srmnrh58patterns.htmlTEXTNISIDYyY~ Like a Spring in Autumn

On Finding The Meaning In The Pattern

 

"I mean, like, what does it mean that in the same week, along with millions of others Princess Di, Mother Theresa and Viktor Frankl should die? Like, their lives arguably had some meaning, what can I say for mine?"

Jack sat in his favorite chair and looked at his hands. He turned them from palm to back and then over again. He studied the lines and the creases. He put his hands together so that the pinkies lined up beside each other and watched as the creases from one hand crossed the separation and followed the same pattern in reverse on the other.

Another pattern. And this time a mirroring pattern. He enjoyed finding the patterns and wondered at the beauty of it all.

Across the room, sitting under a lamp, Jack's wife Karen sat knitting another sweater. Knit, pearl, pearl. Knit, pearl, pearl. Over and over again. He listened to the rhythm of the clicking needles.

The previous week they'd been at the beach. In the morning he'd walked along the shore and noticed the ripples in the waves as they came up to his feet, the residue of darker sand that made lines where the incoming water had left it. Continuous flows of patterns. He tried to see sequences in them, but they changed too fast for him to make sense of them. Later that evening he'd made a charcoal fire, piling the briquettes in such a way that they all touched at least two others and built into a pile that wouldn't collapse. When he lit them he noticed how the flames danced through them and how the white ash spread from one to the next. Yet another pattern that seemed random to him. As night fell, the clear moonless sky shown with stars. He had learned how to recognize patterns that had been identified thousands of years earlier and pointed them out to their kids. Jack wondered about the pictures in the sky. How did these particular stars get associated with this specific image? Did the image emerge out of the stars or did he, the watcher, apply the image on the pattern? Did every culture around the world that saw these stars see the same "picture-patterns"? Were those stars splattered across the sky or had they been put there in a particular sequence for later watchers to identify?

Sitting in his chair, Jack thought about a toy his dad had made for him and his sister to play with many years earlier. He called it "Inkydinks" and it consisted of pieces of good quality white paper and different colored ink bottles with eye droppers. There was no object to this, it was like an art toy. They would take the paper, crease it down the middle. Then they'd take two to three drops of different colored inks, drop them on one side of the crease and carefully close the fold... rubbing the outside of the folded paper so that the ink spread. After a few seconds they'd open the paper and look at the mirrored pattern that appeared. Sometimes the patterns were beautiful, other times the colors blurred together too much. In any case, it was a fun activity. Only later did Jack learn that the Psychoanalyst Hermann Rorschach used similar inkblots to find patterns in people's thinking... to delve deep into their thoughts and find out what was important and meaningful to them.

In school he remembered the Montessori strings of beads that combined into cubes. Patterns of one, ten, one hundred. He recalled the different colored and shaped little pieces of wood that they used to construct flowers and other forms. Each time repeating the different pieces to build up a pattern. And also the patterns the holes in the acoustic tiles up on the ceilings made that he studied when he got bored with the lesson.

It amazed him that sometimes he'd look out into the world and watch as though patterns emerged from what lay before him and at other times he took the pieces that appeared and built them into structures of varying patterns.

A friend of his told about an exercise he would do during the days of typewriters, where every letter on the line had the same width. This guy had to type long paragraphs of text all day long, so (to make it interesting) he would work hard to arrange his typing in such a way that a column of spaces would appear down the middle of the page. Or another day he would carefully type his words so that a row of "e"s would slide diagonally from the upper right corner of the paper down to the lower left corner... and the text would still make sense. And then there were the "Concrete Poems" from the early and middle sixties. These poets carefully placed each word so that when you looked at a poem you saw the shape of a metaphor as well as reading or hearing the words that expressed it.

Were the patterns there for him to discover, placed there before he arrived, hidden as a message needing decoding? He hoped to find a plan in the pattern.

Karen seemed at peace and he found the constant, droning repetition of the clicking needles restful as well. The anticipated repetition, the knowledge that the pattern continued. All this was so different from much of the music he enjoyed. In these compositions he appreciated that the composers set up patterns, establishing expectations only to fulfil them in unforeseen ways. This kept him attentive as he awaited the emerging patterns.

Leaning back in his chair, Jack listened to the sounds of his little children. He recalled the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem he had learned in school (its repeating cadence and rhyming patterns had made it easier to memorize so that even so many years later, he could still recall it... ah, the power of patterns):

Between the dark and the daylight,

When the night is beginning to lower,

Comes a pause in the day's occupation,

That is known as the children's hour.

They were probably playing with all the Legos they had. He remembered Rabbi Labovitz talking about how the kids and adults find different patterns using the same tools:

Rachel (who's four) likes to build up large, basically square stacks of the Duplo (that they had purchased for one-year-old Sam).

"I 'know' that these stacks are a 'castle', or at least that what Rachel says they are." Jack thought to himself. " But if I showed that stack to a group of adults and asked 'what is this', I'd get a lot of answers. I bet I'd get even more if I asked a group of kids. The very interchangeability of lego, their lack of 'meaning', allow for many 'meanings'.

The sounds of the kids' activities had neither the constancy of Karen's knitting, nor the creative patterning of his favorite music. No, from above, he heard chaos. He thought about it and chuckled, because of its inversion of the usual metaphor. On reflection, Jack relaxed. Children and chaos seemed acceptable. Though our physical forms seem basically balanced and proportional at birth, most of what babies do seems completely unpredictable and only as they grew up had patterns (of speech, and behavior) emerged or gotten imposed on them.

Looking back at his hands, at his fingers now--not the lines of his palms, He remembered how he made certain that his kids had ten fingers and toes at birth. How different would the world be if humans had the same number of digits on their hands as cartoon characters? Would we count in base eight and multiples thereof? 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512 as computers seemed to count memory?

He'd seen the inside of a computer: the green board with silver and gold lines leading from one transistor or chip to another. Some chips were big, others small; some had many lines leading to and from them. Others had only one or two. It looked like a miniature city. Jack figured that if he understood more about the electronics and engineering he'd be able to appreciate the patterns of how the electrons flowed from one location to another on more than an aesthetic level. But it gave him a good appreciation of why they called finding room for new tools looking at the real estate.

It was much like the computer game the kids next door played where they simulated building a city. It amazed him how they would lay down some infrastructure of water pipelines and electrical systems, then lay the roads on top of these, setting aside different areas for residential, industrial and commercial. He knew he lived in a city not terribly different from that in the game. Even his had a master plan that had been developed and laid out by a committee of engineers and financiers. Did the world itself have a master plan that he couldn't decipher?

Jack felt lost in a labyrinth. It seemed that each time he rounded a corner two new paths appeared. Did it make a difference which choice he made, or would each of the roads lead him to his goal? If he could step back, up and out, would he see an order, a sequence to his apparent meanderings? If he could see where he had been traveling till this point, would he have an easier time knowing which path to take at the next fork in the road?

It seemed that his whole life, indeed, all of history was a secret. He had heard an "Eco" tell of it:

(Foucault's Pendulum, page 208)

"History does not happen randomly. It is the work of the Masters of the World, whom nothing escapes. Naturally, the Masters of the World protect themselves through secrecy. And that is why anyone who says he is a master... is lying. They must be sought elsewhere"

"But what do they want people to know?"

"Only that there's a secret. Otherwise, if everything is as it appears to be why go on living?"

"And what is the secret?"

Looking at his life at the beginning of a new year, Jack couldn't decipher the secret. It was hard to look at his life as he sat within himself and see his own secret. So he made an imaginary duplicate whom he sat down beside Karen and from there, he took a good look at himself and searched for patterns. Good patterns and bad patterns; strong patterns and weak patterns; patterns that went back to the time of his childhood and patterns that had just begun to develop in the past year.

He'd read recently about Michael Drosnin's finding "secret codes" in the Bible by lining up all the letters as if they were Lego pieces.

Rabbi Labovitz had also spoken about Torah

as being laden with meanings. One continually draws from it, like a well. As the ancient rabbis say, turn it and turn it, for everything is in it (it has at least 70 faces). Once again, you look at the structure, and some people see a castle, and some people see a stack of blocks, and some people see other things. In one case you start with relatively meaningless building blocks, in the other with blocks overburdened with meaning, but the result is the same - something that could be a castle, or could be any number of other things, depending who is looking at it and how.

He wondered if his life had its codes as well, or if someone looking at it would see the castle he hoped he was building. If he looked at every seventh year of his life and examined the forty-ninth day after his birthday and lined these days up next to each other, would he find a narrative that would make more sense than the simple story of his day by day life?

"Hah!" he chortled and Karen looked up from her knitting. "That's ridiculous. Even I know that there are multiple versions of the TaNaKh going back at least two thousand years. All you need do is use a variant and count the letters in it and your "codes" would come out different! It's just like a Rorschach test, you find what you want to find, what's meaningful and important to you."

Karen:

"Excuse me?"

Jack:

"Oh, I was thinking about the patterns in my life and wondering how that Drosnin guy thinks he could find patterns in Torah that were put there rather than him imagining them into the text."

Karen:

"Ah." And the rhythm of her knitting didn't miss a beat. "But there are patterns, and they do give meaning." She continued without missing a stitch.

Jack:

"Excuse me?" This time it was his turn.

Karen:

"Oh, I don't mean the way Drosnin thinks about it, but remember how often the numbers forty and seven occur, and how many times words will be grouped in sevens? These must offer clues to what our ancestors thought was important. But that's not what I was thinking of.

"Imagine the shape of a spring, but not in space, rather in time with its beginning sometime way back then."

Jack:

"Yeah, so I've got the spring. Now what, am I supposed to give it an imaginary squeeze?"

Karen:

"No, of course not, though that wouldn't affect it. No, just put yourself at the beginning of the wire coil. That's The Beginning, you know, like 'In the beginning...'? Hold that spring so that you look into it as if it were a cylinder. Notice how the spring keeps winding around and returns to the same position it was. Yet, if you look at it from the side you see a progression. While you were busy staring at the patterns the other day, I went to Home Depot and looked for springs. Sorry, I couldn't find the one I wanted. That one would have had a cone shape with the narrow end as the beginning and as time progressed the circle would get wider as the position swung around to the 'starting' point."

Jack:

"How long have you been thinking about this?"

Karen:

"Oh, at least since I became pregnant with Rachel. I felt like one of those Russian 'bubbah' dolls. As though I was repeating patterns of life that had begun in 'time immemorial', but repeating it all in a new way. As though I had come around but on a new plane. You know our Jewish life has intensified since then?"

Jack:

"Hmmn? Is this what you think about when you knit?"

Karen:

"Uh huh. I've begun to feel the cycle of the week with Shabbat more. It gave me a way of marking Rachel's development. And then also I've felt the seasons changing with the holidays as she's become more aware of them. Not that I think that doing these Jewish things is for her sake. I've found the repeating pattern has helped me feel more grounded in something beyond just the four of us."

Jack:

"I've noticed that you've made more of a point of making Shabbat and going to shul for the holidays. I have to admit that I've appreciated it as well. Thanks for taking the initiative."

Karen:

"Well, some of the holidays have made me feel more connected to the natural cycles of the year. Those feel like the coming around in the circle part of that spring you still have in your hand. You know, like Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot are hooked into the various agricultural times?"

Jack:

"Yeah..."

Karen:

"But, they also celebrate events in our history as though they reach back to the beginning, but send us out to some experience, yet unknown. I remember something about one of the Explorer modules (I think it was), that made a bunch of circles around the earth and made ever larger spirals until it sort of got hurled out of the solar system where it's still travelling. That's us, we're still on one of those spirals, still reaching out, further. We're connected to the Very Beginning. And our acting in a Jewish context gives us guide posts, and markers and makes us part of an experience (maybe even and experiment) that has been going on for thousands of years. I don't know about you, but that sure gives consequence to my living."

 


©Mark Hurvitz
1997