You close your eyes and all the world goes dead. You think you made it up inside your head.
Now and then you see people for the first time. For the first time in a hundred times. In a hundred, hundred, times. And you can’t help but stare.
They’re like Pollock-style paint drops. Only prettier. You look at them for God knows how many years. But you never really see them. Even though you think you do. Until you tilt your head just right, or just left, or just some new and unimagined way you’ve never tilted it before. And suddenly…there’s more.
(Except, you always knew that, didn’t you? Wasn’t that always the point? The why you closed your eyes?)
Then, you have to ask yourself, if your self is anything like mine, whether it’s all just an illusion. A Rorschach test that life threw at you to remind you that everything is relative…to something else. And that that something else isn’t always you.
(It’s not always about you.)
But, maybe, it is. Maybe you made it all up, your new way of seeing someone else’s being, because you wanted to. Because you needed to?
Like Plath and Pollock.
(Except, you know better. They’re still more than what you see.)
I close my eyes and all the world goes dead. I wish I’d made you up inside my head.
She loved to dance, my grandmother. But she’d only do it for her girls. Behind closed doors where she could twist and turn and laugh. When she first lost herself, first forgot everything and everyone but her Dear Bill, all her inhibitions seemed to fall away, and she’d dance just about anywhere. Give her half a tune or jingle, and there she’d go.
This morning she stared at the air instead of through it. As if that bit of empty space was a solid sort of thing; and it was a solid sort of seeing she was doing. She raised her arm to touch something that wasn’t there. And it frightened me.
I played Christmas music.
It’s only September.
She dropped her hand and said the word, “dance”. So I did. Long, drawn-out, pirouettes. Pliés. She tapped her foot and smiled and I laughed and found joy in it. That’s the hard part. The finding joy. When she doesn’t know who you are or who she is; or whether she’s in this world or another. I have to stop sometimes. To remind myself to remember…that she’s still the same person, still the same soul. And that that soul is part of my own.
I have a bracelet that says “Breathe”. Just “Breathe”. I wear it a lot. Because sometimes I forget to do that. To breathe. In my kitchen there’s a plaque made of distressed 2x4s, cut to pieces. The words “be still” are written across it. Be still…and know. This little thing, it’s hard for me. And on my computer, I have this. “Be brave, Buffy. Be brave.” It gives me courage, when I think I have none.
I was hooked to the back of a boat, more than a little scared, and everyone knew it because I was completely SILENT. It was two years before I saw this video (which I’ve stripped out, because no one else needs to witness my fantastic foray into water sports), and heard four-year-old Kenzie telling me, with all she had in that little heart of hers, to “be brave!”
It reminds me that no matter who we are, or where we are, we always have someone rooting for us. Whether we know it, or not. And I like that. I like that, a lot.
Everything I’ve ever let go of in life, had claw marks on it. I even hold on to my breath longer than I should. It leaves me in ragged little strips. Shredded up by my insides and the knowledge that once it’s gone, I’ll never get it back.
That scares me.
And that, right there, that’s the crux of the whole thing. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about greed, or need. Sometimes it’s not even about loss, or the thing, itself. What it’s about, what it’s always about, is fear. Fear of surrender. Fear of regret. Fear of just how far I may flounder with nothing to hold on to.
I’m just plain scared.
But what I know, even though I pretend like I don’t, is that fear is usually a liar. An Alice in Wonderland delusion. Shattering that delusion is hard for me. I want to grab hold and shake it. Turn it on its head. Rattle it around. Have a conversation with it. Anything to keep hold of it. Because if I don’t hold it, it holds me.
Except, that’s not the way it works. That’s just the way I think it works. And I think wrong, all the time.
Most moments, we miss. We just lose. We don’t know to make them special. Don’t know that they’re an only or a last.
But, every now and then, we get it right. And we stay stuck right down inside them, those moments. Right where we’re supposed to be. Until they’re over. Because we know.
I was thirty-three years old, the last time my grandmother braided my hair. And I knew. In that moment, in that day. I knew everything was what it was. It’s why we danced. It’s why we sang. It’s why we blew kisses at each other and laughed at the rain.
It’s why I sat, still, on the steps, as she counted out the strands. One…two…three. Because I knew. She never would again.
And yet, as always, the springtime sun brings forth new life, and we may rejoice because of this new life and contribute to its unfolding; and Mozart remains as beautiful and tender as he always was and always will be. There is, after all, something eternal that lies beyond reach of the hand of fate and of all human delusions. And such eternals lie closer to an older person than to a younger one oscillating between fear and hope.
I never just breathe. I spend most of my time doing the opposite – holding my breath until it comes out so fast and furious it makes me dizzy. But today, outside the airport, I took a moment to do it…to just breathe. I didn’t worry about the sun on my face or the time on my wrist or any of the things that have been making me feel like not-me these last few months.
In front of me a man stood by a car and told a woman he loved her. They hugged. I moved my eyes, because that’s what I do. Public displays of affection make me uncomfortable. But the eye moving didn’t help. In front of their car was another. Another someone else, dropping off their someone, too. An elderly man, leaving his teenage grandson. The younger man said “I love you”, the older “I’ll miss you, boy.” They didn’t shake hands. They hugged.
I stood there for half an hour. Just watching. Watching people be good to other people. Wondering if they ever took the time, like I never had, to look behind them or in front of them in that long crazy line where everyone just hugged and loved and smiled even when they cried.
It was a beautiful thing. Seeing all those perfect, tiny moments lined up like that affected me in a profound way. Two years of tension just left my body. No kind of yoga ever did that.
If you feel like feeling good about people, and what it means to be one of them, go to an airport. Stand at curb-side drop off. And spend some time watching. Then go back to your car and remember how you used to love Toby Keith and how you’re gonna start loving him some more. Because he’s still as good as he ever was.
We tell ourselves stories in order to live. The naked woman on the ledge outside the window is a victim of accidie, or maybe an exhibitionist, and it would be ‘interesting’ to know which. We tell ourselves that it makes a difference whether the naked woman is about to commit a mortal sin or is about to register a political protest or is about to be, in the Aristophanic view, snatched back to the human condition by the fireman in priest’s clothing just visible in the window behind her, the one smiling at the telephoto lens. We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of choices. We live by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting shadows which are our actual experience.
Didion. But not exactly.
At midnight I was angry. Running in the rain. Shouting. To Flynn. She said perfect things, which I can’t remember. Because I do that when I shout; or when things are said in the rain. I forget. But she’ll say them again. Because that’s what I’ll need. And that’s what she does. Like Didion.