Of course I can’t trust my memory,
not really, and so it all falls apart and I’m free. But what’s
the present, when I set aside the accepted meanings of the word? What
is anything? What’s the assumption that I must have been alive
yesterday because I’m alive today? How do I know I’m alive? What
does that even mean? That somehow I’m the hero in my very own play?
That I’m the writer, the director, the star, the audience, the
critic, the stage, the curtain, and the sticky gum under the third
seat in from the aisle directly under the chandelier laced with
cobwebs and dust? Then again, what are these strings? Ouch! My right
shoulder is suddenly pulled up by one, my lip by another, my fingers
do funny things, and then my mouth opens wide and a strange voice
from nowhere says Eh! and everyone laughs. Ah-ha! Now I get it!
We had gone to buy honey, raisins, and
a few other things. Upon our return, at the foot of our garden space,
we saw one stray crocus, raised like a prophet’s fist.
Winter is like this. Warm one day, snow the next. And love is our
made a drawing that was a stranger come to town. I made a town that
was a drawing. I drew water from the well. And as he drew near, he
said, “Draw, stranger.” But he wasn’t really there. And yet his
meaning was clear. Then he climbed back onto his eraser, rode away,
and left me here.
This afternoon, paging through an old
leather volume given me a few years ago by my son, I was suddenly
overcome by a wave of emotion that was part laughter, part tears,
and part chill. Not until after I’d put the book back in its place
on the shelf, was I able to give the feeling a name, and that name is
Gratitude. And so I put on
some water for tea and put away the dishes. And I thought, maybe
gratitude is the beginning of wisdom. And maybe wisdom in its fullest
flower is gratitude that is not only felt — as rich as that
perception is — but shown. And maybe what I mean by shown,
is, passed along — not, of course, in the easy, obvious,
dutiful sense of returning a favor or giving to charity, but in
surrendering oneself to life and to love, without thought,
expectation, or fear of the outcome. Maybe. Yes? And maybe what I
mean by wisdom in its fullest flower, is, even as it
ripples, behold the stillness of the pond. Or maybe I don’t
know what I mean. And maybe that’s wisdom peeking out from under
the pebble you’re about to toss. Or maybe it’s the pebble itself.
And what of the ideas of each other we
hold in our minds? Are they accurate, or are they our reflections in
disguise? And this notion that we are separate entities, distinct and
apart — is that really true? Would you say that of the cells in
your body, and the rivers and stars, or would you say they are
interwoven, mutually reliant, and expressive of a greater, perhaps
unimaginable joy and need?
The waterfalls were roaring yesterday.
We hiked three miles through the thunder and mist, crossing little
wooden bridges over rocky streams. The trunks and limbs of the rugged
bare maples were buried deep in moss, and out of the moss grew ferns,
and the ferns were resplendent with jewels.
We came to a place where a fir tree had
fallen across the path. Its mossy base was many yards away, on the
other side of the river, white water beneath it. Its top was green.
Like us, it might survive for years in that condition.
Palms to bark, we climbed over. The
path carried us on. Heaven is love.
This familiar idea of myself, this
treasured, sacred, comforting image, is a puff of smoke, is mist,
impossible to grasp, persistent, lingering, haunting, seductive in
its scent. I wear it daily, I feed it, nurture it, pass through it on
my way to other familiar ideas, also treasured, sacred, comforting,
and just as impossible to grasp. And without really leaving, I arrive
without being there, and say I am here. I, my father’s urgent grief
and mother’s patient smile, the pinnacle of the age, my background,
my genetics, the stars in space — all smoke, all mist. Is it really
like this? Yes. And that is the beauty of it. For me, that is. Of
course, I imagine myself. And of course, it is not really like this.
I speak in a strange plural sense. Do I exist? What of it? What proof
do I need? Who would believe such a preposterous thing? Who would be
convinced? — all smoke, all mist. From light to light, a thousand
lives. Or so it seems. To me, that is. Child one day, old man the
next. Girl, woman, hummingbird, god, ancient mossy stump kept deep
alive by others of its kind. Here, where the river runs, as sure
and glad as anyone.
My breath this morning is accompanied
by the sound of a cricket, or it might be a frog, as my innards croak
and chirp and gurgle. And I remember tiny lakes high in the
mountains, above the tree line, with granite all around, mirrors of gray skies and falling snow. Still, and so. Still, and so. And the
way there was obliterated as it fell. And the frog says, croak. And
the cricket says, go. Still, and so. Still, and so. As slow as a
granite cathedral. Sing in, sing on, sing out. Still, and so.
I still remember how happy my stick
horse was to be out of its barrel and free to gallop across the
school grounds. We were both about the same age — five years, and
how many hands — oh, the high chaparral! From the Basque txaparro,
from txapar, from saphar! Oh, hear him snort! And hear
me sputter these words through my mesquite mustache laden with the
smoke of last night’s campfire! But wait. Is that you there?
By now the apples have given way to
oranges, and peeling them scents the rooms. The heirloom variety is
best. I know which ones to choose. From midday on, my fingers smell
like orange perfume. Then, in the evening, the moon rises, and she
says, “Me, too.”
A couple of days ago, I straightened up
our woodpile, which isn’t really a woodpile, but a collection of
trimmings too thick to recycle. There are some nice husky lengths of
fig, a few pieces of fir and maple, a rhododendron stump harder than
a rock and thicker than my leg, and other miscellaneous moss-covered
art-forms. After a bit of neatening and consolidation, I raked away
the rotting, aromatic birch leaves that had collected on, around,
behind, and in between, because one of our white birches stands watch
over that corner of the yard. Even in its bare winter aspect, it
waits in a spirit of benevolence and grace. And of course “waits”
isn’t the right word. A man, if he is distracted, foolish, and
harried enough, waits. A tree, one likes to think, has a deeper, more
patient understanding, a more accepting nature, and takes all things
in stride, relishing each in turn. Why wait, when there is so much to
notice and appreciate in each given moment? And that each moment is
given should be more than obvious to anyone who has lived and who
survives. Simply put, if we are here only to get ahead, to take, and
to prove, it follows inevitably that our lives will be predicated on
impatience and waiting, which prod us and torment us like twin
miseries. Whereas, if we carry on quietly, doing our best work
without seeking reward, approval, or recognition, we find that
everything is a miracle — every moment, every leaf, every breath we
are granted. Or, to put it still another way,
You begin slowly, speaking softly,
saying, One word at a
time, gently we go, with love,
just as if you are a cushion of fresh green moss on a wall, beyond
which bare fields sleep until spring. And then someone happens along
and replies: I, too, am a part of everything.
Your breath, my hand. Tell us again how they have become friends.
Tell us softly, one word at a time. Gently. With love. Now is the