a vagrant or derelict at times but this he wasn’t-drifter perhaps, but not down and out; this was impossibility for a man of his talents. He considered his dress: a spotless though slightly wrinkled shirt and blue denim jeans without any holes or patches.

“My momma don’t do my washin’ boy, why don’t you go home and change you’re underwear before I make you shit your pants.” Hart began laughing to himself; he played along at their expense.

The group standing behind the aggressor snickered, “Ah, Shut the hell up!” He growled, “You want to start something, faggot or you wanna’ take a walk down to Dupont so I can tell all your friends how we’re gonna’ ruin your rainbow-lovin’ day?” Such jeers had no effect and to the vexation of the issuer, they landed without punch.

“Ease-up partner, it’s the 21st century we’re living in and my friends, in Dupont, would be equally upset if you ruined my day as I would be if you ruined there’s.”

“Wise guy, we’re gonna’ beat your ass stupid, right here.”

As he said this the 3 others stepped forward to join the ringleader.

“Look guys, I apologize, you’re a bunch of nice lads- you want an apple or share some of my sandwich?” He sat up and reached into his rucksack at his feet and proffered a green apple. The group looked incensed and was swearing menacingly as they began to approach Hart.

Meanwhile, Hart was unaffected and cutting an apple into slices. The motley crew took this unsheathed knife with suspicion and two stopped approaching.

“Hey man, this guy is out of his mind- I’m not about to be shanked.”

The other agreed and called up the ranks, “It aint’ worth it, Marcus, we’re in D.C. you don’t know how crazy fools are around here.” Hart stared at them emptily; his nonchalance unnerved them.

“…Those kid are bright.” 

(Continued here: pt 4)

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Prose and Commentary Response: Thoughts of M. Aurelius

Stoicism:

Marble Bust, photographed by Pierre- Selim

Marble Bust, photographed by Pierre- Selim

“The quality or behavior of a person who accepts what happens without complaining or showing emotion.” -Merriam Webster

Lets shed some light on the philosophy of stoicism and one of it’s greatest proponents, the ancient Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, whose published meditations and thoughts offered his perspective on the matter. I’ll analyze some of his main points and offer a few contrary arguments as we lightly discuss some of the more relevant elements listed therein:

When I read the Thoughts of Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, (121-180 AD) I am immediately impressed by his use of nature and consideration of the natural; equally, his distinct opposition towards pleasure. These points stands out as a major under-pinning to his credo of, ‘stoicism’. It would seem that he moved or strived for a life free from distraction and the perturbations that come with the territory of being a human in his high station. Aurelius tell us that, “(the)…soul is dyed by thoughts.”(P.28 Book V) He is inferring to his meditation that to be swayed from your primary focus is to create unbalance and superfluity within yourself. “…to be vexed at anything which happens is a separation of ourselves from nature.” (P.9 Book II) He goes on to explain his position on matters such as pleasure, honor, death and simple, effective living.

Foremost, I partially disagree with stoicism to the extent that, by it’s adherence of extracting oneself from pleasure, one can live a more powerful and meaningful existence; pleasure should not be wholly demonized. An indulgence in the arts can provide a fundamental brick of ones life in and of itself. See for instance a great artist who has no other medium to communicate to society other than by the medium of paint; his traditional faculties of communication are wanting. By indulging in art, his ability to perform social acts are improved. Even Marcus Aurelius explains how in life there are but two most important fundamentals: “…a pious disposition and social acts.” (P. 36 Book VI) The artist who indulges in pleasure is providing a social act, in and of his power allotted to his own station. However, I concur with the Emperor willingly to, “…let thy principles be brief and fundamental.” (P.17 Book IV) Furthermore, “…expecting nothing, fear nothing, but satisfied with thy present activity according to nature, and with heroic truth in every word.” (P.14 Book III) This is the stuff of an honorable life well-spent that mingles fluidly with the definition of stoicism.

I maintain most of his meditations to be honorable and rather timeless in the scope of humankind, despite his admonition that we are all to die and be forgotten, sooner rather than later. “…Short too the longest posthumous fame, and even this only continued by a succession of poor human beings who will very soon die, and who know not even themselves, much less him who died long ago.” (P.13 Book III) On the contrary, I believe a mans work is his eternal echo and gift to the descendants of man; it is parceled from generation to generation depending on its quality and strengthened by the bond of time. It is true that the whole scope of human existence is small but Marcus Aurelius’s view on this subject seems to want to step aside and let come what may. Aurelius explains, “For it is in our power, as I said, to get out of the way, and have no suspicion nor hatred.” (P.35 Book VI)
Stoicism is simple and uncomplicated: keep calm, maintain composure, use the power of rationality and abstain from pleasure. However, I’ve neither known nor have read of an uncomplicated human even in the most pious and socially benevolent. Chaos and confusion plays a rule in human life insomuch that methinks, it is a mans appointment to struggle. How difficult must this stoicism be to follow when it presents itself so unnaturally to a human? I digress. The thoughts of Aurelius may or may not agree but he’d understand that nature orchestrates something tumultuous, something foreign and wild while reason, like a heart-beat attempts a steady percussion to match. “Every moment think steadily as a Roman and a man to do what thou hast in hand with perfect and simple dignity, and feeling of affection, and freedom, and justice, and to give thyself relief from all other thoughts.” (P.7 Book II)

Aurelius tell us that we are born to die and our nature is unpreventable and by careful management we can stride proudly into graves as gracefully as any dead and dusty hero. “Show these qualities then which are altogether in thy power, sincerity, gravity, endurance of labor, aversion to pleasure, contentment with thy portion and with few things benevolence, frankness and no love of superfluity…” (P.25 Book V) This he believed, will make even the most fearful mortal have the conviction stand to nature and her allotment despite any injury or mutilation that befall.
He evinced a calm and poise as he would describe a river that by nature knows no limitations or time but it has a focus and ultimately achieves its end. “For substance is like a river in a continual flow…” (P. 29 Book V) Like atoms in the universe who fill a role, though obscure and a minutia, so too are men who are all afforded a class of soul-nobility if they so choose. “…man’s duty to comfort himself, and to wait for the natural dissolution, and not to be vexed at the delay…” (P.27 Book V)
To be unsettled is useless. He believed that being irrational was to be a wild animal with no sense, though he considers all humans as animals; some are given awareness which divides them from the heard. “One thing here is worth a great deal, to pass thy life in truth and justice with a benevolent disposition even to liars and unjust men.” (P.39 Book VI)
Emperor Marcus Aurelius was schooled by teachers like Diognetus with Grecian discipline, Rusticus who planted in him a mistrust in sophists, and a strength of discipline, Sextus, a benevolent disposition, Alexander the Grammarian, to not find fault in the solecistic* speech of others, and many other great minds that did not implicitly teach Stoicism.** The combined result of his education and experiences afforded him the vantage point of a stoic mind that emphasized nature, rationality, the forbearance of emotion and the refusal of pleasure. For what it is worth and what has been mentioned, wether we agree or not, his thoughts and meditation put this leader in good stead with his peers and countrymen. That much is true. In later history books, he is considered the last of the 5 great Emperors of the Roman Empire because he won the cooperation of the senate a feat which the previous generations of Caesars failed to achieve.


Poison and Panacea by J. Foley

The rogue Shepard,
He in tall towers,
Hath led his lambs,
To wolves of avarice,
To ravenous, bloodied wolves,
Intent on rending soul from self,
Arm yourself well against,
Their tearing teeth,
With compassion-
Indulge in art,
And things that ought not matter,
Bait cannot tempt,
Those free from want.


“Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.”
Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus

 


Bibliography:

  • Aurelius, Marcus. The Thoughts of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Trans. George Long. Ed. Edwin Ginn. Boston: Ginn, 1893. Kindle.
  • “Stoicism.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 15 May 2014

Footnotes:

*Solecism is a mistake in speech, a blunder or a deviation from the normal.

**See the opening pages of, The Thoughts of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antonius for a list of his teachers and their contributions. 


 

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