The Men Who Are Vexed By Women: Why Do I Love Them So?
By Sherry Cothran
Recently, I visited the windmill fields of Southern California, at the desert’s edge. There, you can gaze out over miles and miles of bone-dry mountains and desert scrub, escaping the hazy Los Angeles smog that is chased away there by a relentless wind; not an ordinary, recreational wind, but a wind that means business. As I stood on the edge of a cliff surrounded by the towering giants that converted this wind into something tangible, I felt an ancient touch, both gentle and fierce.
It was all I could do to stand straight up on the earth, this wind crashed into me, gave me whiplash in my spine, spun me around, convincing me that I was in its orbit, not the other way around. IT became the something instead of me as we merged there, this wind, it made me believe I was a part of it not the other way around. It was wise and forever, it has been and will be, the breath of God, it engulfed me in its essence and I was at perfect peace, perfect, that’s what this wind does, it arrives at something perfect.
Later on, I would find refuge from the heat in the shade of a desert oasis, and there I would extend my comprehension of the perfect simply by sitting and feeling the gentle side of this wind. “Why don’t we set up a tent here and stay forever?” This was my thinking. Echoes of the mount of transfiguration, I get it now, God is just more palpable in these kinds of places, it seems. No wonder so many have chased after it.
I’ve fallen in love with the work of few great male authors who’ve described this chasing after the wind well and their failed attempts to grasp its mystery. Yes, there are many female writers that I adore as well, but they don’t seem to be plagued with the same problem. The problem? Chasing after the wind, why not stand still, let it engulf you, let it merge with that hollow, vacant wind inside of you? Why not just stand still instead of chasing?
It all brings me to my current dilemma, interpreting Ecclesiastes, falling in love with the voice inside this text, Qohelet, and at the same time screaming at him, what?! I’m currently working on a new collection of songs based on Wisdom Literature and well, I’m stuck in this particular book because it seems to narrate the essence of all the other Wisdom books: searching, or as the Jewish poet/essayist Edmond Jabés calls it, “the endless circular wandering.”
Qohelet weighs everything in the balance and finds most of our human pursuits to be meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Including the pursuit of women, a force with which he has not successfully contended. The untamed woman snares the plan, the plan for humanity to be straightforward, the thing that throws it all into confusion, kind of like the wind, that is, if you chase after it. Perhaps it is the unsettled pursuit that thrills Qohelet more; perhaps he is addicted to the chase, the chasing after the wind. After all, he mentions it more than a few times. Who knows, maybe that is a far too simplistic speculation, but it makes a good point.
During my recent trip, I was reading Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire” a good companion to my journey. The cantankerous environmental activist, loner, author, poet, prophet, married five times; he makes for a good, modern Qohelet. He loved the idea of women and understood them to be like the natural landscapes whose beauty and mystery eluded him, both nourished and tortured him, but finally, women were just a problem that he could not solve. Much like Qohelet, he continued to add one thing to another to try and find the sum, but ultimately, he could not find it. He never met a mountain he did not climb, a desert wind he did not worship and not many irresistable women escaped his pursuits. Still, he was only momentarily at peace with the essence of creation, and this only when he was either in pursuit or resting from the exhaustion of his pursuit of something wild.
Perhaps it is simply the wilderness that eludes us. Our desire to tame it, close in upon it or use it for our own profit. It is a desire that betrays the very wilderness inside of us with which we have lost touch or perhaps never even discovered. There is a big, empty space inside of us all that is just wilderness calling to wilderness, (deep calling to deep – Ps. 42:7) and it is plain lonely without the regular companionship.
In the end, Qohelet surmises that it is not, in fact, the chasing after things such as status, wealth, position, power, women, etc., that brings contentment, rather, it is the joy of love and companionship, of labor that brings peace, of simple ritual worship of the elusive God, of food and wine shared with close friends. I suppose I can forgive you, Qohelet, for calling the woman’s heart a “snare” and a “net” and our hands, “fetters” in the equation of life. Sorry for slowing you down, Qohelet. Even if I am “more bitter than death.” It wasn’t my idea that I should inherit the ability to carry the seeds of the wild, to play nurturer to the very wind that haunts your dreams. I suppose we’re all just trying to figure out how we’re going to dance with God or if we’ll refuse the dance all together, the dance with the wild. The truth is, we still need one another to arrive at love, that seems to be everyone’s conclusion.
In the end, I love Qohelet and Abbey, these men who are vexed by women, I love them probably for the same reasons that they are perplexed by me. My love is based in what they enable me to discover through their own faltering, jabbing at mystery, poetry, prophetic gifts and wandering spirits. “Cantankerous fools,” that might be my retort, but then again, we’ve been playing this game for years, men and women. It’s as ancient as the wind.