The Narrow Way
It was a weekend full of sunshine. On Saturday morning I made the glorious drive up to Malibu along Pacific Coast Highway to meet my son while my husband competed in his first triathlon at Zuma Beach. The surfers were out in force, bobbing up and down in their black wetsuits on their boards atop the rolling waves. For a moment or two, as the sun struck the water with glistening silvery force, you could almost believe you were voyaging through a heavenly realm. Of course as with any earthly paradise, its hellish counterpart is never far away. As Bob Dylan sings in the Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest, ‘Don’t go mistaking paradise for that home across the road.’ One only has to glimpse the swathes of road around the city covered with tents and the increasingly drug haunted itinerant population to feel a terrible sense of sorrow; Los Angeles is in trouble.
After returning from the deep tranquility of our Buddhist course in France and jumping back into West Coast life, where distraction beckons with beguiling finesse from the entrance of every dime store, it has taken a couple of weeks to walk right side up again and to ponder matters worthy of contemplation within my own burning heart. We have some new elements in our existence here, one of which is our daughter’s entry into Transitional Kindergarten at Saint Martin of Tours School. It’s an absolute gem of a place, an intimate parochial school in Brentwood with a strong family atmosphere and excellent academics. Our son graduated from eighth grade there in the summer. Our daughter, happily settled in, adores her new teacher and chatters of all that she has done as soon as she jumps into the car at pick-up time. I attended a back to school night late last week with other parents. The president of the Fathers’ Club gave an address in which he spoke passionately about the significance of an education imbued with religious values, quoting from Matthew Chapter 7. I was brought close to tears and have been reaching for my copy of the King James Bible this week.
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.’ Matthew 7, 13-14
The songs from Modern Times and John Wesley Harding have been stalking me for some time and I’m listening to them frequently. The longer I live away from home the more I understand the beautiful and strangely precious gift such an existence offers. I’ve written before of the figure of the stranger in Dylan’s works. Oftentimes now I find myself gazing momentarily through his eyes and wandering the plains, where the altars are untended and the fashion of the faithless is a la mode. For an instant, everything seems far away.
Elsewhere, life here at the world’s end proceeds apace. The coming months hold the promise of previously unseen sights of the city as well as some travel further afield. At home my books are calling me; there’s a Bronte novel still to complete and I’ve been haunted by the opening refrain of Dante’s Divine Comedy far too persistently to ignore it any longer. I will be descending to the depths this winter before emerging to scale the transcendental heights of the poet’s Paradiso.
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura.
che le diritta via era smarrita.
Ah quanto a dir qual era e cosa dura.
esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte.
che nel pensiero rinova la paura!
When I had journeyed half of our life’s way
I found myself within a shadowed forest,
For I had lost the path that does not stray.
Ah, it is hard to speak of what it was,
That savage forest , dense and difficult,
Which even in recall renews my fear! (Inferno Canto 1, lines 1-6)