Tolerance is one of your strong suits. Barring that one week in the year when you have a cold in the head and all bets are off. In this bleary-eyed time of cough and sniffle small things trigger disproportionate consequences. The clanging of the garbage truck, the stain on the tablecloth, the stack of junk mail. These trifles and many like them, stir intemperate impulses. The leaking faucet and the sales call seem expressly calculated to destroy your happiness. The traffic jam, a sink full of dirty dishes and disagreeable weather are taken as personal insults. You have fallen out of the world’s favor. And the future that stretches ahead of you is unspeakably bleak. And yet, as it has happened ever before, it will happen ever again. The fog in your head will gradually disperse and the world will grow bearable by slow degrees. Your life and its importance will recede like the tide and you will remember to take a genuine interest in others. Gratitude like a migratory bird will return to your heart. Twig by twig build a nest in its branches. And at night, driving home you will catch sight of a crescent moon suspended in a dark sky . A ghostly punctuation mark that will catch your breath and tilt you from low grade wretchedness, headfirst into love.
And so it is given to us. Again. As flawless and exciting as a freshly unwrapped bar of soap. Dazzling as a field of untrodden snow. This brand New Year. A vision perfect as a tiered and frosted wedding cake. It cradles our past and all our possible futures. The way the night sky holds the light of vanished and unborn stars. We have roamed the days of the last twelve months with wild hearts. A restless and precocious herd. Easy prey to fear and greed, yet capable of forgiveness. And a fierce, indomitable love. We are children slowly learning how to steer our gifts in an intricate, uncertain world. While our small, blue planet, that solitary long-distance runner, undemanding and unsupervised, begins its next long lap around the sun.
In the afternoon I stand up from my desk and look out the window. Come and play! cried the hills, ‘Old Time is still a flyin!’. And who can harden their heart against an invitation like that? I nod farewell to my to-do-list and head out the door into a bright, crisp December. It feels so good to be outside. To be placing one foot in front of the other and moving my body down the street and up the hill. So many things to see. The strings of Christmas lights fringing people’s homes, patiently waiting for darkness to fall, so that they can come alive like fairy dust or visiting stars. The man walking a big dog, who is greeted by barks from other dogs who are housebound and envious (how wonderful to be a big dog on a walk!). The teenager who is entirely un-charmed by the day’s beauty and who stalks down the street in a cloud of his own sullenness (how wonderful to be a glowering teenager at odds with the world!) The blond, tousle-haired runner, sweat-stained and disinclined towards conversation, whose legs pump up the steep incline with muscular and machine-like ease. His ears stuffed with music, his face wearing the inward expression of a soldier or saint (how wonderful to be a runner, rejoicing in your strength and sufficient unto your own two legs!). The bushes with purple flowers shaped like trumpets. The glimpses of Christmas trees through uncurtained windows. The woman with white hair, standing in her garden waiting for her courtesy shuttle service (how wonderful to be a white-haired woman in a garden!). The fallen leaves of the maple trees reddening the ground. The smell of smoke, and the sight of it faintly issuing from a chimney. The potted poinsettia plants adorning front steps and porches, like scarlet ambassadors. The man taking a walk with his very young son, who stops to stare at very un-extraordinary things, like wooden fences. (How wonderful to be very young and entranced by the un-extraordinary!). The mini-van with antlers attached to its roof and a large red nerf ball affixed to its front fender. The tall, spry woman wearing a straw hat, walking in the opposite direction as me. She smiles when our eyes meet. (how wonderful to be happy and spry and wearing a straw hat!). The mailman in his uniform and familiar white van, faithfully doing his rounds (how wonderful to be a mailman, bringing people their Christmas cards and packages!). The blue of the sky against the green of the hills. The laughter of unseen children. The splendidly gnarled limbs of the old oaks. Verandahs wreathed with evergreen boughs. Silver baubles hanging from bare branches. And then, eventually the welcoming sight of the red tiled roof and brown walls of our home. Tucked into the hills like a well-kept secret. Overrun by clover grass and memories. I pull out my key to open the door. (How very wonderful to be me, returning to this sweet home).
Daylight in winter rushes away with the urgency of a doctor on call,
Leaves you mid-sentence, without so much as a backward glance.
This daily abandonment takes some getting used to. You frown at the
first star in the sky. Feeling jilted. You do not see the velvet shadows
swirling around you. You do not feel the darkness slip its hand into yours.
But late December on a moonless night, you look down. And see your feet dancing.
When I try to go right you turn me left. When I say “No”, you cup your ear and feign deafness. When I hold up my hand and say, “Enough!”, you mimic my gesture and words, then burst out laughing. Like a rascally five-year-old. When I swallow my pride and ask you for something, you nod, and then proceed to give me something entirely different. Sometimes I wonder why I still talk to you. True– you are charming. But you are also incredibly infuriating. When I sweep my house you send in a hurricane. When I fall asleep you strike up the marching band. Now I see I have lived this life sitting at the chessboard. Foolishly trying to outwit you. Not realizing that the match is cleverly fixed, and always has been. In my favor. Your move.
What is it that you sometimes lose, and then find, that turns the day from bleakness to splendor in an instant? What to call it — that nameless flash, that infusion of un-summoned energy that flies you across a chasm believed uncrossable? On this side, a very capable gloom takes hold of your ankles and refuses to let go. Like a child throwing a tantrum on the floor. Its stubborn weight makes it difficult to walk with any semblance of grace. On this side everywhere you go, you drag an invisible, horizontal sadness with you. On that side, your feet have wings and whatever is so much as grazed by your glance, sparkles. Joy floods your being, gathers at your fingertips, stands ready to be released in the world like a spell. On that side, you live as royalty. Each moment unfolding like a red carpet in front of you. What transports you from this side to that, is a mystery. Nothing calculated or studied does the trick. It is triggered by things that are, but did not plan to be. Like the sight of a hummingbird hovering above a riot of purple flowers. Or a child’s hand stretched towards the moon. Yes. A thing so slight now electrifies you, draws you up, returns you to your proper home. Flouting the laws of gravity and time. And how to explain this feeling? Imagine a blighted apple falling in reverse. Raised up from muddy, trampled ground and reattached, round and whole to its green bough. Free to shine again. A small red sun. It feels…like that.
When I stop to consider the facts they astonish me. There you are couched in your own skin, and here I am in mine. No matter how close, we must each do our own living. Your heart cannot be persuaded to pump my blood. My lungs will not consent to breathe for yours. It is an odd arrangement. Inside me a mansion of memory and anticipation. A place other people may visit, like a museum. Inside you, a similar mansion. That I can visit and with your permission gaze at pictures on the wall. But only until closing time. And is this not a strange predicament? This seeming and inescapable individuality? The hard shell of ‘I’ that we live inside like soft-bodied sea creatures. When did we choose this? And on whose ill-advice? How different the world would be, if we could waft through different identities as easily as the wind inhabits the trees. Then the woman selling flowers at the street corner would be me. And the crumpled leaf of the half-blown rose in her bucket would be me. And the man reaching into his back pocket to pay for the bouquet – me. Me. Me. Then I would not be ‘I’ any more. And neither would you. No not at all and never again. Once out of the bottle, no genie of sound mind ever chooses to return, to such cramped, uncomfortable quarters.