31 August 2010

Phantasms and Branches

The kids were romping nearby on the playground, tearing from one padded construction to another. I sat across from my grandmother at a tired picnic table. She kept moving from one part of the bench to another, escaping the rays of sunlight through the sycamore branches overhead. Her recent bout with melanoma has made her a conscientious objector to any direct light of the natural variety. This is a departure from - and most likely the result of - her earlier decades of intentional, marathon-like exposure to the sun.

She took the afternoon off from packing and organizing her things for her move to Illinois. I loosened my tie after a day talking about Aboriginal rites of initiation to my students and gave her a good look-over. She grew up in these parts and raised her children here, too. Later she moved away and put together an odyssey of her own, moving from place to place and house to house, making friends with a sampling of humanity that would defy the heartiest attempts at stereotype.

"When I moved back here more than ten years ago, it was with the understanding that I had come home to live out whatever was left of my life." Her eyes welled up with tears. I could see she was not about to let them roll down her face, so she looked elsewhere. "But of course," she continued after sealing the well, "God's will is so often at odds with ours." I shrugged.

For some, when things don't work out as planned, God's always-mysterious and seemingly ever-elusive will is the cause. For others, when the same sort of things don't work out, the flawed system of which they're only a solitary part holds the keys and drops the gavel. The former perspective does, I suppose, convince one of a higher purpose and a sense of existential obedience in going along with it. The latter view, which normally bespeaks my situation, doesn't do much better.

I asked students recently to reflect in writing what they thought the use of dreaming could be, and why dreams so often fade as years advance. After wading through a heavy variety of the platitudes endemic of adolescent expression, I discovered one ongoing theme: dreams are useful because, not unlike narcotics, they assist in the attractive avoidance of reality. Why they fade, it was determined, resides in the torrential onslaught of reality as one gets older that one does not have the wherewithal to resist. Some opined that this is where people give up on living and instead project themselves through the phantasms of the electronic screen.

Maybe for an older or more faithful generation, the conviction of God's will was the phantasm. Instead of plugging in, they lit candles and wore out their knees trying to catch a glimpse of the passing light through the sycamore branches. They sat outside. They grew accustomed to uncertainty, so much so, that it seems either God's will was actively involved or insanity loomed like a storm cloud, waiting to drop. The option to attribute the unpredictability of being to God may well be an opiate. But so what if it is? Is the alternative any better, any more real? Does it do anything to assuage our untiring hunger for happiness?

She moved a few days later and a piano she hasn't played in nearly ten years went with her. She wasn't ready to let it go. Despite a stroke a few years back that's left one hand sort of clenched, she hopes to play a bit again. She hopes, too, to find some descending ribbon of God's will she can make sense of. I hope so, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was deep