“Is not impermanence the very fragrance of our days?”
– Rainer Maria Rilke
The days have shortened, but summer has stretched long. It is mid-October, and the thermometer reads upwards of 80 degrees. I live in a liminal space where the heat beats and time is suspended. My sight turns inward; I move through my days in a trance-like state.
We are gathered around a table, conversation swirls free, but my words come halting and quiet. Someone makes a joke, but I can’t hear it, I can’t laugh. I am held in an impenetrable sphere.
She’s sitting in the passenger seat across from me, my mother with one breast, red fluid oozing from the empty cavity. How do we bridge this chasm, how do we break out of the silence of our minds? How do we broach those unnamable words that haunt our days: shame, fear, loss, death?
The TV blares Chinese news and the old Monkey King. The hours pass; my grandparents’ eyes glaze over, listless, purposeless.
You’ve fallen asleep next to me; my eye traces the curve of your jawbone. Is this real? Are you? Are you flesh and blood? Am I?
Eight deer turn their heads towards me as I walk past. They used to turn their tails and run; now they watch me, patient and still: “This one’s okay,” their eyes seem to say, “We don’t have to go; she’s okay.”
With her foot on the threshold she waited a moment longer in a scene which was vanishing even as she looked, and then, as she moved and took Minta’s arm and left the room, it changed, it shaped itself differently; it had become, she knew, giving one last look at it over her shoulder, already the past.
Already the past. This moment, as I write it, is turning already, the present turns already into the past. Is this living? A myriad of moments, pieced together in my mind like so many patchwork pieces, mismatched, frayed and ragged at the ends. And the weight of it, the weight of it, how all this—all this—is already relegated to the past.
I have been dreaming of death. I have been dreaming of the suddenness of loss, that moment when death incarnates in the present, how the weight of death trivializes the busyness of our lives. I have been dreaming of wild animals stalking me, terrorizing me, death lurking around each corner.
Through the grey, I awaken to myself, sometimes, in a panic. I awaken to the undercurrent of time pulling relentlessly at my ankles, threatening to drag me under. I awaken to the wild world in bloom and decay. I awaken to the shadow death casts across my path. I awaken and find myself running from eternity, I awaken and find myself housed in a fortress, sheltered in the illusion of safety.
I awaken to distance. I find myself in places I have loved, with people I have loved, and I cannot locate myself. The trees are the same trees, the light the same light, but years of drought have sunk into my own heart, and praise that once rung wild now rings hollow. I awaken to myself, a stranger.
In the great meteor shower of August, the Perseid, I wail all day for the shooting stars I miss.
My eye is turned inward; what am I missing?
Now—and how?—it is early November and the seasons have changed. The days pass, and pass, and pass. There are moments of raw emotion, when grief scrapes out the cavity of my heart or joy bubbles through my veins, but these, too, pass. There are moments of deep communion, when we break through these spheres of isolation, holding the light to each others’ faces. In a flash of illumination, we recognize each other, unguarded and real, and love each other true. But these moments too, rare and precious, even these, these, too, pass.
The sudden illumination—
We had the experience but missed the meaning…
In all this, I know there is more. Death stalks me and I awaken to my hunger: I am starved for reality. I sense the absence; the void gapes within me. But this is a grace, I know—the awareness of my poverty, lack, and need. I come empty and hungry, eager to be filled.
There was a time when my eyes were young and my heart open and free, when the world and its people burned golden with holy light, when I knew intimately that secret, hidden place of full living, when deep contentment rested weighty in my heart. I knew, then, that my Abba hid treasure in each moment, and I planted my flag in the present moment to claim it for my own. I opened my arms wide to live full and deep, my heart a sail to catch any slightest breeze and skim, easy and free, across the surface of the waters.
When did I choose the lesser way? When did I settle for half-living? When did my heart grow dull and satisfied with greys? When did I exchange creativity for consumerism, substance for illusion, complexity and intricacy for glib cliché, the Holy and Real for idols?
See, every moment is a gift and a grace, an invitation into brightness and extravagance, and I miss it almost every time. But the moments when I say yes, when I linger a little longer, when I press in to the limits of my longing, when I turn my eyes outward and open my hands to receive, the golden light dawns…my Abba has been waiting, and my heart has been missing Him all the while.