Sunday, October 26, 2014
The local, as in Savannah, public radio station is off the air right now as a result of damage from a lightning storm. Without the voices of Steve Inskeep and David Greene and – since it’s October and the Supreme Court is in session – Nina Totenberg igniting the pilot light of my brain I have been left to entertain myself as I perform my morning ablutions. So I sing.
I know a lot of songs. A lot. I can easily do a set of 70s pop, American folk songs, or Broadway show tunes. I can do Streisand from all six decades. I can do traditional hymns and contemporary praise music (what my friend Phyllis calls “hippie songs”). This morning I found myself drying off, applying moisturizer, and brushing my teeth to the sweet and simple melodies I learned in Sunday School. “Jesus Loves Me.” “Only A Boy Named David.” And, of course, “Deep and Wide.”
It’s hard to sing “Deep and Wide” with a mascara wand in your hand. You have to fight the urge to do the accompanying hand motions, the vertical and horizontal extensions and, once you get to the “fountain flowing” part, the swaying and finger wiggling. “Deep and Wide” is probably the first song I learned to sing, after “Happy Birthday,” and I remember standing in front of the church and being particularly proud of the coordination I was exhibiting as we sang to our parents – remembering all the words and extending and swaying and wiggling at all the right times. All these years later there was something in me that felt the need to demonstrate my continued competency in that regard, but I was running late for work, so sing was all I can do.
Which is probably why I actually heard the words themselves. Deep and wide. Paid attention to the refrain. Deep and wide. Heard them and stopped to consider for a moment what they actually mean. Deep and wide. To my three-year-old brain the only possible association was literal. The deep end of the pool. The door left wide open. But to the woman standing before the mirror, the connotations were far less material.
Deep and wide hold associations positive and negative. Deep and wide carry the weight of a lifetime of dreams and experiences. Deep and wide are both rich and troublesome.
Human beings hunger for conversations and relationships that are deep; experience that is wide. And, yet, there remains something in us that demands ease and predictability, limits and boundaries. Like our brains partitioned into lobes assigned different physical functions, it seems that our psyches are partitioned as well. We may not be both Jekyll and Hyde, but surely where there is within us a place for City Mouse there is likewise a spot for Country Mouse as well.
Native American lore tells of the two wolves, good and evil, residing within the heart of man and the answer to the question of which one prevails – “The one you feed.” – may well reveal the only way in which deep and wide triumphs over shallow and narrow. Dive farther down. Sweep farther out. Drop the plow, broaden the blade. Feed deep, feed wide.
When I left home for college I had no intention of coming back. Deep and wide beckoned me with greater intensity at every mile marker. Deep and wide existed, in my mind, in places and people I’d not yet seen or met. My arms could not extend far enough to take them in.
For seven years I dug deep and I swung wide. I excavated my heart and stretched my mind deep enough and wide enough that, eventually, the territory I could claim encompassed that sandy piece of dirt and that great the cloud of witnesses that make up home. So I returned.
Sometimes, when a friend sets off on a great adventure or accomplishes some notable deed, I wonder what might have happened if deep and wide had become far and away. Sometimes, when the burdens of the day press down on my shoulders like a fertilizer sack, I wonder what I might be doing if I had chosen shallow and narrow and followed a path someone else had forged. But sometimes, when the sun is setting and the tops of the pine trees look like paint brushes set aflame and the deer at the edge of the field shine like burnished bronze and the rhythm of the rocking chair matches that of my beating heart, I don’t wonder. I don’t wonder at all.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Eclipses are slow. Which means there is plenty of time to notice the dew on my feet and the armadillo hole I may or may not be standing in, to hear a strange choral performance by the frogs in the branch that sounds like a rustling of the feathers of a giant flock of geese, to get just a little impatient and start staring at the stars instead, making up my own constellations.
Eclipses are slow. Which means it is probably inevitable that I will end up wondering what it is about me and moons. Full ones, half ones, quarter ones. Waxing and waning ones. Harvest moons and blood moons and paper moons.
I remember the one that rose over the field behind Mama and Daddy’s house as big and orange as a revival tent. I remember the one that spilled out over the ocean at Amelia Island, too tired to lift itself all the way out of the water. I remember the one that lit up my car with green light and followed me home from work and another one that hypnotized me through the windshield and caused me to miss my turn on the way home from Baxley. I remember them as though they are not all one moon, are not the same heavenly body spinning wildly and, yet, predictably through space around this heavenly body on which I am spinning wildly and, yet, predictably through space.
Moon myths are as old as man. My favorite may be the Inuit tale in which the moon, called Anningan, chased his sister Malina, the sun, across the sky every day, forgetting to eat in his pursuit so that he grew thinner and thinner. Not a completely logical explanation, but certainly a poetic one and, in an age before telescopes are pointed toward the sky, the poet is revered above the scientist.
The thought crosses my mind like Anningan and Malina crossing the sky, arcing and falling. Filling and emptying out. Giving and taking.
Eclipses are slow. I decide that there is time to find my glasses, get the camera, record in some form the sky show. Coming out this time I decide that the porch is a fine enough place to stand and I feel the wood flex and flex again under my bare feet as I shift to widen my stance, pull in my elbows, minimize the inevitable shake. I point the lens toward the darkening moon. The shutter clicks. I have captured an image, but I suspect that I have captured nothing to explain what it is about me and moons.
I also suspect that my friend the astronomer might tell me that pointing lenses – telescope or camera – is not supposed to explain humanity’s love affair with the moon, but only to document it. I imagine that she might tell me that a knowledge of astrophysics would not assist me in articulating why I stay up late and get up early to stare at circles and half-circles and slivers of reflected light. I think, but cannot prove, that she would even be a bit perplexed at my need to try.
That may be why we still need myths, the stories that explain without logical explanation, the tales not of things that never happened, but of things so important that they happened and still happen over and over again. And it may be why we need poets, the people who bid us to join them in the grass, throw back our heads, and stare at the sky.