I like to think of shorter term events that happen within longer lasting containers. Looking at a house, I wonder about the lives and moments that might have passed within. Looking at San Jose and Santa Clara Valley, I wonder about the different ways human groups have organized their societies, passing through their individual days and ultimately passing through the entirety of a society’s allotted time. In the last 250 years, Santa Clara Valley has hosted Indigenous, Spanish, Mexican, US agricultural, and US technological societies. Now, the Valley–including its main city where I grew up–along with the nation and globe are on the cusp of some new form of human organization.
For some time (like my 50 years of adulthood), I wanted to present an encompassing overview of human life in and around my hometown, finding a meaningful narrative and at the same time intimately feeling the human experience. Whatever motivated the quest still inspires me, but after the many years of competing attractions and unavoidable necessities, I’ve come back with the same old heart, but humbler ambitions.
Until recently and for a number of years, I lived in Berlin, a great city that is currently thriving, but also sunk in the ghost memories of its uniquely, unfathomably painful past. Just beneath the concerns of the day, the historical air is perceptible and dense in Berlin. Walking along the street, amongst the buildings and the faces of a previous era’s descendants, you can go as far down the emotional humanscape as you care to. Often enough in this expanded context, I would experience myself as a passing moment or, put another way, an increment of phenomena in the life of the greater organism, which is Berlin. I felt a continuity of presence between Nazis dragging off a terrified soul in 1938 and me walking along in 2020.
While San Jose is hardly Berlin, it has, nonetheless, its own enduring presence. It has its own profound “What Actually Is,” and this always underlays the narrower focus of everyday preoccupations. I believe the felt perception of a living whole, such as a city, invites you to enter the territory of wonder, with the further possibility that every little thing is experienced as an illuminated spark of life, intimate and raised in relief. This goes for past events as well as “real time” events–both can hold the glow of “God’s Creation” or, if you prefer, the “Miracle of Being.”
So, with lowered ambitions, I give myself permission to simply delve into memories or reflections, holding the notion that sometimes, in some way, these will carry or convey the deeper presence from which they arise.