Misty Mist and Dusky Dusk

 

Befitting my kindergarten position at the back of the line during kickball team picks, I recently was assigned to write no more than 200 words reflecting upon a 40th  verse abandoned on a neatly-maintained list after its 39 brethren had been claimed.

If you know me at all, personally or professionally, you may be experiencing paroxysms of disbelief at the thought that I could limit myself to just 200 words about anything.  (Even my text messages have voluminous sub-texts.)

That applies even when the 200 words is forty-fold the size of my assigned clause-as-sentence, which was just five words: “….may your will be done.”

After I finished my written ruminations–which, amazingly, came in at six words under the maximum–I realized that one word might have done just as well.

Acceptance.

I thought about the space between the cup of the Psalms, which overflows with blessings, and the cup of roiling wrath that provides the context for Matthew 26:42.

And how else can it be?/ The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain./ Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?”

At the distinct risk–and likely realization–of sacrilege,  I could not get out of my mind that when we mortals face each morning we simply don’t know and can’t control from which cup we will sip.  We chose, in our multi-fold ways, to partake–or not–of the day and engage in our world; in neither case can we choose what each day hands us.

When we reach out to other beings it can be glorious.  It also may be disappointing, maddening, or so harrowing it reduces you to zero at the bone.

We may maintain ourselves within the reasonably safe, the manageable known unknowns: Land of the Tightly-Wound and Closely-Held Amygdala.   Akin to Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates (here I hear, intoned in Jim’s smile-leavened voice, speaking to the formerly fearful me, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?“).  The banal pleasant present of (spoiler alert) the Good Place, shorn of its peaks as surely as its dark vales have disappeared.

Or we can take a page from the not-so Cowardly Lion.

But reaching out–and dealing yourself in–can also be like a cross between “The Lady or the Tiger?”  and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans (will it be the grass flavor or the vomit, cinnamon or cement?). Will you be handed the cup that runneth over, or the vessel of down-to-the-dregs bitterness?

Some element of choice remains ever-present from the macro to the micro within each day.  I choose to get outside and contemplate  the horizon even when the winter wind turns my hands to powder-blue ice and all the sea and sky I can see  is rendered in simmering dusky black.

I never regret going out to greet ordinary skies.  I deeply regret when I cannot take the detour.

And sometimes–say, one in forty mornings–I’ll dally at the shore upon a hint of the merest glimmer of incandescent pre-dawn light, and be there to see something like this….

We don’t get to chose the result; we do get to chose where we stand, and sometimes what we position ourselves to see.

 

 

 

 

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Sensational Sunrise

 

Already in this young calendar year, I have become irrationally upset at having missed a sunrise.  This dazzling world‘s irreproducible morning display.

I voiced my sadness to a colleague later that day, telling her how extraordinary the color had been, white-gold waves seeping into bright pink and variegated plum.  It was, I told her, similarly as saturated as the Valentine’s Day sunset I had chased into her west-facing office (from my windowless one) last year, sliding her vertical blinds aside and pointing to the enormous bruised purple heart cloud floating on a wavering sea of yellow-orange crepuscular rays.  (Mmmhuh, she nodded politely.  Evidently I was the only one to see it that way.  It was another particularly tough February 14th.)

Quite rationally, she wondered how I could so vividly describe a sunrise that I had missed.

It took me more than a few beats to realize I hadn’t missed sunrise at all.  I had seen it at its glorious peak as I exited the highway just as the sun was about to emerge on the horizon.

What I had missed was the chance to take a picture, to commemorate a part of it–to be able to share it, to pass it along to someone who had indeed missed it.

I collect sunrises, but do so very imperfectly, and without the overwhelming synesthesia of solitude.  My photographs don’t dance with the glittering indigo diamonds of cross-wakes as fishing boats glide out to sea.  Living things become one-dimensional shadows–a viewer can see only the  most recent vogue pose struck by a silent cormorant atop a mast.  Looking at a picture, you cannot taste the sea air or feel the crunch of underwater barnacles or hear the morning light lyrically unfold.

And in my friend’s observation I may have discovered a key to my writer’s block.

All I can ever capture of loss, of my husband and all other missing beings who have become some part of me, is what I can put into the language of words and pictures.  I want to tell their stories, but the tools I have are, in the supremely elegant words of Primo Levi in A Tranquil Star, “inadequate and [seem] laughable, as if someone were trying to plow with a feather.”  That language “that was born with us, [is] suitable for describing objects more or less as large and long-lasting as we are. It doesn’t go beyond what our senses tell us.”

Perhaps it has become difficult to write because I feel I should have moved forward–that I have nothing useful to say now that I am somehow on the cusp of a second decade of living with this never-ending grief, now augmented by the half-life of the additional losses we all accrue.

All I can ever capture of a sunrise is what it looked like, but maybe that is–or should be–enough.  Maybe that dollop of beauty, which I am almost always the only person in sight to behold, is enough to share.  And maybe it’s enough to be able to write about what you know of the people you love and have loved, especially those who can no longer tell their stories.

I did not, after all, miss that sunrise.

Let me tell you about it.

I have known people who live and have lived lives filled with kindness, humor, wisdom, and grace.

Please allow me to tell you about them…

 

 

 

 

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To the Lighthouses

She saw the light again. With some irony in her interrogation, for when one woke at all, one’s relations changed, she looked at the steady light, the pitiless, the remorseless, which was so much her, yet so little her, which had her at its beck and call . . . . [S]he thought, watching it with fascination, hypnotised, as if it were stroking with its silver fingers some sealed vessel in her brain whose bursting would flood her with delight, she had known happiness, and it silvered the rough waves a little more brightly, as daylight faded, and the blue went out of the sea and it rolled in waves of pure lemon which curved and swelled and broke upon the beach . . . .

That steady light, “true and tried, so well and long,”  is notable perhaps above all for its assurance of coming around again.  It was the beacon emitted from the eponymous, inanimate lead character of  Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

A lighthouse delivers the precise visible counterpoint to Woolf’s lightly-sleeping heroine’s understanding of the slice of hidden darkness which form’s a sentient being’s reductive essence: alone and awake, “All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others… and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures.”

Unlike with us humans, its core is the light.  And the darkness carries no negative weight.

To the extent obsession is problematic, I have developed a bit of a lighthouse issue during the past decade.

A fluency in Fresnel lenses, colored and clear, glittering with rainbow arcs when the sun skirts their layered crystal rings.

An appreciation of the unique counted measure of each lighthouse’s cycling strobe, a perpetual beat with no melody.

I am a fan of clouded, stormy skies, and not nearly as interested in the blinding lemon of the sun as it nullifies the night in which lighthouse sentries gently guide the sleepless with serene swoops of teal, white, and red.

Thanks to my insomnia, I get to my lighthouses well before sunrise, especially when the sun rises earliest–making way for its most nuanced and lingering transitions to the noise of the day–and I sense harbingers on the horizon.

The darkness doesn’t seem so dark.  The light is cast in increments so reliable that their past and future paths coalesce; their instantly-registering and cycling memory creates a trop l’oiel of soft daylight.  When standing by lighthouses in inky black and the deepest blue it is as if I can see the whole of the earth and sea, bathed in moon gold: jagged limestone cliffs, working harbors, New England ports where pleasure craft are moored.

The light is noiseless, and even at their fiercest measure the waves wash in without  capacity to startle.

By which they rest, and ocean sounds,
And, star and system rolling past,
A soul shall draw from out the vast
And strike his being into bounds . . . .

With these quiet guardians there is nothing to fear in the not-quite-night of solitude .

 

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No Lapse of Moons

Winnie-the-Pooh and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Among a plethora of poets, these two stand out in framing what the “bear of very little brain”–and so much heart–understood as the exquisitely lacerating inseparability of love and grief once the one we love is no longer within reach of our suddenly achingly restrictive five senses.

“How lucky I am,” pondered Winnie-the-Pooh, “to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

(My bear friend did not mean a permanent goodbye. . . but then, neither do I.)

Tis a fearful thing/to love what death can touch.”

A Fearful and Beautiful Thing,” although that amalgamation may not fully emerge until separation.

Love as catastrophic good fortune.

How lucky I was.

A hand that can be clasp’d no more
Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
And like a guilty thing I creep
At earliest morning to the door.

When I rise, now in the supreme desolation of heading out without my beloved last beagle, Rufus–whose preternatural judgment-free listening skills remained undiminished even in the abject deafness of his antiquity–whenever possible I first make my way to the empty edges of the world in which I still tread.

Such vast spaces used to be the stuff of my worst fears, as may be true for many of us smallish sentient beings.

Now I am compulsively drawn to those landscapes without end, where gold-plum cloudscapes overcome the divide with earth, “our heaven, for a while.”

Where the moon still ceaselessly circles, and the sun dependably arrives even when concealed by a bank of bruised blue.

A fearful and beautiful thing.

 

 

 

 

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