I haven’t really had access to my computer in almost a month. I mean, I have had it with me but without Internet, I don’t really use it that much. It’s become merely an occasional boom box with bad speakers. I have only had Internet on my phone, another amazing experience in the world. But now, I am house sitting for some friends in downtown Taos and they have one of those fancy Ethernet cables so, lo and behold, I am plugged in again. Sitting here, I am not sure what to do with myself. I check my email and can actually reply with more than a paragraph, that’s cool.
But what is most amazing is that a thing in my work life that is so crucial, and which I spend so much time in front of, is meaningless and trivial in the face of my summertime life or what I would like to think of as my “real” life. For the record, I “should” be reading composition theory and looking over a sample textbook for a new course I am designing. But alas, I just want to sit here and write. My real life needs reflection. This other life is so rich, because it is not merely the world of the mind but the world of my heart, history and body.
Tis the season of weddings and so, this weekend I traveled south to see some of my oldest friends and celebrate the union of a couple who have loved each other for nearly their whole lives. I jokingly remarked to my friend that I would likely be the only single, unmarried person without children at the wedding. I was right. But I didn’t resent this fact really; instead I got to watch the way so many lives unfold differently into adulthood with marriage and children. It was like looking at a menu of life choices. Some had stayed together and some had children from different marriages that were all brought together. Some were newly married and quietly matched. Some seemed at ease, others striving. There were exes and old friends. Regardless, we all still love each other, and know each other and that is a magic not often found. What a beautiful thing. Knowing people for a long time is really important. These old relationships are much like knowing a piece of land, watching it change over time and seeing the fruits of tending it or neglecting it. Our personal histories unfold in the eyes and hearts of our oldest friends, our family. I am both a stranger and an old friend at this table, as are we all.
The next day, after breakfast, I drove over the hill to sit with an old friend of my mother’s. Her eyes are like pieces of sky set into driftwood and they often well up with tears. She has as tender a heart as I have ever borne witness to. We sat under the apricot tree where we talked about the infinite quality of love or as she described it “the big heart of love in the sky” which opens and pours itself out onto us. Though at very different places in our lives, we both are asking the question of how to both dive into life, or even die into it while also dying away from it. How to hold on and let go at the same time? To only do one of these things means to live life in quarter-time. To do them both means true beginner’s mind: encountering each experience with surrender and engagement.
Under the apricot tree that is now twenty years old, nestled on the side of the hill under the sweltering summer heat and the huge, high white clouds, this surrender seems pretty easy. But it is later, as I drive away that I feel the deep grief of our meeting. Every time is like a goodbye these days. I miss my mother so much and I miss my childhood. But more so, it is accepting and surrendering to the changes in the people I love that grips me with melancholy. I am older sure, but they are aging and moving even closer to leaving their bodies. These people who’ve seen me grow are grandparents and elders and are facing their own deaths. I have one parent gone and two others looking at these same changes. Nothing will ever be the same as those long summers of my childhood. Our lives are bound to the seasons, whether we like it or not.
And the seasons are changing. The rains used to come every July. Now the earth is scorched and we are all silently, constantly, praying for rain. The fires have taken one of the most beautiful forests I have ever seen, one of the few truly wild places in this country, empty of people and filled with quiet. Parents have died; children have grown; new ones are being born. My relationship with my sibling continues to rift and spread apart, splintering our lives and our pasts. My heart keeps on breaking.
Sitting at the computer seems comfortably meaningless. Is that why I spend so much time here in my day-to-day life on the east coast? Is it that the aching anticipation of thunderstorms is too much for me to bear? Is it the folding of the laundry of a loved one gone now, his garments so full of hope and destruction? God and time are convenient answers to these questions but I cannot be satisfied with them. I am not sure why. I keep thinking, as I write these words, that I am not saying what I really want to say.
I want to say, “stones piled,” “pine forests,” “desert,” “empty,” “quiet,” “clouds, so many clouds.” And finally, time to just stare at them. Knowledge of the hands that piled the stones. Once, they were young and now are smaller and curled with age. Will anyone know what I mean by this? Nothing inside this computer could ever compare to what it is like to drive across this state and feel that it is the most beautiful place on earth and that I am somehow not separate from it at all and that it is all perhaps on the verge of disappearing into a different life. My body and my breath are linked in like a root system to the changes and the seasons of this place. Here, I am not my own separate being but moving like a blade of grass among many. And when the time comes, I will be threshed and baled and set up to dry to feed another generation—a generation who will move across earth differently than we do.
I want to know: will they remember to watch clouds?