In Aristotle’s Nichomachean ethics, he says virtues don’t exist as opposites to vices, but among them, in the strain between them.

Bravery, for example, is not in the absence of fear, but inside the tension between fear and rage. Temperance is not the opposite of abandon but a moveable feast between abstinence and gluttony.

It wasn’t a comfortable idea for the stark orderliness of the frantic medieval structuring. It was abstract, too Greek. They chose laws instead: do not kill, honor your parents. Maybe in the hot muddy fields of barbarian France that made more sense for dealing with Celts and axe-wielding Francs.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Virgo/Libra. Maybe it’s because it’s just what I focus on, but I’ve always felt two worlds. In high school, I was a big kid, and although I worked out with the football team (we’ll leave to sinister speculation what the motivator for that might’ve been), but hung out with the miniature gaming club. I’ve always been an introvert, a loner, but I led the nerd rebellion at Servite that so embarrassed the football team that regularly tormented us that we were never again forced to stay after school for a pep rally.

It’s more comfortable to live in the looming shadows of the 10 commandments. I followed them. I didn’t. Maybe I’m atheist, and it’s only the law and its enforcement that governs my behavior.

But testing yourself. Checking in. Balancing on a log is different than choosing a bank. I meditate daily, I have a couple nights set aside a week for either martial practice (if I’m well enough) or study. But how does that balance against my love of sex, my casual treatment of others, my love of good liquor. Sometimes, I verge toward the Bacchanalian. Sometimes I am celibate. Sometimes I fast or go on retreats. There’s still enough of the legalist in me to feel bad when I’m really cutting loose. I sometimes respond to that by cutting more loose.

Italy is the home of the Roman Empire, and the Catholic Empire. Its citizens speed and drive insanely and j-walk like busy Wall Street hookers. 3 Women literally tried to break their way into the bathroom I was in and force me out of it because I didn’t understand there was a men’s and woman’s (single-use, enclosed, locked door rooms). I showed them my kilt and pointed to the picture of the skirt on the door, and at least I laughed.

Maybe we need these things. Maybe the more we try to abnegate human nature in one direction, we are drawn in the other. That might explain all the married conservative politicians sleeping with other men.

2 men outside a restaurant, speaking very good English, stopped me and chatted for 10 minutes until their boss yelled at them to seat more patrons. The Indians in the Roman restaurant spoke no Italian, but almost-unaccented English. On the hill above Greve where I bought wine, there was a raspberry bush intertwined with something small and blue and wrinkled and poisonous.

Maybe this tension is what keeps the universe running, like two magnets straining in your hands toward each other. Maybe tension is the illusion, the wrong-perception. Maybe balance is real, and harmony so enormous and complete we cannot bear to conceive it because it would destroy and uplift those parts of us not ready for failure and enlightenment.

Maybe we are all Florence, rebirthing Science, Reason, and Art while we continue trying homosexuals and putting them to death. Except MIchaelangelo. And Botticelli. And electing a pirate captain pope.

St. Francis didn’t usher in a new era of art and beauty. Shouldn’t it have been him instead of Cossimo di Medici?


  • Erin commented on 2012/10/10

    “Maybe balance is real, and harmony so enormous and complete we cannot bear to conceive it because it would destroy and uplift those parts of us not ready for failure or enlightement.”

    This ending a day of such tiny wonders- a conversation with a small Marshallese boy who can’t spell anything but his name but knew, with a quiet pride, that an avacado was a plant…who then went on to share, with quiet,shy, deliberate bravery, that he is hoping to try one someday…as he hasn’t tasted one yet. Such a small,brave, adventurous set of words…in such seeming dialectic to yours- eruidite, brilliant, expansive…words that create in me an undeniable longing for, that which is larger …maybe, as always, it’s right under my nose after all, I just need to be reminded to expand my world to that place where failure and enlightenment are in-folded as eliot’s “tongues of flame are in-folded in the crowned knot of fire and the fire and the rose are one”…or in that place where quarks and quasars blend to become a something not yet named…or, maybe, in some subtle hidden meaning giggling from the nether realms of Boehm’s implicate order…hmmm…maybe I’d better quit waxing crazily and go sleep! I’m so glad you share what you write…thank you!


  • Brian Buhl commented on 2013/10/26

    I really enjoyed this post. I’ve always really enjoyed your writing, and the way you think.

    Do you suppose faith has a place in finding the harmony among the cacophony? I’m not talking about faith in God, or any particular faith. I mean deciding, without any sort of empirical evidence, that some idea is true, and proceeding with the absolute knowledge of that truth.

    The Greeks put their faith in the laws, and under the umbrella provided by the mechanics of those laws, were able to make artwork that celebrated open space, that drew the eye out and away. Within the strictures of law and order, there were some that devised philosophy and mathematics, and stretched the bounds of knowledge.

    Did believing in the laws and the structure and the order bring everything into focus, making it easier to find truth, love, and beauty?

  • pol commented on 2013/10/26

    Maybe a way of thinking of ‘faith’ is the reaching out to something larger than your small person, and connecting with something not inherently, immediately, obviously tangible, but that seems real nonetheless.

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