Friday, February 10, 2006

Of HIV/AIDS and Gabriel Marcel

Gabriel Marcel was a French existentialist... and a Christian. At one time he was a philosopher, interested in the abstract edifices of reason the human mind can construct. But as a Christian and an existentialist, which I think he saw as necessarily part of the same piece of cloth, he called his school of thought "the Concrete." That is, as opposed to the abstract.

I like that.

Fred -- that is the only name I know him by -- had never to my knowledge read Marcel. Fred was a homeless guy I met way back in the 80s while doing a three-day homeless sit-in on a site that was supposed to be for low-income housing, but had instead been left a vacant lot. Fred was African American, and at the time represented a Homeless Men's Union of sorts that Chicago had spawned. He was articulate, funny, and enjoyable to be around despite his habit of coloring the air blue at times w/ cursing.

He tended to call me "pastor" -- though I'm not -- and tried to mind his P's and Q's around me. This, too, made me smile.

After the "tent city" we'd built was forcibly torn down by Chicago's finest, and all of us evicted (how fitting!), I saw Fred often in the area. We remained friends. Sometimes he was friendly, but sometimes he seemed troubled, and a few times even surly. I suspected the latter times were caused by his drug use and his guilt upon seeing me, though I'd not said anything to him about what we both knew was going on.

One day, I saw him a few blocks from our building while I was walking. And as we chatted, he seemed sadder than usual, with no anger but also no joking exterior. Bluntly, he didn't look well. I finally asked him how he was, physically speaking. He hesitated.

"AIDS." He said. "I have AIDS. They just told me."

I prayed with him, hugged him -- it seemed especially important to hug him -- and walked home, numb. I called my wife, who was still working at our women's transitional shelter. And as I told her about Fred, I suddenly could not speak as sobs shook my body.

You see, Marcel was right. At that moment, the tyranny of the abstract had been crushed by the concrete. I wept my foolish, unhelpful tears, in a tiny pathetic shadow of the tears Christ wept at Lazarus' tomb.

Death is concrete. Evil is concrete. They come to all humanity, regardless of our abstract ways of seeing. Like the brick falling from a tower and crushing the one unfortunate enough to intersect the time/space continuum at that instance as the brick intersects it, their brains will be crushed by the concrete.

Love, Song of Songs says, is as strong as death. If death is the reality we all face, love is the reality death faces. Only love lasts. Love swallows death.

All our abstractions, all our self-judgements about right and wrong, will be crushed and are crushed or perhaps even help do the crushing.

Only Christ stands free from abstraction, only he IS the WORD that has died and now lives, and now draws us and any who would come to Him.

I hope and pray Fred is there. I hope and pray that I am there... I trust in Christ, or in nothing. Because without the Concreteness of Love, there is only the falling brick, the path, and the pull of time forward upon my feet which insures I will intersect that brick's path. Sooner or later...

Marcel understood, perhaps. Marcel saw the cartoonish nature of abstract logic, its pathetic -- really! -- pathetic failure in the face of existence's inevitability.

But as I stood holding the phone, weeping, all I could understand was that God Himself was weeping with me, and that that fact alone allowed me to feel such pain while remaining sane.

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Whisky Prajer said...

Which of Marcel's works would you recommend to a newbie? (Good sermon on anxiety, BTW - I'm still mulling it over.)

Jon Trott said...

I'd recommend... hehehe... well, the only one I've read -- partially -- so far myself. And that would be "Creative Fidelity." He's not as mind-blowing as Soren Kierkegaard, but still a whole lot more food for this life than most books...