Last Saturday, we climbed up to Bernal Heights, though we didn’t recognize it until we were above the rainy city, curved on three sides by the sprawl. We could see the green peppered sea, see the neighborhood we’d just come from, see tree-groves and industrial alleys, see roofs and shreds of graffiti and the whole pastel urban quilting that equals San Francisco from a semi-distance.
There were two swings hanging from a tree near the top of the hill, which we hoarded for a solid twenty. And there were moments–while we pushed off from the hillside, spiraling over the steep city–when the only thing tying us to this budding, decaying earth was a thin cord of nylon. Plus a few even-thinner cords of affection, just a few tugs away from snapping.
He commented on how amazing it was that so many people existed in such a relatively small area (this dangerous human density), and how sewage systems were such an impressive feat of engineering (so essential to our concentrated existence). I don’t know why that made my heart hum–maybe because his was a complementary way of seeing things.
Eyes that I don’t have, but ache for.
In Zen, Pirsig writes about the classical-versus-romantic divide, which can kind of be summed up like this: Romantics see a thing for what it appears to be–an idealization, a totality, a finished object–the colorful city-quilt that might, on a good day, signify something higher than itself. They understand a thing’s essence. To dissect it, to detail its inner workings, would be to empty it of power.
The “classicals” see a thing not just for what it seems, but for what it actually is or contains–the substrata, the skeleton, the precise, unbeautiful reality. They recognize the crucial smaller parts from which a thing is constituted, its underlying forms and systems, its necessary foundations, its internal logic, its elements and implications. They cannot see anything without also seeing what it’s composed of. They dissect to understand, and understanding isn’t optional.
Maybe I’m relaying this wrongly, but I have to include the happy ending. Like Pirsig, I think maybe we’re wide enough to see the world from both angles at once. Utter rationality and exhilarating here-ness! Gut and reason, holding hands.