To paraphrase The Sixth Sense, I see couples everywhere–even in the trees which seem to stretch their branches towards one another, like the reed-like one and its more substantial companion in this photograph.
A recent comment on a blog post spoke of “thin spaces”: “The idea is that God and souls are always around us, and the distance is almost always the same . . . but occasionally the distance between us and those around us is shorter and we can feel them. That is called ‘thin moments.’ Unfortunately we can’t call them up when we need them – they just happen.”
Intuitively, it seemed to me strange to call these moments “thin”: that connection seems to be so weighty, so dense and intense–so thick (as John Hiatt put it, “how much thicker this fog is gonna get, God only knows”).
According to Eric Weiner, “It’s not clear who first uttered the term ‘thin places,’ but they almost certainly spoke with an Irish brogue. The ancient pagan Celts, and later, Christians, used the term to describe mesmerizing places like the wind-swept isle of Iona . . . or the rocky peaks of Croagh Patrick. Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.”
Even as an etymological matter, to characterize these moments and places as “thin” seems slightly off: the word “thick” connotes closeness, and seems to fit when “the distance between us and those around us is shorter.” The word “thick” derives from theku and thekwia, and means “not thin, dense.” A secondary meaning of being “‘close together’ is preserved in thickset and proverbial phrase[s] [like] thick as thieves.”
Moreover, “thin” retains an aura of progress that is relatively easy-going, while “thick” alludes to a tough slog. (So ancient is the metaphor of travelling “through thicket and thin wood” that it received a more contemporary shorthand of, roughly, “through thick and thin” when Chaucer employed the phrase in the 1300s.)
A thin space and thin moment may be many things, but surely it is not a place or experience of ease.
At my husband’s memorial service, one of my daughters read a poem about her father which began with a scene about an entirely different kind of person–the kind among whom one would find air “thick with epigrams and smoke.” Such an atmosphere had a dark undertow: “And underneath it all/It seemed that furtive things began to crawl,” A Man continues.
(It happened that the poem I read at the memorial service also used the word “thin,” in a non-metaphorical sense: “I say to my body: grow thinner still.”)
I realized through my daughter’s poem that “thin” is not simply the opposite of “thick”; it conveys the absence of layers. The poem she selected captures her father so well: it fits him perfectly but for a single word (the significantly riper age for which the poet’s father had “walked his years”) she omitted when she read it aloud. One of the things it captured about him was the absence of dark layers: of pretense, of posturing, of deception or guile–of a different person inside.
The metaphorical layers of that conversation at the poem’s beginning (underneath which “furtive things began to crawl”) are absent in a thin moment in a thin place.
The air around my husband was thin.
This is a daughter whom I suspect has been to thin places. Some special touchstone must exist for her in a place like northern India–a transportation I can feel looking at some of her photographs and paintings, and seeing her eyes or hearing her voice as she speaks of her travels.
Weiner wrote of experiencing a thin moment in New Delhi, one of many magical places where my young but preternaturally wise daughter has been: “At the gurdwara, time burst its banks. I was awash in time. That’s a common reaction to a thin place. It’s not that we lose all sense of time but, rather, that our relationship with time is altered, softened. In thin places, time is not something we feel compelled to parse or hoard. There’s plenty of it to go around.”
I think grief makes one awash in time in a different sense–“thick” time, if you will. I’ve lost track of time, day, date, and even year, paddling in a place where “time burst its banks,” and I do indeed want to reclaim, “to parse or hoard” past time.
Perhaps the frequent “thin moments,” when I feel my husband’s presence with me, are part of the way back.
(c) 2012 Stephanie Glennon