The Big T
BY ROBERT BRADY, Photograph by Kevin Brubiski
“ Forget about stepping in the same river twice, just cross the damn river.”
–Heraclitus’s father at the ford
Let’s keep it simple. There’s Big-T Transience and there’s little-t transience. Big-T is cosmic and eternal and everywhere operative; little-t is local, temporary, artificial. Humanity’s “progressive” activities are little-t: politics, highways, careers, convenience stores, dynasties, acid rain. Big-T subsumes and drives all the little-t stuff seamlessly and invisibly without pause or notice, is manifest in the all before which each of us stands, its power in our very hands, and we are one with its turnings whether we will or no: nature, birth, death, karma, the cosmic cycle and all its subcycles. The big quests in life, naturally, are always for Big-T symbols: paradise, the golden fleece, the holy grail, an honest man, world peace, all the things we know in our endless hearts to be right up there among the stars of things. But little-t, being shrill and inyerface and ever-insistent to gain the upper hand in life, begins within the apparent confines of a lifetime to assume the chronic aura of actual importance, and so in short order we learn to take the veil as the reality, marry the gal or guy in the movie, raise the kids by the book, live a lifestyle, get a facelift, surrender our powers to quotidian transiencemongers. For little-t updates we read the newspapers, watch tv, study history, scan a bestseller, check the obits, catch a flick, go to a house of worship, get a degree, join a club, all fine in their place and as far as they go. I can say this because having existed for some time I have been here and there and done this and that and enjoyed it, by and large, with the occasional grain of salt. All despite the fact that just a few decades ago there wasn’t even a little-t inkling of me in this world, and some time from now I won’t exist here in all my little-t suchness either; so go ahead and argue if you want.
Long before our conception (and its attendant illusions of ‘before’ and ‘after’) we are already eternally inseparate, already engrained in what will be the seeming uniqueness and transience of our lives, interwoven in what will be the fabric of our fortunes, already intending the vortices that will grow into the paths we will choose or refuse. Thus, from always we are the seed and inkling of our very own tomorrows and their gods, all matters infinitely beyond the reach, let alone grasp, of even the least limiting religion. But as we go through life in the ‘enlightened’ little-t way, learning of the spirit through the mind, rather than vice-versa; as we bear our personally lengthening past into our personally shortening future, the immediate little-t fact of all that massively subjective transience happening every moment of our lives (is Baywatch on tonight?) tends to obscure the Big-T picture, veil the cosmic goings-on that mirror our own going on, word for word, dawn for dawn, star for star.
Whenever anyone begins to talk about transience I tend to drift off either mentally or physically, because what they’re almost always talking about is little-t, which is gaining the upper hand big time these days, and may soon cut us all off on our island of chronically informed progress, where this birthright of ours is slowly transmuted into little-t-purposed litanies, spun into little-t sectarian power for the moment’s use (much as the sun is used to drive the VCR), leaving us to hope for solace at our various altars, honoring dogma that pales beside the wisdom in our hands, the light in our eyes, the riches we were born with.
Copyright held by the author
Photograph: Durbar Square, Patan, Nepal, 1987, Copyright by Kevin Bubriski