Formality

Date Night

 

“…But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint—
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts.”
– T. S. Eliot, The Four Quartets
Why are we afraid of formality?  Formality goes hand in hand with traditions, standards, rules, expectations.  As soon as there are expectations, we can fail to live up to them.  That’s scary.  Much easier to never have a set of standards to live up to, to never comply with a set of rules that we might break (even by accident), to be spontaneous.  Live in the moment.  Is that what Eliot’s “unattended moment” means?  Living in the moment?
I would argue that formality give us a framework for those unattended moments.  Last weekend, I attended a friend’s very formal, very beautiful wedding.  In a wedding, there is that silence just before the bride walks down the aisle.  The framework does not distract from the moment – it creates that unattended moment.  Rewind to the beginning – the guests walk in, sign the guest book, get seated.  The parents are seated and the room gets quiet.  The groom and his groomsmen take their places at the front.  The music changes.  The bridesmaids and flower girls walk down the aisle.  Then that moment, the moment in and out of time.  Don’t think about the moment itself, don’t think about your place in the moment, just be where you are and enter the joy (in ardour and selflessness and self-surrender).
Selflessness is not a quality we think about often, especially regarding clothes.  The question of dressing for others comes up sometimes, but that is not the same thing as selflessness.  When you put clothes on your own body, can it be ever be entirely selfless?  Your self enters the equation, doesn’t it?  Eliot describes a disciplined occupation, a “lifetime’s death in love”, and the reward is being unaware of yourself.
Consider the time, the place, the people, the situation.  Choose your clothes.  Go to that specific building.  Talk to that particular person.  Take care of your work.  Know exactly where you are and what you have to do.
Then you can forget yourself.  Just for a moment.
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