Wednesday, July 13, 2005

feel free to whinge

Any thief of a kiss can have your lips free;

When it's my turn you set a high price.

Any crime you forgive without real cause;

But mine?--you cry for the harshest of laws.

#1947: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: free

My calendar says I'm free of appointments or commitments today, so free became my search word in tracking down Rumi. Here he uses the word in the meaning of obtaining something valuable without needing to pay a price. The bliss of a kiss is there for free for those who'll steal it or simply take it because it's there. Rumi is grumbling here because it seems he has to work hard at this bliss that comes so easily to others. Likewise he whinges on in the second part: this time that he must pay a high price for forgiveness when he errs.

This verse creates contradictory reactions in me: on the one hand, it posits Rumi as exceptional, as a man with high standards for achievement and success and correspondingly tough strictures on errors or failures; on the other hand, it paints Rumi in a mocking tone as resembling a husband complaining to his wife that she's treating him bad. There is no doubt that Rumi was an exceptional individual and he must have known that during his lifetime. He renders that quality in such an earthy manner here that it's quite clear it never went to his head. His giftedness was a curse for him personally because it derived from a muse that demanded so much of him.

Of course, we all have this quality of exceptionality in us as expressed through the cliché of universal uniqueness. We each have a gift, a purpose, some special input to make. That giftedness does not reveal itself through easy pleasure or a carefree existence. It reveals itself through struggles. It is precisely when we feel most frustrated, most hard-done-by, that we are being most challenged. The irony, however, is that success in others always seems so easy. This is especially evident in these quatrains of Rumi's, written as a means of working through the great grief he felt at the loss of his beloved friend and teacher, Shams. The verses are so upbeat, so hopeful and joyous in tone. It sounds like he kisses the lips of his muse at will and almost constantly. If we listen, however, we hear that it is a struggle for him. Every word, every line, is extracted at a price.

I have an overwhelming feeling of love for Rumi for this willingness to keep paying the high prices. It was his gift to give so much, to reach out across cultures and across time. It was his gift to be so readable in far flung Australia almost a millenium after his time. I feel honored but also apprehensive. What struggles, what pain, what frustrations, does my own giftedness have in store for me? Will I fight this or accept it? I think I'll follow Rumi's lead on this and keep working hard while bitterly complaining at every step. I'll plod on while shaking my fist at divinity.


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