It was such a simple idea, yet one that drove me in search of the perfect place that would serve to coax me beyond myself into some magical realm of understanding and creativity. For Hemingway's old man, this place was a refuge from the relentless invasion of nothingness (Nada).
"We are of two different kinds," the older waiter said. He was now dressed to go home. "It is not only a question of youth and confidence although those things are very beautiful. Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the cafe."I searched for this place long before I read the Hemingway's "A Clean Well-lighted Place," his 1933 masterpiece written with such eloquence and economy. For me, the beast of Nada loomed large and menacingly. My feverish outpourings of poetry and music (it was all poetry) were an attempt to ward off the Nada that clutches at the very crux of our being.
"Hombre, there are bodegas open all night long."
"You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves."
"Good night," said the younger waiter.
"Good night," the other said. Turning off the electric light he continued the conversation with himself. It is the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and light. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music. Nor can you stand before a bar with dignity although that is all that is provided for these hours. What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order.
Now, at this very hour I struggle to attain this clean. well-lighted place, but I am overwhelmed by the Nada. My place is cluttered with the unresolved fears and silences that could not be deciphered. There are piles of pages and trash, stuff that has no reality except in the nothingness of my illusions. For Hemingway's old man, Nada was the only reality, the only true destiny for each of us.
Yet, I hear the whisper of a different sensibility. There is an echo from the distant mountains that pierces my soul and illuminates a new terrain. Ultimately there is only one place I will find this clean, well-lighted place: in the union of reality and being deep within the recesses of myself. Yet the pathway is covered and clandestine. If only I could find my way through the dark maze of corridors to the shining presence of that space.