November 4, 2008

The Green Stone


"One day in Berlin came a telegram: 'Found a wonderful green stone. Come immediately, Zorba."

This missive comes near the end of Zorba the Greek. The idea of that green stone, and Zorba's desire for his friend to drop everything and travel across Europe in order to see it, has informed my world view ever since.

To be most accurate, Zorba's ability to find the utmost pleasures in the simplest yet purest experiences has pointed me in the direction I would like my life to follow. I want to be a person that would drop everything to go see a green stone. I crave that spontaniety and passion for aesthetic. But only in my finest moments have I lived with such zest and disregard for 'common sense.' Most of the time it is just an ideal to be thought of fondly in moments of reflection, but discarded in the everyday pressures of daily life.

My own green stone has become the ancient gingko tree in Xiangshan park to the west of Beijing. A few years ago, in late October, early November, I found myself in a secluded corner of the park, no easy task under the crush of thousands of autumn leaf watchers. The tree struck me immediately, its leaves were a brilliant yellow, the branches twisted upward and outward in the most stereotypical majestic manner. I immediately was reminded of Zorba and I wanted to share that tree with someone. I thought, "This tree would be worth a trip around the world to see."

I have tried to go back and see that tree every Fall, and bring friends with me each time. But as time has passed, I realized something about that tree, and in conjunction, about Zorba and the stone. As amazed as I was by the leaves of that Gingko tree, no one else ever seemed as struck by its majesty. In truth, and this was hard to admit to myself, not even I could reconjure the same feeling the next time. As beautiful as the tree was, viewing it was no longer a transcendent experience.

I want to be the person to drop everything and go see the beautiful stone, but if I allowed myself to be beckoned in such a way, I would inevitably find disappointment in the stone itself. The green stone might have affected Zorba in a profound way, but anyone else would see it differently. We each have our own reactions to the stimuli around us, and are enamored in our own manner. My return to the Gingko tree proves that we cannot even rekindle our own experiences in a different time.

And I have realized that the point of the green stone is not a question of whether you want to go and see the stone or not. The question is whether you are willing to allow your friend to call you across time and space to share a experience that for her is profound. Zorba is enamored of the rock. Am I the kind of friend that will drop everything to be with him as he experiences it? Zorba's request is to see his friend and share a moment with him, a moment that may seem trivial to anyone else but to Zorba has great meaning.

I would love to be able to summon my friends to my side to share my most profound moments with me. But I believe I lack the empathy to be able to share my friends' moments. I am too self involved. And this is one of my greatest failings.

1 comment:

aprilbeijing said...

and i'm enamored of doc's blog :)