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Max Roytenberg


Max Roytenberg, Dec 1 2015, Vancouver, Canada







Sometimes when I think about our lives, the mysterious and the mundane, it makes my head spin. There are seasons in our lives, but we are impacted, at the same time, by the larger events in our world which sweep us in one direction or another. These can and do shape the context within which we exist. We, of our immediate generation, were spared the dislocation that wider events brought for the times of our parents. I am thinking about how very fortunate we were in that, and underlining that, I am tempted to tell tales out of school.


Recently, we fled the gloom of approaching winter that hangs over our hideaway on the shore of the western ocean during that season. Accustomed, even addicted, to sunny days, associated with our upbringing on the Canadian Prairies, we have gloried in the shining light peeking through the sheltering foliage that graces the fifth-floor aerie we have found and furnished in our new abode. Our joys in the new life we have found there, and their recounting to anyone who will listen, risk the malevolent attention of the evil eye.


But the sun is not there for this period of time. So, for the next few months, we will be living in the desert. In the beginning, the mornings and evenings will be cool enough to approach the temperatures that we left behind. However, during the day, we will be able to bake our bodies in the sun until they have roasted to a color more appropriate to our new surroundings. Little in the way of water, little in the way of lush greenery, palm trees and cactus adorn our environment.


This is a different time in our lives. We are part of that aging cohort, an increasing fraction of the population, not only in North America, but around the world. (Birth rates have fallen in the developed world.) We have, through our efforts, with our savings, personal and government-induced, earned a leisure that enables us to choose the climate we prefer. We can see around us, back home, but, particularly in our adopted community, that we, ourselves, are among the more fortunate. So many of our age bracket continue to work for their daily sustenance.


When we return home to re-capture the beauties of our Canadian springtime, we will be fleeing too much of a good thing from a temperature point of view. We appreciate and pleasure in the leisure we have to pursue the interests that fill our times with busyness and a sense of purpose.


We were, like most of you out there, at one time, fully bound up with the struggle to fashion a lifestyle, for ourselves, and for our children, that would satisfy our needs and aspirations. Educational attainments, career goals, child-rearing, (didn’t we seek to duplicate ourselves, and wasn’t that more complicated than we imagined,) each, segmented our lives into different times. 


Time after time, we adjusted to the new rhythms that informed the patterns of our changing lives. So often, we felt driven by the imperatives that commanded our actions. In a sense, we felt we were the servants of those drives rather than the masters of our own fate. It made us look forward to time when we might indulge our own particular interests, without too much concern for how it might affect others.


All of this is so mundane, …………. even boring. What else is new? What am I fussing about? A mountain out of a molehill? All this against a backdrop of a universe without end, worlds beyond our imagining, sentient life forms not of our own image, a history with no beginning which we do not have the resources to fully comprehend. A time after time, of which our own time is less than a tick of the clock? Beginnings and endings abound far beyond the conception of human time scales. 


Think about that! And we speculate about dark matter we can’t see that makes up most of our universe. And parallel universes that may make even our own irrelevant. And I have not yet gotten over the miracle of the eyes we have through which we see. And what about cell division and DNA? How come they mostly work the way they should? Forget the rest, where does all this come from?


The tiny bits of time that occupy so much of our consciousness pale to insignificance when considered against the panorama of the larger picture. Yet, we are what we are and hang on tight to the things we can get our arms around, our minds around. Do the ants building their nests, and assembling their hills, think about who is tending the garden? Do they think about time? Dollars to doughnuts they don’t.


It’s raining outside at the moment, so we will forgo the plans we had for a night out at a restaurant in favor of a light snack at home. We will go for an early night, read a book in our comfortable bed, and maybe watch a little TV. If we will feel at all adventurous, we may call one of the kids, and, maybe, talk to one of the grandkids. Tonight, I may dream of flying in space, dodging meteorites and discovering new worlds and new life forms. I am always the hero in my dreams and I make sure things turn out well. We are sure to have a good time.


max roytenberg









Isn’t it reality that it sometimes takes the perfumer tons and tons of the chosen material to arrive at that perfect drop of the elixir that is the base of their unique product? And doesn’t that essence contain so much, bitter and sweet, fragrant and acrid, essential for arriving at that final result? I was thinking of all that when I noted that I could recall periods of my life stretching over many years, my life over numerous decades, and was able to sum them up in a paragraph, a page, a few pages. All that living distilled into an ultimate tiny result, the joy of a Now. It took so many years of living to achieve this distillation.


Our lives parallel the noise and tumult of our times. We were there to see it, hear it and live them. There are the long stretches that we look back on in which we just got on with life and nothing seemed to happen. In retrospect, weren’t those some of our best times?


The sharp probes of pain remind us of other instances. Dwelling on those can drive us to the edge. I dwell mostly on the good times, pushing the negatives into their corners of memory. They never disappear. They provide the context which allows us to better appreciate the space of Now to which we have arrived.


There were so many instances worthy of memory in a good way, and they deserve recounting. I remember when my child curled a hand around my finger. Or when they smiled at me as I tucked them in at night. Or when they laughed at my jokes when we were on an outing together. What can surpass a moment of communion between lovers, who revel in being husband and wife? When I caress a curve that is sublime as if I own it, I feel the joy of that communion.


There were times when soaring music brought me to tears of joy, a landscape before my eyes that took my breath away, a meal I consumed that made me rock in my chair with pleasure. I share with my fellows the ecstasy in creature comforts like a soft cashmere sweater on a chilly day, resting for some contemplation in a favourite chair, viewing a home environment painstakingly assembled that pleases the eye. What a pleasure it is falling into bed, at last, after exhausting hours of frantic pursuit of illusory objectives.


I recall my pleasure fighting a gale, pitting my strength against the wind that sought to impede my way. What about tramping through new-fallen snow, waist high, everything around one, crisp and bright? Remembering the scent of a glorious springtime, the riot of colour in a Canadian autumn, the sense of being one with nature tramping alone through a silent forest, I hug myself with the joy of being alive in my native land.


So, as for the perfumer, minutely assembling his tiny output from massed raw materials, it takes a lot, a very lot, of living, to generate for us those precious essences. Jewelled instants of inner existence that we assemble without thinking, those we add to one by one, stored, accumulating, in that mysterious vial of memory, they are always waiting for our recall.


Are they what they were when we plucked them out of passing time? Do they change in the vault of memory? They shook us to the core when they occurred. Did we say, is this really happening? Shall I pinch myself? Am I going to burst with pleasure? Can I stifle the tears of joy so others will not see into my inner heart and know what I am made of? Did you try to still the tremors caused by coursing emotion? Can’t others see the Technicolor inside us? Their recall has the power to transcend time and space, recalling for us the sight, the smell, even the feel, of the events that moved us.


Then we all went on to live our joy in life, the ordinary. We went on to put one foot in front of the other on our daily round, proceeding with the lives we lead. It is impossible to live our lives in that constant state of excitation we feel at the apex of our joy. We would consume ourselves. The saving grace is that we can store those instants in our vault of memory. There it remains until we draw on the account, distilled from the many days of our life experience. Do we remember them as they really occurred, or do we redesign the events stored there, in the light of what we have come to know as the truth, dictated by the passage of time?


The joy we have felt in our lives is a gift that keeps on giving. We are right to have pursued it with all the energy we could muster. And that must be our advice to all those who will listen. When we have the good fortune to find joy in the events in our lives, it is but the first act in the play. They remain there for us there to be enjoyed, even experienced, again and again, in the richness of our memories.


And they are there at the end, even if we are the sole actor left on the stage. We may regret the absence of others who are no longer around to enjoy it with us, those who could be the living witnesses to our joys, but the pleasure remains. The joys of our lifetimes, distilled from our memories, remain, as real and vibrant for us as when those magic moments were acted out before our eyes                                                                                                 




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