Sunday, March 24, 2013
On Sunday I went to the woods. To get there I had to walk along the edge of a just-plowed field, soft and uneven. At the back of the pond the field slopes sharply toward a creek that runs just beyond the property line and my shoes began sinking into not-quite-mud. I ran to keep from being sucked in up to my ankles, gauging the size of the deer who had come before me by how far their hooves had sunk into the muck. The ground got solid again at the fencerow, barbed wire and rusted. I held it down with one foot and stepped across.
I went to the woods because it is close and quiet. I went to the woods because no one would know where I was. I went to the woods because I knew that my heart could breathe there. And my heart needed to catch its breath.
On Saturday I’d driven across the state to, as we say in the South, bury a friend, though he wasn’t actually buried, but cremated. Brian was tall and strong. He had an Irishman’s red hair and blue eyes that danced with the impishness of a leprechaun. He wooed and won my friend Melissa with bike rides and camping trips and songs played on a guitar and, though I didn’t meet him until the day of their wedding, I knew right away that it was good. Very good.
They had three beautiful children they allowed me and a lot of other people to love. They made a life that was wide and inclusive. And then Brian got sick. Sick with the kind of illness for which people don’t set up Caring Bridge websites or organize blood drives. The kind of illness that you can’t see, but that is no less real for its invisibility. And despite good professional help and lots of love – oh, so much love – Brian’s life unraveled.
Sometimes people get better. Sometimes they don’t. Brian didn’t.
On Sunday there were a lot of fallen trees in the woods. A lot of wind, a lot of rain over the winter had been hard on the old ones, the diseased ones. Most of them looked as though they had just sighed and laid themselves down. I walked down their lengths, holding my arms out to balance myself, bouncing just a little to feel the degree of rottenness in each.
There was one, though, that had splintered off about four feet from the ground. I walked over to peer inside the trunk. At first it looked just like the others – the layers of what I think Mrs. Foy called xylem all soft and dry, flaky like a Kit Kit – , but then I noticed that in the center there remained a small circle of heartwood. A modest ring of golden sap, glinting in the late afternoon sun that poked its way through the canopy. I leaned over to sniff the sweet tar scent. I stuck my finger into the cavity to feel the glassy hardness.
I couldn’t help smiling. The pine tree had given in to the wind and the rain, but there remained, deep within it, a true heart.
At the memorial service a friend of the family played the guitar and sang “The House at Pooh Corner,” a song that Brian had played and sung over and over as a lullaby for his two girls when they were little. In the quiet of the chapel, the sweet notes lifted up into the high ceiling and settled back over the heads of those gathered: “But I've wandered much further today than I should
and I can't seem to find my way back to the wood.”
Sometimes people find their way back. Sometimes they don’t. But standing there – in my woods, on Sunday, remembering my friend – I realized this: Wandering away, getting lost, forgetting the way home is never the end when the beginning was a true heart.
Sunday, March 10, 2013
I’ve been paying attention, the last few mornings, to the sunrise. I’ve broken the waking-up routine that normally follows my abrupt coming to the surface of reality by getting out of bed and, before doing anything else, opening the blinds on one window. For three mornings in a row I’ve stood there in my nightgown, bare arms breaking out in a rash of chill bumps, and squinted at the first beams of daylight like a newborn pup.
I couldn’t tell you why. Honestly. I have no idea why it has suddenly become the thing to do, this bearing witness to the breaking of day.
What I can tell you is that the first couple of mornings I was just quietly awe-struck, but the third morning, well, the third morning was different. Because the third morning the sky, instead of being streaked with its usual blood-orange and gold, was layered with hues of lavender. Closest to the horizon was a band of color very close to that of spring’s first irises. Above that was a swath of wisteria-hued mist, above that something akin to the shade of hydrangea that grew outside Aunt Tooster’s house when I was a little girl. And above that, stretching up and out and over everything that is was the very palest silvery gray.
A few days earlier I had heard someone on the radio talking about a current off-Broadway play that examines the idea of living in the present, appreciating the immediate moment, something like a 21st-century riff on “Our Town.” The title of the play, as I heard it, was “Now Hear This!” and, in the nanosecond it took me to absorb and process the words, I thought it an appropriate title – a directive, a command, an order one dare not disobey.
The voice on the radio explained, however, that the title of the play is actually, “Now. Here. This.”
Now. This moment. Here. This place. This. This work to which I have put my hands, this face to which I have directed my gaze, this love to which I have devoted my heart.
This one. Not another one. This one. Not the one that used to be or might be one day. This one.
Perhaps that contemplation was still lingering as I stood at the window watching the sky lighten. Perhaps that is why I did not, as I am wont to do in such moments, reach for the camera in what would be a futile attempt to capture the colors. Perhaps that, not the chill, is what moved me to wrap my arms around myself and hold tight. Now. Here. This.
Between blinks of my near-sighted eyes the colors began fading. The semi-circle sun pushed its way into the day and I did, too. Dressed and drove across the newly-deepened river to court. Manila folders and children in trouble and the language of the law became the now, the here, the this.
There is a temptation to linger in the lavender moments, to make them more than they are, to turn them into totems. One must be on guard, always, against the natural tendency toward tarrying until conscious living becomes unconscious languishing, against the propensity to seize the moment the moment but never release it.
It is an unavoidable truth that now will become then, here will become there, this will become that.
The sun rose again today, its colors garnered from another part of the spectrum. They did not stretch out in layers, but spread in puddles over the trees, the fields, the grain bins. Another opportunity to stand at the window and stare. Another morning. This morning. This day. Now. Here. This.