ORDER AND SYMMETRY
It is morning. I’m sitting on a chair in my bedroom, getting dressed. It’s a straight-back wooden chair with a thinly cushioned seat. The light blue faded upholstery is worn at the left front corner. It may stay this way for a long time. At my left is my dresser. It is thirty inches high, eighteen inches deep, and sixty inches long, with three drawers on the left side, and three on the right. Each drawer has two square pull knobs fastened to escutcheons. The escutcheons, about four inches square, are of a darker piece of wood than the drawer, and have a small concave cut-out on each corner. Each drawer has a thin vertical groove to the inside of the escutcheons, thus forming, with the edge of the drawer, a rectangle around each pull, giving the whole drawer a pleasant symmetry. I would say that the dresser wood has a walnut finish. The front is in beautiful condition, I enjoy looking at it, but as I gaze at its top, I am less pleased.
To the left of the dresser is a window, a window to the south. After thirty five years, the sun has taken toll of the left side of the dresser. No finish at all, just rough wood. And a portion of the dresser top, that area near the window, is flaked, but the rest or the dresser top is as beautiful as the front. I never see the bad end of the dresser, and the top is still livable, so it may be a long time before it is refinished.
That window, through which the southern sun pours, is on a corner, with panes on both sides, so that, when I gaze through it, I get a panoramic view of the park adjoining our back yard. From this elevated second story, the view is hypnotic. I cannot pass this window without stopping and gazing. Straight ahead, a Monterey pine, surely two hundred feet tall; to the right of that, a eucalyptus equally as high. To the left of the pine are three dawn redwoods, which were brought as seedlings from Northern China by a westerner who discovered them in the late 1940’s. Linnaeus would object to calling them redwoods, for they are deciduous. The trunks spiral up to the limbs with their airy needles, calling to mind the mysterious rock formations, the Karsts on the river Li in central China. And through these trees, I see a great expanse of lawn, and paths, and other trees. It is early morning, and the rising sun illuminates the tops of the trees with a rosy glow. And on the lawn I see a woman romping with her dog off leash, which is a no-no but never enforced, and I am pleased.
But what concerns me now, as I reach for my shoes, is that the left, lower drawer is slightly open. This is not orderly. It detracts from convention; drawers should always be closed, so I close it. As I am putting on my shoes, the old ones, for I hope to get out in the yard today, I note my black pair, which I will wear tonight when I go to choir practice, is sitting beyond me near the dresser. But, heaven forbid! The left shoe is sitting to the right of the right shoe. This disturbs my senses, so I re-arrange them according to natural order.
Why this preoccupation with orderliness? Is it to bring order out of chaos? It may be, for doesn’t nature continually try to bring order into its creations? So I look to nature, and I find much order, but even where there is no order, there is the constant striving to balance the forces of nature.
Now, take a look at animal and flora life. What surprises me when I look at humans is the symmetry of their bodies. Run a vertical line down the center of their body and fold the two sides together. Perfect symmetry, a mirror image: two arms, two legs, eyes, ears; two of most external organs or appendages. And when there is but one, such as the nose, the mouth, the genitals, it is centered. And as we look at other animal life, we find much the same symmetry.
At first thought, as I look at floral life, ah, here is chaos. I gaze at a distant meadow of wildflowers and I see a mishmash of color. I could even call it a riot of color, but it is not a riot; each individual plant has its own symmetry. The stem, with alternate or parallel branches; the blossoms, each with the same number of petals.
So I conclude that order is akin to symmetry, and symmetry is inherent in nature, and this is good.
But where is all this leading? As you know, composers of music frequently write exercises, known as “études” so musicians can practice certain types of composition. This little essay of mine is an étude, just a practice at expressing thoughts and views. You may disregard them.
And now, I head up the staircase to the third floor and my office. There is much work to be done. Seven steps lead me up on a worn beige carpet, light blue walls surround me, and a dark wooden hand rail on the left gives me confidence even when I am not using it. At the landing: a closet door to the right contains clothing that hasn’t been worn for twenty years, and to the left, is a bathroom that I conjured up out of attic space some thirty five years ago. Its cedar panel walls house photos and other memorabilia of my life.
Straight ahead, I open the door to my office and enter.
RODIN’S GATES OF HELL!