Jack & Lucky Chapter 12, Part 3
Chapter 12, Part 3
It was Saturday before Elder Seaburg met Jack again. He made it a point to find Jack to continue the discussion where they had been interrupted the previous Sunday. He had indeed taken on Jack’s mental state as a special challenge and came very close to a solution.
Elder Seaburg began: “Part of any solution process is to simplify the goal. Elder Lincoln, you have to stop looking for certainty based on spirituality, but look for comfort based on an appreciation of the inevitable mysterious nature of the universe.” This was very close to Jack’s previous conclusion — appreciation for the mystery in infinity — except Seaburg was manipulating the conclusion in reverse to suit his own purposes.
“It doesn’t seem intellectually honest to look for comfort.”
“That’s not right. It’s perfectly honest as long as you understand it’s so simple. Spirituality brings content and comfort. We all need comfort. You are looking for comfort from a kind of scientific certainty applied to religious questions. That’s like forcing yourself to sleep on nails, you should know in advance that you won’t be comfortable.”
“That’s true. I have developed this mental process that challenges every idea, endlessly. My mind goes through each concept one at a time and runs all different kinds of ideas through the same kind of scrutiny, honestly and objectively. What’s wrong with that?” Jack was referring to what he had described earlier as his “decision track.”
“Because you’re applying the right techniques to the wrong kind of questions. Scientific method can help you answer questions that respond to a search of evidence, etc. But religious questions require a different kind of inquiry. It’s like you have to partition your brain and thinking process and use a rarified form of logic when you challenge religious issues. Since the questions are different and of a very different nature, the process by which you analyze each must therefore also be different.”
This argument was very much like the one Jack had developed, albeit incompletely, in Bari, “…boundaries must be placed on ideas to be considered.” In Torino Jack recognized the limitations of language in dealing with the concept of infinity but he had not made a concession to using a separate logic.
Jack continued after a thoughtful pause. “I’ll have to think about that for a while. That doesn’t sound right. That sounds like stacking the deck. In such a case the answer could easily be predetermined by the reasoning process selected. I’ll have to think about that.”
“You have to redirect your attention and search in a different direction. Like Columbus discovered the new continent by challenging the old assumptions, you have to do the same when you approach questions of religion. You have to challenge the very assumptions which you have been given by the scientific community.”
“I’ll work on that and see what happens.”
“I’ve never really talked to anyone about this idea before, in fact I never really came to that realization myself until you challenged me. But I think it has a reasonable validity. I’ll have to run it through a few more tests myself.”
Jack’s journal showed a more circuitous effort–self-discipline, desire, work, faith–that boiled down to a rationalization for staying in Italy in spite of a lack of a core belief.
Elder Seaburg’s solution was much better but much more difficult to conceptualize. Jack would have to change the very “decision track” that he had worked so hard to develop and identify. Jack seemed to say the right words to challenge the idea. He might not have been capable or willing to apply such a double standard.
Jack had indeed confused the two quite different kinds of mystery in his mind. There are the scientific mysteries and each year we read more fantastic discoveries relating to these. These can and will eventually be approached and solved by stronger telescopes and more powerful microscopes. These are the facts of nature. But quite apart are the unfathomable mysteries which lie outside the realm of science. These are the mysteries connected to infinity that are properly celebrated by religion. How can we ever decode these mysteries, intrinsic to what we think of as Universe and often clouded in the very language we use to attempt the solution?
Jack recognized this for a minute in Torino when he reached his conclusions and described the limitations of language. It would be some time, until the next cycle of doubts, before he could put it all together. He had focused on this discrepancy between religious mystery and scientific mystery when he discovered the problem of describing an infinite god. He had understood two separate mysteries in Bari and described the need for two different kinds of mental activity. He didn’t yet realize the importance of celebration and ceremony, for example, and the role that played in giving people comfort, much less the importance of clinging to that comfort.
For the mysteries involving scientific discovery, there are many tools of investigation, including laboratory experiments, theoretical and quantum physics besides mathematical formulae and astronomy. But for the other category of mystery there was only poetry, art, architecture, music and religion which was only beginning to affect Jack; the music of San Remo.
He had indeed confused religious inquiry with one kind of scientific investigation or a priori reasoning. That was a fault of his Mormon upbringing because Church leaders were always giving substantive proofs for the miracles, such as Joseph Smith receiving the Gold Plates. They relied on the testimony of twelve witnesses, for example. They looked to archeological evidence to support their claims. They didn’t rely on any art or mystical powers to create or support their religious legends.
There was less emphasis on inspiring members and more on convincing them. The Mormon Religion sought deliberately to be too practical in a realm where it would have succeeded better if it had been more esoteric and ethereal. Elder Seaburg developed his intuition into a coherent explanation and discovered this essential weakness in Jack’s mental struggles. Apparently Jack was the catalyst for this discovery or at least for his simple coherent expression of it.
The value of a beautiful, rare painting, for example, is achieved in part by scarcity but also by some mystical sense of the uniqueness, emotion and excellence associated with it. It has a connection to a genius that received inspiration for a body of work that can never be duplicated. Religion could have that same attribute of value based on the genius of its mysticism. It did for some, but Jack had not been introduced to that aspect yet or he was simply insensitive to it. He was too absolutist and not trained to enjoy the aesthetic aspect of an organization that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Elder Seaburg was sensitive to that, but was not yet capable of explaining it in such a comprehensive way; although he was close.
After all this machination Jack began the new week with an enthusiastic effort. Between Sunday School and the evening meeting he and Elder Rosen began knocking on doors to see how effective Sunday tracting could be.
We are getting the week started off good and early. We had a long meeting in which I did most of the talking. We talked to an intelligent elderly couple for an hour…
This “long meeting” was with an intellectual couple who made their living translating from Italian to English. They were Americans living in Firenze. Their interest in The Church was mostly academic, not unlike Jack’s, so he related to them easily; not that it did any of them any good.
The rest of the week Jack and Elder Rosen worked ambitiously. Tuesday Jack and Elder Rosen worked with the zone leaders.
Shortly after 8:30 AM we went for breakfast and work. I tracted with Elder Barkley; we had an interesting discussion during our work about spirituality and such. Then lunch at the Mensa and home to trade companions. This time I went with an Elder Victor. We likewise had an enjoyable discussion about the same as earlier. I learned from them.
Jack was challenging everyone to disclose their perception of the miracle of spirituality. He hadn’t heard the spark of inspiration that would ignite his fire as Elder Will had predicted, but he was looking for it. Even with a spark you have to blow on it to create a flame. He didn’t provide the kindling and give his own spirituality a chance.
The two elders eventually found the American Library in Firenze. Jack developed a good borrowing relationship and spent a few hours now and then browsing through the very limited selections. They quickly cultivated the friendship of the attendant, an older woman named Francesca. She fell in love with Rosen of course. She spoke excellent English, having been a foreign exchange student at Tuft’s University near Boston.
The indirect benefit they received from this relationship was access to some special tickets to a traveling art exhibition. A local museum donated some tickets to the library to help them raise funds. Jack and Elder Rosen purchased two tickets for 1000 lira apiece under the influence of this lovely attendant. She had offered to give the tickets to Elder Rosen but Jack intervened and insisted that they both pay. The exhibit featured a special traveling collection of the works of Picasso.
When they visited the exhibit, they found that most of the material consisted of sketches and minor studio works. There were a few pieces of porcelain and some sculptures. Jack was particularly impressed by those paintings that showed distortion or caricatures of human faces. These were alive because they depicted personality traits or aspects of the human soul, rather than the raw facial surface features. Picasso sought to display the devastation World War II had caused on the human psyche.
There were only a few representative of the “blue and red” period; these seemed to be less ambiguous, more natural, thus less awe inspiring.
Jack was struck by the fanciful portrait of the “Seated Musketeer.” This expressed his own feelings. There was a sadness, an unused, temporarily dormant competence and a natural confusion. Beyond that the Musketeer expressed an uncertainty, a pent up capability and a huge potential for action.
Since neither Jack nor Elder Rosen were connoisseurs of the fine arts, much of the impact and significance of the works were lost on them. Jack did show an awakening sensitivity, more than from any of the innumerable churches or other art exhibits he had seen. Possibly his exposure to the expression of Elder Seaburg had enhanced his capacity to appreciate art. Certainly appreciation of art was completely unrelated to scientific inquiry. It involved a “rarified form of logic,” a different kind of inquiry. Or, possibly his growing appreciation for the mystery in the concepts of the Catholic Church had changed his ability to perceive such things.
Jack was gradually changing his perspective about life and religion at the same time. This art of Picasso had not only appealed to his eye, it also reminded him to look for the essence of religious faith. With this new perspective the mundane details of religion, which preoccupied most Mormons, such as the Word of Wisdom, seemed trivial. Why should a religion care who drank coffee?
The teaching continued on and off until the middle of February. Jack caught a cold, which meant he was taking turns with his companion. Shortly after the visit with the zone leaders Jack wrote:
I just received a transfer to Pisa as a junior to an Elder Baker. He’s an okay guy, somewhat eccentric, but I’m not too excited about the move considering I want to stay in Firenze for a while. That seems to be the story of my mission, so…During the past few weeks not much has been accomplished. At first I suffered from influenza and then from lack of desire and poor dedication…
Both diseases had the same effect, and characteristically, his diary suffered from neglect for several weeks during this down time.
Julie had a sketch book in her hand with her roommate sitting in front of her. The art class she was preparing for was part of her teaching curriculum.
“How is Jack doing lately?” the model asked. Julie had confided in her about Jack’s problems.
“Alright I guess. He’s working again, at least half heartedly. I just can’t dismiss Jack from my life as easy as my parents suggest.”
“I saw you writing last night. How late did you stay awake?”
“Oh, I got to sleep around two or so. But even then I didn’t finish the letter. I just keep trying to decide what to do. I’ve been writing nice things, trying to encourage Jack. But his lack of faith is really bothering me.”
“I went with a non-Mormon guy for two months last year. He was nice enough, but I just couldn’t talk to him about anything that was important to me, so I broke it off. I didn’t want to get serious with him.”
“That was probably the best thing for you.” Julie continued drawing her meticulously accurate sketch.
“You’ll figure it out pretty soon that Jack is not the right guy. You’re just to good hearted to let him go.”
“I suppose that’s part of it.” A tear came down from Julie’s eye.
I have read several books since my last installment…I’m low on money, but not too bad off, except we have a conference this weekend and this transfer. Next week [without money] I’ll be living on my spiritual quality, which means next week I starve. I saw a bit of Firenze and finally finished that roll of film I have been working on for a few months, but have yet to see the pictures… Julie just sent me a Valentine card which I received today. I was glad to get that. I wrote a letter to the Draft Board who answered promptly, the situation looks okay. Since I’m out of the country I have to keep in touch with them once in a while.
We haven’t been doing much teaching, some Screening Discussions but no lessons. I couldn’t give a lesson correctly now if I had too.
This was a sorry state of affairs considering the role he was expected to play. He had stabilized and in the middle of February was resigned to his transfer to Pisa where he had previously been a visitor on several occasions. Jack accepted this transfer as if it were a religious exile.
I was to transfer the same weekend as a conference in Milano. So, rather than make an unnecessary trip to Pisa and back, I went to the conference…I met up with my new companion Elder Baker.
We are friendly enough; he talks quite freely about everything and anything. Sometimes without considering whether others are at all interested. Consequently, he has already become a bore. We traveled around Milano by `Metro’ subway and a great deal on foot.
Elder Baker had been previously assigned to Milano, so it was convenient to have his guidance going around town. The small group of missionaries took in an evening performance at La Scala opera, “La Traviota” was playing.
We bought the cheap tickets, on the benches high above everything. During the opera I saw one young man in the audience so moved by the emotion that he was crying. I would like to have had that kind of connection to this magnificent work. I liked it, but spent too much time reading the libretto with a penlight…I had to run an errand for Al Will, who did not attend because this is a conference for northern districts. I bought a part for his camera, a 2x automatic converter made by `Sun’ (he wanted the particular `Soligar’ brand but they didn’t have it.)
Camera technology was still Greek to Jack, as foreign as his sensitivity to the operatic experience. Al Will was already an aficionado, a stage to which Jack could only aspire.
We ate at the restaurant, Biffi, several times, the Italian equivalent of an A&W. We even went so far as to break our fast to savor these original American delicacies.
The conference was uninspiring; Jack was in the particular state of mind to be un-inspirable. He spent every available minute reading Time and whatever other distracting reading he could put his hands on.
We arrived in Pisa late and went to bed. We live in the church apartment where a year earlier I had visited with Al Will, having traveled all the way from Bari. The beds are nice; there is plenty of room, cooking facilities, a separate study area, bath, terrace; a nice place to live. The best part is the low rent, 7500 Lira. That is my favorite part.
We began working after selecting what appears to be the worst, most run-down area of town. We began by first tracting and some second tracting. I hated every minute. To pass time I usually take a book with me and read while walking. I’m good at walking and reading. I read while climbing stairs, and read while waiting for doors to `not open.’ We only work sporadically; my comp has no sense of organization; he even preaches against organization…
We took a trip to Abbetone, a skiing resort not far off.
Of course skiing was one of those activities missionaries were not supposed to do because of the obvious risks. When they went, they had to keep it secret. Jack was an experienced skier having grown up in the Pacific Northwest in close proximity to Mt. Hood, arguably some of the best skiing in the world, so he played the role of amateur instructor.
Suddenly Elder Baker got called into Firenze on a transfer.
He got in trouble for writing dirty letters during an earlier part of his mission. He just about got sent home. He was apparently condemned to exile at one point by the leading `Elders,’ but was saved when he had a voice visit him after an hour of excruciating prayer. He told the president about it. That’s what saved him. When he came back he was scared of loosing his position so he wanted to work. We had a visit from the zone leaders. They tried to get me to loose my indifference, but I didn’t relent…Baker is the black sheep of the group, at least from the standpoint of social skills.
Elder Baker was an accomplished organ player as well. Every time the two passed a church with an organ he had to spend an hour or so playing J.S. Bach exercises. Jack read or meditated in a pew and actually grew to enjoy the music. It was a much more pleasant monotony than knocking on doors. It was magic the way Baker could combine the notes of Bach into an endless song that was always fresh and energetic. He was quite expert. Jack encouraged this distraction; it contributed to his burgeoning appreciation of art.
We have done some traveling around the area. We have been to Livorno several times, a bustling seaport city. We’ve been to Viareggio up north and Luca a couple of times. We went to Collodi to visit Pinocchio Park. In Collodi I organized a movie, and wrote the script and directed, to be used as a skit for the next missionary conference. Each of the local elders and two sisters played a role. It was great fun.
Julie is still waiting for me fortunately. I love her; she’s doing good for me. For a while she didn’t write often, but I told her to get on the ball. She writes a lot better now. She is doing real good in fact. There’s not much time to go. We’ll be together soon. I think about her often. I’m really getting anxious; it’s called `horney.’
My comp and I still struggle to get along. He is an incessant talker. That makes me call upon my initiative to think of ways to evade him. I usually walk behind him and read, so he doesn’t talk. I bet he really hates me, but the feeling is mutual. He goes home on May 31. I won’t be a bit sad.
This reference to Pinocchio should not go unnoticed by the reader. Although it is a coincidence of timing, it is more than a coincidence to the events surrounding Jack’s life. Also during this time Jack and Elder Baker found an eccentric painter in an old run down, nearly empty apartment in the slum part of town. He was a real fan of Vincent van Gogh and had a few copies and posters on his wall alongside his own extravagant floral works. He painted flowers in a flamboyant and eccentric way. He had a lavish signature on the back, just a big scribble. Luigi Patsotini signed an illegible “Luco” on the back of his paintings.
He could be a great painter for all we know, but he was crazy and couldn’t keep a thought for more than a few sentences.
The missionaries decided to “X” him rather than continue to waste their time. Jack had an inspiration after their last visit. He made an exception and shared this thought with Elder Baker.
“What kind of thoughts do you have when you play that repetitive music?”
“I don’t really think about anything in particular. Sometimes I close my eyes and picture myself in front of a huge audience.”
“You can play like that with your eyes closed?”
“Sure. The keys are always in the same place, they don’t move or try to escape.”
“Ya, I guess that’s true. But that’s not what I meant.”
“When you practice a lot, the keys become an extension of your fingers.”
“Did you ever think about life as a painting. Like you could choose to live just like Luco begins a new painting on a blank canvas?”
“That guy’s crazy but his pictures do seem to have a certain emotional appeal, if you like weird flowers.”
“Most people just live their lives like their painting by the numbers. Did you ever do that?”
“No. That never appealed to me, but neither does any other form of painting.”
“But you can understand the difference can’t you. I’ve been thinking about this lately. Life is like painting and we can create our own masterpiece, or you can paint by the numbers according to some prearranged scheme. We can each create our lives like the way you create music.”
“I’m just following the method of Bach as an exercise, I don’t have the genius to create music. Most people don’t have anything close to what it takes to create a masterpiece out of their lives. Do you think you do?”
“No, I’m not saying that. You like to misunderstand. I think you do it on purpose.”
“Sometimes you make misunderstanding easy, ya know?”
“Excuse me for living.”
The two missionaries walked in silence as they continued their routine.
April 25th there was an all mission conference in Firenze with President Benson again. We all got into Firenze in the afternoon. Then we met the others. I found Al and went around with him for a while. Elder Cook [Jack’s first companion from Trento] was there, he is Al’s companion…There were a bunch of over-zealous missionaries running around trying to instill enthusiasm into everybody. I successfully evaded them and their influence. Al Will and I sat in the back and cracked jokes. Afterwards, we got a projector and showed the film.[of Collodi] It turned out nicely. Then we ate dinner and shortly we went to the train and home to Pisa, still uninspired.
Jack had failed to write in his diary for four months. Nothing new had transpired with his life. He was coasting and still recalcitrant about religion.
Sunday May 19th found Jack cleaning the church.
There will be a National Relief Society Conference tomorrow here in Pisa… In the evening we had a birthday party for Elder Hanks. We tried to embarrass him as much as possible. I haven’t been exercising lately, but I’ll start again, just so I can write it down.
Relief Society is the women’s organization within The Church. It involves getting the women together once a week for lessons, and they plan charity projects and sew quilts, etc. This program is just beginning in Italy. It must be distinguished from the Welfare System that actually provides aid to needy people. Although the Sisters sometimes get involved in dispensing this welfare.
We had to be ready for sure because the sisters were going to come early and we had to do more to prepare for the conference. It finally got underway shortly after 10:00. In the evening…we took a walk with the Sisters. On the way home we caught some fireflies, real lights.
As the group rounded a corner opening onto the Arno river Jack saw a fantastic sight.
“It’s magic how these little beggars can give off light.” He walked into the middle of the congested group of flying insects.
Sister Perez said in her broken English: “In the dark they look like art.”
“They create an artistic impression and it matches with the shining lights on the river.” Jack and Sister Perez stood close, both reaching to capture a bug. “Sometimes these small events that seem so trivial are the most memorable,” he suggested.
“We have these in Spain, but I never catched any before.” They spoke slowly with long breaks.
“I remember them in Oregon too. But they never seemed so interesting then, as these do now.”
“Maybe you’re just more romantic now?”
“I suppose being gone from home for so long makes little things like this, that remind us of home, seem all that more important.”
“I get home sick like that sometimes, but I never tell no-one.”
“Do you feel that way now?” She reminded Jack of Julie with her quiet, feminine voice and perfect, simple beauty.
“No, I’m more used to being here than when we first met in Torino.”
“That seems like years ago but it was really only a few months back.”
“You seem different..how do you say?…more pensive and into yourself?”
“I suppose I am…”
“Hey you two, we can’t stay here all night!”
Jack and Sister Perez were abruptly awakened from their mutual and natural attractions and continued to follow the other pair. Jack had shared a reflective moment with another sensitive soul, and somehow this women made it feel sensual even in its innocence.
Jack learned soon about his next transfer.
This time I go to Brindisi. The city for guys like me who are indifferent. That’s a long way away and I don’t have much money to be sure. But I’ll go.
As if he had a choice. After saying goodbye to a few members, and a quiet goodbye to Sister Perez, Jack packed and was ready to go.
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