When I turned eight, I discovered the World Book Encyclopedia. I loved to read the sections about World War II, World War I, and the Civil War. The pages on those topics had water creasing, from heedless reading during my evening bath. I loved the way that World Books could be opened at random to uncover facts without ceasing--here a princess of Rumania, there a village in the Sudan.
The internet weather site utility installed on our home computer tells me the phases of the moon in relative percentages of fullness. The weather forecast on the evening news gives me ever more reliable run-downs of the expected weather. Apparently, we are to awaken on Valentine's Day to winter weather, so-called "mixed precipitation". Rain, snow sleet, freezing rain. Although the forecasts are not as accurate in change-able North Texas as the Southern California weather broadcasts parodied so well in "LA Story", weather is much more accurately predicted now than when I was a kid. Arkansas weather forecasts were about as scientific as horoscopes. Storms struck in one county while sun roasted another. I loved that one great local weatherman doubled as the local Bozo the Clown.
I listened to an NPR story last weekend about a Siberian ethnic group whose vanishing language had one word to express the idea "I am going moose hunting". I love the idea that a thousand common shared understandings permit folks to wordlessly express ideas no less picturesque, in even fewer words. I think that many have had at least one love in which each could complete the sentences of the other.
Time teaches that this linguistic certitude differs from actual romantic compatibility--it's an insight into something different. I remember once, between college and law school, meeting a woman with whom I could (and she could) communicate paragraphs with a single phrase. Whatever chemistry exists between people existed for us as if we shared a mind. But when it came time to actually use words in some broader sense, things did not fit together so easily.
We achieved an intimacy of idea--for a moment--but it was the only intimacy we shared. We did not even share the intimacy of exchanging independently completed sentences. A passionate physical intimacy would have been irrelevant, and insufficiently communicative. I do recall fervent kissing, but it proved to be the movement-ending crescendo, not the opening bars of some greater symphony. When we parted, we never dreamed of contacting one another again. I believe she married soon thereafter. I did not hear about her in the twenty years since. But for a moment, she could murmur something and I'd know what she was saying, without understanding the words. What a mist of pheronomic wonder such non-psychic telepathy becomes.
In this past year, when Jupiter did indeed ellide with Mars, but the planets experienced neither peace nor governance,
I stared up at Mars, blazing red nearby, much as in past recent years I stared at surprisingly palpable comets. That's what it's like, really, when a stranger's ideas unexpectedly break through and "become real". The constellations part, and something very bright and very far away becomes incredibly visual.
Sometimes in life everything happens at distance. An old friend reported that his ex-wife, met again years later, now divorced a second time, said to tell me "hi", and "too bad you're married, or...". I'm reminded of soup cans and strings. What had she actually said to my old friend? Surely not that. I don't think people, or at least this one of the set of people, really say such things. But he heard and relayed that with conviction as if she had said just that. This is the miracle and the curse of the untrustworthy narrator. The great novel sometimes takes place not in the life observed, but in the mind of the watcher.
When the moon dips bright, full, orange and low, a time for hunters and lovers, I love to round a roadway turn and see it glinting, as if for my personal viewing pleasure. I find that one takes one's pleasures as one may in this life, for an unfettered pleasure, without consequences, is a rare thing indeed. Perhaps that's why I love the view through a microscope. It's all frustration and misplaced focus, and then it is a momentary vision of something active and alive.
I have never seen Heaven, but I've gotten the general idea through magnification of intensity.
It's that midnight view of snow falling, as seen in the light of an outdoor street lamp. It's the look of sand on a perfectly tanned arm. It's a velvet ant, a giant yarn-like sea of red and purple, with legs. But if one picks up the velvet ant? It's a wasp. It stings.
I have kissed strangers who knew me better than I knew myself, and I have been berated by friends who, despite intricate factual detailed knowledge of me, failed to understand me at all. I've read books that take me to the mountaintop, but sometimes on the mountain-top, I've felt that I lived below sea level.
I believe in those moments that are not peak experiences. Those moments when the world is as mundane as it gets. It's in those moments that I know, sometimes, who I am. It's in those moments that I know who cares about me. Unlike Dr. King, I have not been to the mountaintop. But like Dr. King, I'd like to be concerned about finding the promised land right now, not what Ellen Gilchrist calls "the land of dreamy dreams", not a place or an emotional high or a Bronte moment, but a place in which I live in the moments between the fantasies and wishes and just live here, now, with who I am and what I have.
I've had my moments of ecstatic dreams,
I've driven past seas of surging tarantulas, and I've danced
with the girl with the midriff top. I've sighed, and I've laughed, and I've cried. I kissed destiny, and she kissed back, and then she turned away, and then I moved on towards a different destiny.
I think there's a place I can live in both new moon and in full moon. I think that I can be fine in either clear sky or
hail. But tonight, when "I think" and "I believe" come out as campfire chants, I'll sit and remember to experience what I have and treasure, and remember to endure all weather. I remember, too, that I chose to live an all-weather life, in an all-weather family, and there's a kind of grace in that, too.