Saturday, March 13, 2010

Blood & light: a lenten contemplation 'On Turning Ten'

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light -
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

-Billy Collins

When I read the poet say now he is mostly at the window, watching the late afternoon light, my memory responded with a quick flash of a history of evenings. It evoked two concurrent associations: coming home, and the end. In my warm surroundings I recalled an angled sun, pulling my coat tighter and turning my iPod up—Gnarls Barkley while I walk briskly over the Waterloo bridge after a lecture, or a cold drink and “a pile of meat” on the grill with Ben and Pete in the garden after writing all day. I remembered my short Denver commute, sitting at a traffic light facing west with cyclists and joggers rushing through the cross walk on their way to Wash Park, undiminished appreciation for the awesome Rocky Mountains behind them with snow turned pink and purple in the middle of summer. I thought of the golden light of Ugandan sinking sun pregnant with life reflecting off of ancient trees and red roads—work is done. I’m on my way home, on the back of a boda boda bicycle, or in CPA’s old pickup dodging potholes but still moving too fast for my eyes to focus on any of the blurred leaves in the bush I'm passing. But then there are the evenings by the window, that insist you acknowledge something is over, that a time you loved has finished. It is, indeed a solemn moment, almost holy. I don’t know why, but for me they always seem to happen in the kitchen. Maybe it’s the warmth, or all of the conversation and collaboration that happens around preparing meals. Yesterday I felt it here. I shooed a chicken out the back door, closed the screen and looked around my kitchen in the evening light. I’m not going far. But I’m acutely aware that my life is about to change.

Maybe it’s actually part of going home. Acknowledging all the little ends. Letting go. Embracing what is ahead and celebrating the ways that it expands our limits of being. Recognizing the new. Accepting loss that comes with it. To inhale, we have to exhale.

I felt this today when I was practicing yoga. A beautiful pose with my heart open. I took a deep breath and sunk in. Suddenly I became conscious that I was a little bit deeper than I have ever been before. I was experiencing my body in that state for the first time. I felt this rush of joy even while I noticed my tight hips and shoulders, smiling to myself and realizing a newness of being—like a child discovering her hands. We have so much that we have yet to explore. We have so many limits that we can expand, boundaries in our bodies, minds and spirits that can and do shift. I think we lose the wonder when we begin to believe the lie that all is known, experienced and stale. What is true: Everything is being made new.

There is a kind of solemnity and appropriate sadness that comes as 10 becomes 20 and 30 and so on—but this poem reminded me of a duality in being that allows for the cohabitation of child-like joy and loss:

When you cut me I bleed.

And I shine.

Both these things are true.


Holly and Ben Porter said...

A suggestion for your participation: : if you have a photo of this time of day, or something else that captures a reflection on this for you—please share the photography and your reflection on it and I’ll post it. Since you can’t include files in the comments--you can email: (but remember our internet is slow and don't send mammoth files)

Jim Peterson said...

That's beautiful, Holly.

It reminds me of the unique and sacred opportunities I'm given to stand by someone while they stand and look out the window for the last time. Then pull up a chair next theirs as they stretch their neck to get a better view out the window. More time passes and they invite me to sit next to them as they look up from their bed at the window across the room – remembering – and wondering. It's not long before they forget about the window altogether, their world changes in size, smaller, more immediate. Simultaneously their awareness becomes - beyond. They once again see as if out a window, a different window. Experiencing sights only they can see, sights that I can barely imagine. Finally the day comes when they’re eyes see no more. When their bodies no longer bleed or shine. Finally, freed from their bodies, they experience the light long ago only imagined.

When all is done, when family, friends and body are gone, phone calls made, paperwork complete – I will often stand by a window and look outside, memories flashing backward, present sights exaggerated and surreal, questions and answers and more questions, and the future an ever increasing curiosity and wonder. I breathe deeply, slowly, more aware then at other times. I see, more aware of my sight then at other times. I hear things I can’t hear at other times… then I pull myself away from my window to be with others at their windows; others who still bleed and shine - but only for a time.

Ryan said...

hello friend! i love this post!

I wrote somewhat of a response/reflection on my blog.