Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Risk of Melted Wings

The sun did not rise today.  It sprang.  Did not slowly inch into the sky.  Catapulted.  Went from being a clean, sharp, compass-drawn arc behind the tree line to a barely-round blotch midway up the sky, its lower half covered by a cloud like a towel wrapped around its waist.  A towel made of long-staple Egyptian cotton.  Extra thick.  Talcum powder soft.

I wanted to touch it.  I wanted to reach through the windshield, through the early spring morning, through the light that left the sun 93 million light years ago, and touch that towel, run my fingers through the pile, feel it tickle the thin skin on the backs of my hands.  I wanted to hold that towel up to my face and feel the just-out-of-the-dryer warmth on my cheeks, let my eyelashes catch on the loops like Velcro.  I wanted to wrap my whole self up in that towel like caterpillar inside a leaf.

But I remember my Greek mythology.  Icarus flying too close.  Phaethon driving too close.  The moral of those stories?  The sun must not be touched.  A respectful distance must be kept.  And so I pulled back my hand, curled it into a firm grip on the steering wheel, and steered my chariot north, away from the heat.

We are, all of us, good at that.  Equating a desire for beauty with danger and putting up barriers to prevent ourselves from getting too close.  Asserting a  need for personal space and justifying the behavior that allows the actual need for human connection to go unmet.  Resisting the urge toward relationship out of fear that our reach will be met with empty air.

We are good, really good, at not touching.

Most of the time.  But not all the time. 

Just the other day I was visiting at a friend’s house, sitting on a stool at the kitchen counter, when another guest, someone I know but not well, reached into the hair on the crown of my head and began playing with it – fisting a handful and then letting go three or four times.  I didn’t even turn around.  Curly hair, I’ve learned, is like pregnancy.  They both invite touch.  Not just intimates, but near strangers, feel comfortable in reaching out to stroke the taut round belly of an expectant mother or the tight ringlets on someone else’s head. 

Almost as though caught in an irresistible magnetic pull exerted on the digits, the hand rises and gently falls into a pat, a rub, a grasp and fluff.  The guarding of one’s own personal space and the reciprocal acknowledgment of another’s is suspended for just long enough to make contact, to reassure the one reaching that, yes, the curiosity is real.

Though we generally tend to trust the sense of sight over the others, preferring eye witnesses to any other kind, honesty requires that we all admit to having been fooled by a mirage or two.  There is a reason that we greet returning heroes, long-absent lovers, and newborn babies not just with adoring glances, but with hugs and kisses.  Touch proves the reality, spans the chasm, eliminates the distance. 

Somewhere only the road between Oliver and Egypt, on that stretch where the pine trees grow like the pickets in a very tall fence, I stopped thinking about touching the sun.  At just about the same time, the morning light suddenly began pulsing through the trees like a strobe and falling on my arms – the sun touching me.  Wrapping me up in a big, warm towel.  Extra thick.  Talcum powder soft.

Copyright 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

Grammar, Astronomy, and Being Tamed

Somebody said that if I went outside around nine o’clock and looked in the western sky I could see Jupiter and Venus. So I went outside and stood in the middle of the big empty yard and stared at the place where I’m usually watching the sun sink. There they were, two white lights too big to be stars and too still to be airplanes, so they must be planets. I didn’t see any rings around either one of them – not that I expected to at that distance, of course – but it occurred to me at that moment that I was putting a lot of faith in what somebody else said, someone who might not know any more about this than I did.

The planetary fascination wore off pretty quickly and I had turned to go back inside when my attention was seized by the light in the sky on the other side of the yard – the moon, about half a wink away from full. Smudged a little by thin cloud cover, its relative nearness made it appear much larger than the planets at my back. What I know about the moon is no more certain than what I know about Jupiter and Venus. Men have been there, have walked on it, planted flags on it, and offered benedictory words over it, but I haven’t. And, yet, when I look at the moon, I feel entitled to use a possessive pronoun while leaving the planets with a definite article. Why?

There was a party at Sandhill last weekend. A celebration of the attaining of a dream. It was supposed to be an outdoor party and I planned outdoor decorations. Much-needed rain detoured those plans and everything got moved indoors, everything except a sign that my friend Lea helped me make. It’s a mileage sign like the one that stood in the center of the 4077th M*A*S*H* and it lists places beyond Sandhill that bear some significance to my life, that were the location of important events, that hold special memories.

When I finally stopped staring at the moon, my moon, and started back inside, my eyes fell on that sign, stuck in ground at the corner of the porch right at the base of a holly tree. The porch light reflected off the white letters like the sun reflects off the moon and as I read the words I inserted the implied possessive pronoun before each one: my Saint Simons Island ... my Wesleyan ... my Ireland. And in doing so, I answered my question.

Why is it my moon, but not my Jupiter or my Venus? It is, as Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s Fox explains to the Little Prince, about being tamed:

"[I]f you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world. ... [I]f you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat."

Through long association, though not necessarily the intent to do so, the moon and I have become connected and when I stare at it, I do so not with fascination, but with longing, sometimes even wistfulness.

But it is not just the moon that I have tamed with my attention and with my affection. I have tamed Saint Simons and Sandhill and all the other spots on the map where my heart finds rest. I have tamed all the people who drove through rain and maneuvered through mud to gather for the celebration of the dream. I have tamed the words that find their way to the page, then out into the world.

It is because I have tamed them and because they have tamed me that they are my moon, my people, my words. And what I, what none of us must ever forget, is that as the Fox reminds the Little Prince, "You become responsible forever for what you have tamed."
Copyright 2012