Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Really Real and the Really, Truly, Indubitably Real

I went for a run today in the rain. By the time I got back to my building the sun had come out. With my contacts in, I was able to see a lot of detail in things that would otherwise be obscured by my glasses. I don't know if crumbled concrete and a rotting white door are proper objects of wonder, but here we are.

I was cooling down, walking and stretching, when my mind quietly seized. In the clouds and trees, even in the brick buildings and cobblestone parking lots, I saw a desert open up. Everything was a flat, consistent plane, each surface equally opaque and continuous with every other. There was a kind of inscrutable hiddenness in everything.

In this state I prayed. I asked God for a sign that this was his work. By the end of my silent prayer, everything had become a surface—not just the sights of things, but their sounds, smells, feels. My mind became a point suspended in something I know not what. I turned around like a baby in utero, looking at a world made strange.

I don't know if God answered my prayer in a way I could understand, but my heightened sense of alienation at least reopened a window that's been shut for a long time. Here's the view, familiar enough: my little brain does its best to dance over the surfaces of things, and is satisfied with a cursory knowledge of the contours they present to me. It cannot, however, open a door into a stone, or touch the life that animates an olive tree. My brain can only gesture at reality at a slant, and ponder it from a distance. Perhaps otherwise it would be consumed—or simply fall silent, like the collapsing body of the man who tried to steady the ark with his bare hand.

Maybe it really is true, that everything we think or say is essentially and most truly about what we cannot think and can never say. Who could know? And could she say it if she did know?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Opa Leijs, 1924-2012

Yesterday I helped to lay my grandfather into the ground. We led the narrow pine casket over a gravel pathway, following a towering man in a waistcoat who gave us instructions in clear, formal diction at each stage of the procession to the plot where Opa was to be interred. After arriving there, we hoisted the coffin off its wheeled platform and placed it on a pair of steel wires that stretched over the grave. An attendant in a black suit pulled a long tool out of a hedge and pressed its end into the ground above the plot. The coffin descended, rocking gently on its cables. There was silence except for the wind and the whirr of the unseen lowering mechanism. Each family paid its respects and walked with crunching steps back to the main building.