Monday, June 16, 2014

ON THIS GROUND

It comforted Nora to think that, on the ground he took his last breath, Indians had once danced. She didn’t find that out until later, after staying inside through summer and fall, wondering if she had somehow imagined it all. She slept on the sofa every night since that rainy evening, listening for his call, always kept the shades up to watch for him to come up the walkway and waited to open the door for him when he came home.
When she arrived at the accident scene that night, she saw the chalked outline of her son’s body. Only an hour before she had been at the hospital to identify, his body bruised and young face at peace. She was given a blue plastic bag with his grey sweatshirt, keys, cigarette lighter, wallet, iPod, some coins, and an arrowhead he had always carried with him. She picked up the shirt as she got out of the car, held it to her face, inhaled the scent of him, and pulled it over her head. Then she lay down within the chalked outline on the wet, leaf-strewn sidewalk and sobbed.
In the last moments, did he suffer, think of me, call out, pray? Did he know he would die, hope he would live? Was he already unconscious when he was thrown from the car?  These were the questions Nora asked since that night and sometimes spoke them out loud, or wrote them over and over again on sleepless nights. She thought of all the times she had held him, comforted him when he was a little boy and fell or was ill, but in the end he was alone.
Then one morning in late December, she awoke to the somber stillness before a snow. When she remembered that this day marked the winter solstice and longer days were ahead, it also came to her so clearly: She had to go to that place again, where the chalk outline had long faded, where no trace of shattered glass remained. Only burning grief remained, which still surprised her whenever she awoke--morning or night. This morning she would be moved. This morning she would give over to time and reason. He will not call; he will not walk past the window. He will not come home, no matter how long I wait.
She dressed quickly, pulled the shades down on the front windows and locked the door. The phone rang, which irritated her She knew it would be her caught, and hesitated, but answered it with a quick, “Hi, Addie.”
"Hey Mom, how are you?”
“Good, I’m good, how about you?
“Okay, pretty good. They’re calling for snow today.” 
  “Oh?” She looked out the window. “I see it’s flurrying already here. You’ll be happy to hear that I’m going out for a walk.”
It was a revelation to Addie, who was partly elated to hear her mother was doing anything at all, and partly concerned at the sudden change. “What, where? I mean that’s great, Mom. How about if I come over, and we can walk together like we used to?  It's gonna be snowy and windy….Maybe we should wait ‘til tomorrow.”
“I know, I know, but I’ll be fine. I have to go today. I’m leaving now for Three Island Cove," instantly regretting telling Addie where she was headed. "See you tonight though, right?”
“No, I mean yes, you will see me tonight, but Mom, wait! I'll be right over. Don’t go there without me. You shouldn't go by yourself.”
“Now, don’t worry. You’ve been telling me to get out and something different, and now I am, so don’t worry. See you tonight., then.”
“I…I wanna go with...”
Nora hung up the phone before her daughter had finished and hoped Addie would not show up at the Cove. She wanted to be alone. She knew it had been hard for Addie too, but grief was a private matter—to be protected not shared, not even with her own daughter—“her favorite”—as Andrew used to say.
She went into her son's darkened room, where everything remained as it had been on night he left and never returned: curtains drawn, clothes on the unmade bed, shoes on the floor. CDs; empty cigarette packs; matches and batteries on the bedside table; folded laundry on the dresser. The job applications and resumes on the desk reminded her that, in his slow, deliberate way, Andrew had been ready to make a change in his life.
Each morning since the accident she had opened his door to whisper “good morning,” and every evening, “good night,” but not today. Today, she went straight for the box she had placed in one corner of the room. Taking out the grey sweatshirt, she held it close to her once again, lifted it to her lips for a moment, then slipped it on. She hurried to the hall closet to grab her coat, hat and gloves and stepped out into the cold.
She felt as if she were emerging into a new world. It’s just the old world I don’t recognize, where people have been living their lives, going places and doing things as usual. For her, there was no “usual,” no place she wanted to go, and no life to live. Grief had been her world--deep and vast, with no way out. With her head down against the wind, she watched snowflakes sparkle a moment on the sidewalk and disappear. Icy branches stirring in the wind and her quickening breath were the only sounds. As her stride lengthened, she became aware of her pounding heart, an icy burning in her chest, and her breath frosting into mist in front of her. Everything is so quiet, so white, so pure.
Disoriented by the openness of the forgotten world outside of herself, she had a sense of something shifting within—unwanted and unwelcome. As she began the ascent up the steep hill, there seemed to be a thread being cast backward in time out of her own inner landscape, attaching itself to images, people, events and places—connecting her with her son. She wanted to turn around and run back home to the familiar stasis. But the intensity of the experience compelled her to keep going, with intimations of truths, both light and dark. What was this feeling of expanding and contracting at the same time? 
Those long days and nights of sameness, those rituals of sorrow—had prepared the ground for all that flowed from her now? Yes, something was shifting—what was it, to where and why? She couldn't know. She did sense that the overflowing grief was no longer gushing in torrents as it had been until she felt each moment she was about to go under, breathless and suffocating. Though it was still palpable, just beneath the surface, there was also a distraction from it. She became aware of each new strand of thought, feeling and memory—all weaving together, without power to stop it.
In the quiet, deserted street, passing the houses and trees still lit with holiday lights, she was remembering she hadn’t wanted a second child. That was twenty years ago. I don’t know why, but when Addie was born, I felt normal and whole again, as if she brought me down to earth. A beautiful gift, took away the darkness, made things light…bearable again. Nora had always believed Addie was a redemption, somehow justifying her past transgressions—nothing else was needed. When Andrew came, I felt had to reach into myself…. find strengths I didn’t even know I had. Was I deluding myself again? Matt always told me I made everything too dark or too light. I knew he was right, but I never wanted to give him the satisfaction of letting him know that he knew me that well.
The widening circumference of memory touched many truths, exposed illusions and brought forgotten memories into focus. As a baby, Andrew had been content, but was less responsive to affection than was Addie. He didn't like to be held, and was ill much of the time. He was dreamy, independent, willful and often irritable, which tried her patience. More than that, though, as he grew it was as if he were asking her to change herself in order to see who he was, to discover what he needed, which was hard—maybe impossible.
I failed Andrew in every way. Matt said he was my project, and wanted no part in. He wasn’t interested in my one-woman show. I excluded him, and everyone and everything else.
Andrew, who began to show early on that, while he may not have been “awake,” as Nora had felt, he had extraordinary insights about the essence and purpose of things, saw them differently than she did, appeared to know more about life than she did. He was a puzzle and paradox. His intuition and sensitive nature engendered in her a deep love, but it an uneasy one. Something seemed to be asked of her in exchange. She needed to figure out what it was, but she never did. She was convinced Andrew's inherent wisdom was meant to guide them to find parts of themselves that were missing, to some semblance of self-knowledge, which she thought they both lacked. His father did not entertain that possibility, dismissing Nora’s idea that anything at all had to be done, except to just live their lives. 
I didn’t have to push Matt away like that….I shouldn't have. “I miss him terribly,” she said out loud.”There, I’ve said it. He was right.” He said I was good at creating my own Greek tragedy, that I stood in my own way, and in Andrew's too. It wasn’t a good place to be: above all things like that. I felt Addie had lifted a burden, but I placed it on Andrew who carried it to his death. It was poor Andrew who bore it all--my hovering and smothering; Matt's leaving; me trying to be father and mother, our move away from the only home Andrew had ever known and loved. He resented me for all of it.
“Oh, Andrew, can you forgive me?" she whispered.
By the time she reached the place she had dreaded, but longed to be, a perfect, almost visible imagination had been formed—perfect in that it was whole, woven in reverse from moments in time, expanding outward to encompass the lives of mother and son, and a family—then, now and forever.
Looking up, she saw a sign post rising from the pavement—one of those placards noting some bit of history. Why haven’t I seen this before? Was it always here?
SAMUEL DE CHAMPLAIN. Due east from here on July 16,1605, the Sieurde Monts sent Samuel de Champlain ashore to parley with some Indians. They danced for him and traced an outline map of Massachusetts Bay.
Nora stood for some time looking up at the sign. She reached down to touch the ground. Something extraordinary had taken place here long ago—an exchange, a sharing, a trust, a true meeting with strangers that had arrived. They had encountered other souls who danced to welcome them to a foreign shore and who shared their knowledge of the land—a knowledge which also lived inside of them.
And it was here, too, where another soul had departed—Andrew, whom she had both striven to know and become more like. Has he united with the others from another time? In an instant, she had become the bare trees and the grey sky from which snow was beginning to fall—a small but integral part within creation, which held everything that is, was and ever would be.
“Time,” she laughed, “another illusion. We are all here, then and now and tomorrow.”
How long she stood in this reverie of her own creation and in the light of the knowledge the placard had shed, who knows? She turned, glanced back once, as a few snowflakes floated down like feathers. Feeling the cold more than before, even though the wind had subsided, she began walking quickly downhill. 

There was Addie coming toward her smiling and waving, making her way amid the lights twinkling from the trees and houses along the still, quiet street.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Measure of the Universe


  In Genesis, God spoke the world into being.  In the New Testament, we have “In the beginning was the Word.” We are given these imaginative truths that speech or sound has formative power, bringing substance into being and that, “The Word,” or “Logos” has always been. We also find in Shelley’s epic play, Prometheus Unbound, that Prometheus, a demigod who stole fire from the gods also “gave man speech, and speech created thought, which is the measure of the universe” (II.iv.72-73). What these two sources suggest is that language is a mediator between humanity and divinity.
Language is what separates us from the other sentient beings, not only in its ability to simply communicate information or feelings, but also through its many subtle and nuanced layers (rhythms, sounds, evoked images, and associations), language creates meaning and, thus, thought. In this way, language can build and expand our consciousness and conscience.
Although I am not a member of an organized religion, I was brought up in Catholicism until the age of 10.  I am grateful for those early experiences which helped create a foundation for my inner life—experiences of seeing, hearing and feeling beauty.  The interior of the church inspired awe and reverence: the soft, matte whiteness of the marble alter; the gleaming red votives; the forms and fragrance of flowers; light streaming through the warm colors of the jeweled stained-glass.
I loved Saturday confessions, not for the act of confession itself, but before and after sitting quietly in the darkened church. Each sound echoed through the gaunt space.  In the presence of the figure on the cross, the somber saints on the side alters and silent angels in paintings on walls and ceiling, there was something strangely familiar. I felt at home in wonder, which the Greeks tell us is the beginning of wisdom.
I listened on Sundays, Holy Days and at funerals to the liturgies, prayers and hymns. I recall my first apprehension of the spiritual—being lifted above the ordinary, although I couldn't not have put that feeling into words back then, but it did come through words in one of the Latin prayers that was about the power of the word. Once heard, it reverberated through and in me (and still does): Dómine, non sum dignus, ut inters sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo et sanábitur anima mea. We also recited it in English:
Oh, Lord I am not worthy that thou should come under my roof. Only say the word and my soul will be healed. 
“Only say the word and my soul will be healed’” was a revelation to me as a child, as it is now: that words can and do heal, that they both express and shape wisdom-filled thoughts and have a life which I could breathe in! Such word-thoughts impart a sense of hope and renewal, are felt as light, and can be called upon again and again as a source of comfort, strength, and even of actions I might not otherwise take, had I not been inspired by them.
As an adult, I found a life inseparable from layers of language as an English teacher and writer, grounded in the “trinity” of language: power, beauty, and meaning, which long ago planted a seed within me. I imagine that, if such a thing could be observed, the palest shade of green would have been seen through the thin shell of my young soul—ever so pale, but green, green and growing.

Whitsun

June 8, 2014

You didn't see, couldn't know
How a sliver of ocean
A luminous blue gem glowing
A streak of white light at the horizon
Touched the sky
At sunrise
This morning
And the birds ~ all the while
Singing it in!