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Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Life of a Real Man: Just Another Vainglorious, Shriveled Fig

"A Man In His Life"
by Yehuda Amichai

A man doesn't have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn't have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
Was wrong about that.

A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment,
to laugh and cry with the same eyes,
with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them,
to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest
what history
takes years and years to do.

A man doesn't have time.
When he loses he seeks, when he finds
he forgets, when he forgets he loves, when he loves
he begins to forget.

And his soul is seasoned, his soul
is very professional.
Only his body remains forever
an amateur. It tries and it misses,
gets muddled, doesn't learn a thing,
drunk and blind in its pleasures
and its pains.

He will die as figs die in autumn,
Shriveled and full of himself and sweet,
the leaves growing dry on the ground,
the bare branches pointing to the place
where there's time for everything.

Men never have the time to do all they want to do, or, for that matter, they never have the time to do all they need to do. As Yehuda Amichai observes, men can't possibly devote a full season to all of their endeavors. The rapid, never-ending "turning" of life barely allows days or even hours for many of their most cherished activities.

Maybe Ecclesiastes should more accurately state: "To every thing there is a moment, and a little time to every purpose under the heaven."

Amichai understands that unless men, as foible humans, accept the "ups and downs" of life and express their true reactive emotions as these things happen, they miss the opportunity to realize the most meaningful experiences of their own times.

In reality, most men are not graced with a generous allotment of time to "digest" and retrace their own existence. In short, they are too busy living and dealing with the next new challenge to devote extra time to good reasoning. Many find complimentary mid-life adjustment very difficult; some find it impossible.

And, Amichai contends loss and ambition and love serve to muddy the memory. Oh yes -- the soul becomes "seasoned" with its unique experience and emotion; however, the body ages and becomes "drunk and blind in its pleasures and its pains." Time does not allow the rapidly aging body to exercise its maximum soulful potential. Stumbles are inevitable as men "live" their roles.

The passage of time effectively traps older, seasoned "souls" in their "muddled" and progressively amateurish bodies. This seems like such a dreadful fate for those men who have gained wisdom and purpose. How many wise minds have lamented mistakes and said "If I could only go back and relive my life knowing what I know now"? Yet, those are the common workings of "A Man In His Life."

"He will die as figs die in autumn,
Shriveled and full of himself and sweet,
the leaves growing dry on the ground,
the bare branches pointing to the place
where there's time for everything."

The imagery in the last stanza speaks for itself. Finality is bittersweet for the person who has dutifully raced through his earthly existence. He has become "shriveled" but still maintains a self-proclaimed "fullness" and "sweetness" until his fruit becomes another morsel of the final harvest. the death to which he and all men must ultimately succumb.

Still, as "A Man and His Life" draws to a close, Amichai underscores his theme of promise and resurrection with the image of "the bare branches pointing to the place where there's time for everything."  

My Brief Take

From the time we are young adults, we men are flooded with conflicting emotions, drives, and expectations. We must learn to fight and to love while living with some semblance of civility and proper decorum. To be both Superman and Jesus is impossible, and while most of us desire to do our best to emulate perfection, we are doomed to fall woefully short of our own expectations and the expectations that many others set for us.

Let's face it. We can love someone and yet feel serious attraction to someone else. We can hate someone and at the same time have such respect for them that it seems that we actually like them. In our man's life, we quickly learn that it is simpler sometimes to not question the turmoil of our inner world too much. We just don't have the time or the innate ability to be a human Gentle Ben.

Given the restraints of time, we men often make decisions without considering all the requirements of right and wrong. We decide to "live in the moment" and move ahead, but later we must deal with the consequences of our actions. By doing this, some of us unfortunately get trapped in a vicious cycle, a whirlpool we cannot escape.

All good-hearted men handle many conflicts in their time. They consistently succeed and fail, and most don't find time to adjust. Amichai reminds us that though we men are often "full of ourselves," we are also pawns of fate. I believe he is saying that we must accept our lives and our imperfections as we attempt to discover whatever "sweeetness" we were meant to add to the world -- at least until the time when the branches are bare and the autumn leaves begin to fall.

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