That we are slow, unwitting, confused. Prone to mistakes, predictable. That we are flightless, but a little lower in the great chain of being than they are. How simple it all seems to them, our lives: Born, walk awhile, lie down, die. What could they know of us? Not all of us cross a rickety bridge as children. Some will go out for bread and not return home. Perhaps they think of us as younger siblings born as a late, last surprise, another generation between, yet familial duties remain — and they pity our constant stumbling. When we went to the movies, they would gather in the parking lot, comparing notes, sharing a smoke. You could almost see them in the slight distortion around the lights. They are messengers bearing announcements. They stoop a little when they approach us. "Don't be afraid," they often say. They don't linger. Like older siblings they have to be somewhere else, holding back the Furies, pouring out plagues, circling the throne.
Where the road cuts deep in the mountain's flank there are seams of ash in stone. There was violence once which a wound reveals and the fractured bones still strain to stand. Only the wound reveals. The janitor rests his head against the window of the morning bus to home. He lives alone. He shuts the door. And when he dies he leaves a million dollars to the music school for scholarships. Who could have known? The heart sets out on its way, a pilgrim through the world. The heart draws to itself all that which can be seen, though words are not yet born to name it all to sound. The heart bears all. In the end the apostle writes, "There were many things that Jesus did. If they were all to be written down, I suppose the world could not hold the books." There is so much more to tell.
I slept out in the field under the oak. The rain was soft. I'd climbed the fence just off the road. One light through the mist from a shed across the field. In California it was rush hour, all traffic stopped in stinking heat. But I was there in Wales in the night hours, grinning like a fool. Still praising the great world. At home in the fields of the Lord.
There are secrets in the forest, quiet movements of coming and going. A communion of deer reaching out with delicate tongues for the Host, administered by an invisible priestess. If you hold your breath you might hear their murmured Amens, see the green shoots as the body of their god moves gently in response. I was thinking as I walked, 'Where are the deer?' and I looked up to see one regarding me placidly. Then there were five more and two off in a thicket by themselves. Theirs is a language of movement, of gestures. They have no secrets; they are like the books on the table by the window that you meant to read. You walk by today, tomorrow. Soon, you cannot see them.
Parabola: The path of a projectile under the influence of gravity. And we arrived squalling, after deep immersion in warmth, projectiles shot into the world, tumbling end over end, caroming off walls of bent law, jolting down the rough scree of injustice, dragging the long tail of generations. We split the air, the air streaming around us, feathering up behind in colors only seen against the dark clouds of history. What drew us forward was hunger for justice, memory and longing. Also, accidents of place, conjunction of powers, and limits. How long we ascended, thrust over gravity! The arc of ambition, a certain defiance of inertia and the cost of fuel. The wide heart of goodness, the cool fire of sacrifice. History is a book of stone, open always to the chapters that will break your bones when you fall. Leap! We who are alive shall be caught up in the arc of this parabola. We shall rise and fly, somehow stay aloft against the gravity of this hour.
The cat pounced before I could move. The bird was on the rail in front of me, then in the jaws of the cat. No more — and no less. I could not even protest. How do you argue the point? Time's up, said the tide as it rolled in. Moving on, said the sun. But wait! I said, to the cloud passing over. Wait . . .
We all want to be riding on when the summons comes. Going on, going toward, to be seen as willing ourselves into the next day and the next, circling the lake once more and then finding the passage between the mountains to the upper valley starred with flowers, with ships of clouds running aground among the trees and the trees dripping with spring and life in droplets, and then to hear among the rocks the deep, the dark deep resonance of the old sweet earth, again and again, before the end.
When my father died, I was not there. I was a continent away when the call came. I cancelled my class that night, not willing for the welling eyes of my students to unstop some hidden spring of tears deep within the man I thought I was. In an instant I was four, my face pressed up against his overcoat, the collar faintly smelling of cigarettes and travel and the clean bite of snow in his hair. He would fly down from the gray sky, to be with his parents and me for a day, clattering across the lowered drawbridge of my heart, past the flickering lamps of dim memory, and into the courtyard of the present. He was the closest god that I could know. Gods become less real the more they are not present. Their absence as a being shape-shifts by fate and circumstance. We name it, shuffle memories, love it more than less, understanding without knowing.
I was never one for miracles. They seemed like wishful thinking or the inevitable Coke machine at the end of the last road out of the last town at the far tip of the continent at the bottom of the world. Experience, says Hume — that's the ticket. Experience refutes the ignorance of barbarous nations who believe in the miraculous. Miracles break laws. A thirsty person sees a far-off lake lying across a desert road. What are we to make of that? This is the world, every natural law at work, busting up our sight, creating out of scraps lying around things that cannot be. Then comes Jesus striding from wave to wave, throwing demons up against the wall, pulling loaves and fishes out of loaves and fishes, and I read about it and I say bread that is eaten — chewed and swallowed — lasts longer than the water of life at the far end of the desert road, which I could have and die trying.
When someone is hurting, the first thing they must do is answer the question, "Are you alright?" It's call and response, a ping-pong of language, a catechism of guilt performed. The wounded answers between clenched teeth, "I'm fine, I'm fine. Really." Then the business of caring can take place. We will ride our invisible horses into the wind. But we are truer to the earth of which we are made to say, "There is a deep abyss here that I must climb out of — help me." There is a silence when we reach someone that is better than words. The silence of grasses moved by the breeze. The silence of a hand laid against a cheek. The silence of a blanket laid over one's feet. It's true: shock rises like heat off the pavement. We come from a far place in the wake of an afterthought. How will our minds grow into our bodies? But attention surely must be paid. Forgive us our laggard ways — how we now live — we are asked to live faster than sound, reaction crucifying perception.