Perspectives

  • Issue 112 / July - August 2016



    Cafe de Mille et Une Nuit

    Seth Mette

    If you would like to understand the three facets of existence and events, and if you are curious about the condition of the human being who is a conscious witness to the continuous formation, transformation and organization of the macro and micro realms, let’s set off on an imaginary journey together.



    Here we are, walking at the seaside… On one side, we are watching seagulls soar with the wind; and on the other, we are passing people fishing. We’re struck with this realization: though many people do not have the patience for a few minutes of prayer and contemplation, they can spend hours sitting still while fishing or watching a movie. As we go along, we see a person who is doing certain basic exercises and stretches. He looks concentrated, and rather abstracted from everything around him. He does not look like he needs to lose weight. We approach him to chat for a little while.
    “You look like you exercise regularly. It is a must for staying healthy, isn’t it?”
    “I try to do it as much as I can. But not just to stay healthy.”



    “For what else?”
    “Regular exercise keeps the memory strong. Thus, it helps me memorize my prayers. Sports also make the physiological foundation of an innovative mind. To catch original ideas, to make extraordinary observations and assessments, you need sports. Exercise is also an effective medicine for habituation, which can impair a person’s thankfulness towards God and inhibit remembrance of Him. For example, one way to comprehend and feel the meanings of certain attributes of God is to try gymnastics. By trying to stand on a single foot, but always in a different position, you can experience God’s presence as being The Lord, One who perfects, One who adjusts, One who starts and maintains. By engaging in ever more challenging positions and durations, you can observe God as He grows the talent seeds that He planted in your body. Thus, you can better appreciate the equilibrium of existence with every fiber of your muscles.”



    We leave this person to his “worship” and decide to have a seat at the café behind him. As we wait for our tea and cookies, our eyes are drawn to the paintings on the wall. After a few minutes, our order comes, and we start chatting with the waiter:



    “The paintings on the wall are rather interesting. Where did you get them?”
    “They are not purchased. They are my own work. Everyone working at this café is an artist, too. The music in the background, for example, is a recording made by some of my coworkers. If you look at the chairs, none of them has the same carvings as another. Each of them, again, the handiwork of one of our employees. The designs on the tiles on the floor have been worked on individually, and none of them is the same as another.”



    Upon hearing these words, we are pleased to be in an exquisite and rare place like this – but we are also a little embarrassed for having stepped and sat on such art work!
    “If you opened an exhibition or commercialized these, you could make some real money.”



    “Maybe! But our purpose in making our art isn’t for trade or proving something to others. We make art because the flourishing and fruition of the talent seeds embedded in us please the real Owner of our talents. We are making this art so that those who look upon them can reflect on the originals in nature and, thus, can appreciate the real Artist, who is also our Creator. And in creating art, we feel like we are witnessing that real Artist at work.”



    Following these words, the waiter leaves us alone with our servings. As we take a bite, we catch a glimpse of a small truck waiting outside. Looking at the cement and tiles in its trunk, it’s clear it is there for maintenance or some minor construction. However, there is nothing around that needs maintenance. We stop the waiter again and ask:



    “Excuse me for a minute. What are these materials in the back of the truck for?”
    “Part of our café is going to be demolished, and in its stead, there is going to be an addition to another part.”



    “Why? I cannot see anything wrong with what is already here.”
    “It is not because something is wrong. The land on which this café is established is constant, but the location of the café is continuously changing. By demolishing one side and adding to another side, the café is shifted little by little every year. There is a fifty-year cycle over the entire land. This means that our customers fifty years from now are going to be able to sit at the same place again. But even then, they are not going to find the same café, because the tiles are going to have different designs, and the songs will have changed.”
    Faced with such an extraordinary answer, we are shocked. But still, there is a question unanswered:



    “But why?”
    “Because we are afraid of becoming a veil before the eyes of the people due to the constancy of our works.”
    “This much sensitivity may be okay, but how do you fund such works?”



    “This café is not just a café. At the same time, it is a venue for exhibitions and concerts. It also serves as a model, and pictures of it are often taken and published in books or magazines. This place also functions as a rehabilitation center, and the patients prefer this setting over the depressive atmosphere of the hospital corridors. Aside from these, there are also contributions of those who support this effort.”
    “What do you mean? People are contributing to something that is going to be demolished the following year?”



    “Why does it surprise you that people are donating to a sincere and spiritually guided project, when you don’t feel surprised that they are investing in a worldly life that is certain to end at an uncertain time?”
    This answer, once again, fixes us in our seats. Behind the smile on our faces, our brains freeze and boil at the same time. Right then, the waiter steps aside a little, and orders another cup of tea for us with a voice that hardly differs from a whisper. But that voice echoes everywhere. The acoustic design inside leaves us in waves of awe. All of a sudden, a miracle happens: a window opens from the wall next to our table, and we are served a fresh, hot cup of tea. When that window closes, we realize a feeling that is creeping into our minds. Are we going crazy, or is there something strange going on here?
    As we are about to turn our inquisitive gazes towards the waiter, we find out that she is not there anymore. The volume of the music in the background also fades out. That truck that had parked outside so silently makes a great roar and starts moving away. Then we see that little paper on our plate: the bill. We cannot save ourselves from the guilt that is caused by the suspicion that those inquisitive thoughts a minute ago might have caused the unique experience to end.



    We leave quickly after paying. In order to secure some distance and to be able look back, we walk towards the bus stop ahead. But still, there is a question in our minds: if we returned, would we see the same extraordinariness, or would those inquisitive looks of ours follow us? At the bus stop, we start staring at that café. Unlike our expectation, we were not hallucinating; it is still there!
    Then, we are distracted by an announcement posted on the glass:



    “Are we inventing math or discovering it?”
    The poster has visuals about the applications of pi, e, and the golden ratio. They act as if mathematics is the discovery of an already existing order by humans. This is just like the art at the café: they were meant to be an instrument for the discovery of the art already present in nature! We are engulfed in a joy of discovery. We head back to the café to donate to the project …


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