By Billy Collins
This poem captures the disappointment of a teacher with his obstinate students. Truly examining something – especially a work of art – includes looking at it from multiple perspectives and discovering different meanings, but the students continually abuse the work in an attempt to discover one true meaning because they are certain that one must outweigh all the rest.
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
(Photo: Elijah O’Donell)
By Edgar Allan Poe
Probably one of my favorites by him.
This poem captures the great burden of the artist, the blessing and curse that comes with creating art. We wield great power, but we love what others cannot see or understand (until we’ve created it). In this sense, the artist is alone. The “demon” is Poe’s calling to be an artist.
“I want to talk to you.” I go to the chair next to the table he stands at watching me. “I just want to talk actually. I need something other than the void to talk to.”
“Don’t you have God for that?” He scoffs.
“Yeah,” I mutter, glancing at the ceiling. “Don’t you hate these plain rooms sometimes? I just want to breathe in the soil and brush against the dewy leaves and drown in the stars.”
“You’re in one of your moods again, huh.” Mickey returns to going through whatever medical papers he’s writing or reading. Whatever they are. “Life moods,” he mumbles.
“Why do you do that? Why do you study?” I laugh at his expression. “Because you want to, don’t you? But why? Why do we do anything? Why do we study music or learn to draw or want to fall in love? Why do we work for money that will never satisfy us?”
“Tell me, Maya.” He uses that tone, and I smile.
“Mickey, when I die, if you’re around, I want you to hold my hand.” I can tell his mood shifts. Just like I knew it would after a comment like that. I close my eyes. “I want to be a thousand years away and everywhere just so I can experience everything. All of the good and all of the bad.”
“Doesn’t Solomon say something against that.”
Not my bad doings, Mickey. But the world’s. I want to laugh and mourn and rejoice with everyone everywhere.”
Mickey sighs. He sits down and props his head up on his hands. I glance at him, and he manages a smile.
“Mickey, if no one believes in God, why do they do what they do?”
“Because they do believe. Everyone believes in some type of higher order out there. God, Fate, whatever.”
“And what if they believe nothing comes afterwards, that they are drops in the universe. We all are, of course, but everyone wants to have meaning.”
Mickey covers his eyes and moans. My heart bounds to my throat, but I hadn’t even realized it was pounding. My eyes are about to water because of this emotion inside of me that I can’t place though it races through every one of my veins and nerves until even my hands are shaking. Love?
“Talk about the universe with me,” I whisper.
I blink, coming to myself after realizing how wet my eyes are. Mickey stares at me from between his fingers. He’s wearing that look that he gives when he’s categorizing everything in his mind, and he’s come upon something that he can’t categorize. So he stares at it.
“If you had everything you ever wanted in your life, what would you do?” I ask.
“I don’t know what I want.”
“Isn’t that a part of being human? We don’t know what we want, so we want more and more and are never satisfied, always thinking there is something better. Are you content when you realize nothing is better?”
“Something could always be better. Take me, for example. Or better yet, take your self-defense skills. Or your running technique.”
“Mickey, we both know what I’m talking about. When you realize that you will always want more, but there is no more. There is nothing more than what you have.”
He smiles. “We drown in stars?”
“Maybe,” I mutter, then look away to stare at my feet. My shoes, once a stark white are faded and yellowish in places. “What is the difference between Newton’s theory and Poe’s ‘Ligeia?'”
“Ohhhh…” He laughs. “I know where this is going. There is no difference. Now tell me why.”
I turn and grin at him, and his head is propped on his hands, face wearing a smile, ready to listen.
“Why should I tell you if you already know?”
“Because all knowledge or art is useless and also priceless. It is subjective, the meaning found only within the individual. Are you just too excited to come right out and say it?”
“That’s not my point. Or why I’m in love –”
“In love?” He raises an eyebrow, and I laugh.
“So why do we value this knowledge and the pursuit of more if it’s useless. Why is it priceless!” I jump and grab his shoulders and lean close to him. “Why do we want to make a difference in the world?” I whisper.
A smile plays on his lips, and he glances back and forth between my eyes. “Why?” He whispers back.
“Why do you think?”
“I only care what you think.”
“What?” I laugh and let him go. “Okay, it’s because we have to find self-worth. None of it matters, and that’s the whole point of art and science and discovery and power. Especially if people believe there is nothing after life, and it will all go to waste one day, because the world is heading towards chaos, and everything is destined to die –”
“Because of self. It is self-knowledge. Self-meaning. We mean something if we think that we do, which is why we are compelled to do something that makes us feel meaningful. What is life without a reason?”
“Well, scientifically, you can still live without having a reason.” He laughs, and I hit his shoulder.
“Not my point.”
I cross my arms. “Tell me what you think of all that, Mickey. Tell me your arguments. Why does my epiphany matter?”
“Well, I think it’s true… I don’t know.”
“And what happens when the art is mastered, the theory is proven, and the meaning runs out?”
“We find a new meaning?”
“And what if, at the end of the line, there are no new questions in life and every meaning has already been crafted and exploited? Every art and trace of beauty and knowledge has been wrung from our species?”
Mickey is standing now. I must’ve gotten too excited because he’s standing, staring down at me, gripping my arms.
“Wow, this is… you are way too happy. This is so dark…” He clears his throat, and I purse my lips. I’m bouncing on my toes because he won’t hurry up and get to the point! “Now we drown in stars?”
“You’re close. I think…” I glance behind him because the thoughts are coming at me a mile a minute, bouncing against the side of my head, yodeling opinions and facts and memories of theories and poets and music notes and sermons and Solomon’s Proverbs. I clench my jaw to tighten them in place and gain some order in my head. I take his hands while the thoughts settle like underwater sand after a hurricane. “I think we should dance.”
“Hm. That is a perfect thought.”
“I wanted to say that it’s the great beauty and tragedy of life. But I believe my ardor has cooled.” I grin, and he holds his arms out, having led me away from the table and his study of systemic veins, smiling, waiting for me to meet him.
“Love of life. That’s what you meant. How typical.”
“Can’t help but love such a beautiful tragedy. What can we do when all the mysteries have been solved and the world is still going towards chaos? We can mourn or dance. I choose to dance…”
“I know you do, Maya.”
“What else did you think I meant?”
And we waltz. Without any music.
(Photo: Anneliese Phillips)
This is a work in progress and needs editing. I just needed to get this idea down while it was fresh. Figured I would share it here because I think the subject is important.
You think that we are small and delicate
With dust in our wings and petals as our walls,
But we have more power than your mind could bear,
More wealth than a Pharaoh or all the banks of Ophir.
You think we live to dance and leave dew on the grass,
But we do more than make children fly.
We have raised up kings and knights,
Determining the fate of whom we love and hate.
We can change our shape to be what we will,
Fragile and gentle in the eyes of a child
But as fair as the moon and as clear as the sun,
Turning tides, giving light, creating life
In a never ending chase around an unsearchable earthen heart.
We have the beauty of roses as delicate as the petals
Where you imagine we spend our days pruning our wings,
But our thorns are as terrible as an army with banners.
(Photo: Lawrence Green)
Why the ice? Why the tundra? Why the middle of nowhere you ask? Because it’s barren. Because I don’t want to look for Beauty in an obvious place.
Josh clutches the ad between his forefinger and thumb. Why did he agree to do this?
Wanted: 10 – 12 individuals who want adventure and are willing to risk their lives to get it. (I’m just kidding. Austria is fairly safe.)
Why couldn’t he be a normal kid who got a basic-paying job in the short transition space between high school and college? He didn’t even want to go to college. His older brother Stephen just got promoted to CEO of JanGlass, and he agreed to fund a trip for Josh. Not college. But a trip. Because Stephen wasn’t going to pay for Josh to go party and mess around and eventually drop out because Josh never wanted to be there in the first place and so he wouldn’t care about his classes, and he would end up working at some ho hum job in a JanGlass warehouse after wasting several years of his own life along with thousands of dollars worth of Stephen’s hard-earned money.
I’m a photographer, and I‘ve made journeys like this before. But I’m not as young as I used to be. Plus, I love the company, so long as your hard-working, respectful, and a bit on the curious side. Otherwise, you won’t like this job, and I won’t like you.
There was a typo in the ad. A freaking typo. Oh well. This guy was supposed to be a professional photographer, not an English major.
This job doesn’t pay so much in money, but it does pay in adventure, experience, and the chance of a lifetime.
Stephen made a face when Josh first showed him the ad, and then he started laughing. He asked if Josh was serious, and Josh didn’t know what to say because, frankly, Josh didn’t know. He still doesn’t know. He’s made half-hearted decisions his entire life because they were the decisions he was supposed to make. Play this sport. Ask out this type of person. Go to this or that university, so long as you go to university. Stephen stopped laughing and said he was proud of how mature Josh was becoming – going someplace new as more than just a tourist and going with the intention of discovering what he wanted to do with his life, being a leader and not a follower. Josh still didn’t know what to say because he hadn’t even thought of that. He just couldn’t think of a place to go, and time was running out when he found this ad.
Places we’ll be going: Across a few of the Alps (mostly in High Tauern) and anywhere else we need to go, depending on what we encounter or have yet to encounter. How long we’ll be gone: Around a month and a half. I’ll try not to make the trip any longer. Type of person: You need to be strong enough to carry your own weight on this trip, that includes carrying your own equipment like food, clothing, and camping supplies. You may need to carry a few other things as well, and be prepared to walk for several miles in a day’s given time, rain or snow, up or downhill.
Josh wasn’t sure he was strong enough to do this, and he wanted Stephen to talk him out of it. Instead, Stephen made him come to the gym with him for the three weeks leading up to the trip, talking to Josh everyday about the story of a famous man who went to Antartica and wrote a similar ad to convince men to come with him and how Tolkien used that story as part of the inspiration for The Hobbit. This Daniel Jackson reminded Stephen of the photographer from the Walter Mitty movie, and the more Stephen thought about it, the more Stephen liked the idea of sending Josh to Austria to find himself.
Disclaimer: It’s very unlikely that you will die (unless you do something incredibly stupid), but I’m writing here to let you know that any who answer this ad do so at their own risk. I will interview all who respond and decide for myself whether or not you would be a good fit for this team.
The interview is in Grossglockner, exactly where Josh in now, and he’s not going to purposely throw it despite how his stomach is churning and curling away from the rest of his insides. He will try his best because his brother paid for him to come all the way out here. And maybe he’ll get to join the adventure team with world class photographer Daniel Jackson. And maybe he’ll figure what he should do for the rest of his life, or at least develop enough of a spine to say no to whatever he doesn’t want to do.
(Photo: Sead Dedic)
I’m not getting to write as much as I want to (at least 2x a week) and should be finding the time to do, but school is picking up. I have a 25 source annotated bib due pretty soon, and for anyone who doesn’t know what that is, you should thank God that you don’t. I will get better about writing more often though! I must!
I found a dead squirrel on the side of the road last Tuesday, and I spent nearly an hour staring at it, trying to retrace its flattened body back to the round, fluffy creature I knew it had once been, and only after an hour did I discover that it was actually a chipmunk.
I wasn’t really thinking about its original shape before getting rolled over repeatedly by two-ton vehicles probably going at least 60 mph in the 45, but my mind just tried to piece it together naturally. I was actually thinking about death. The ultimate infallible truth.
But is death the ultimate infallible truth?
Matter – can’t be created or destroyed
Life = Death
Living things need certain sustenance/environment to survive
Motion (physics stuff)
Pythagorean Theorem (I’m really reaching here)
Humans Need Hope/Purpose
I stare at that last one. I wrote it simply to replace the former. People could survive without hope or a purpose, maybe not for very long, but there was no denying existence.
It echoed that ridiculous question that if a tree falls in the forest, and no one’s around to hear it, does it really make a sound. Of course, it makes a sound. That wasn’t the point of the question.
Let me rephrase: If something dies/ceases to exist, and no one is affected or cares, did the existence of that something even matter?
Some people would argue Of course! Everything matters! Others would laugh and say Not really, but that’s life. Others might claim Well I wouldn’t care/I would care. And then there are those who would simply shrug their shoulders. Those are the ones that interest me. The shruggers. Most shrug because they don’t care, and it interests me as to why they wouldn’t care. But then there are those few who shrug with a glimmer in their eye, a look of meditation on their faces, because they aren’t afraid to admit that they don’t know.
Should all lives matter? Yes. Do they? Well...
Does the existence of something – something isolated and abundant enough that it’s death would not leave a dent on the world – even matter?
Does a person’s existence matter?
Death. Ay, ’tis common…
I can almost picture Hamlet as he speaks, surrounded by gray inside and out, staring gravely at his mother with soft yet hardened eyes.
Reasons Why Human Existence Matters:
I stare at the list, the list that should be easy. I make some coffee, pour half of it out, go to Kroger, take a nap, and then return to the empty list. And I stare at it again.
Medicine, Music, Art, Math, Stories. I can’t put these because they only apply to other humans. Human existence has only ever benefited other humans. And to be frank, everything I thought I would put down already exists in nature. Humans create a different kind of music and art, but would they be missed?
Wait… that last one. Stories.
Humans record history. Of course it only benefits other humans, but where in nature has history been recorded besides in the rings of trees? And that’s not the detailed description that Chaucer or Wordsworth would give if they were to write history.
Why do we call it that? History.
I found something to put on my list.
Humans are beautiful, in their own chaotic way. It their history and art that disrupts then frantically tries to glue back together. They put everything in nature out of order then try to rearrange the order in a better way because their own knowledge – which is simply the understanding of the rules of nature put down on paper – has led them to believe that they are superior. They are the fixers, the tiny little gods of the earth.
No wonder so many pagan mythologies are captivating. They are based off of humans.
Such amusing, fascinating things we are. Humans.
But why would Fate allow our beauty, our destructive flash of lightning existence, ever come to be? And what is Fate but an idea that we give ourselves to establish some sense of purpose?
Surely there’s something more to this existence than simply Beauty.
What made humans so special? Existing as the source of chaos in a world of order, a world of laws designed by math, now crumbling because of this very chaos. But yet, humans are special. The good and the evil, coinciding in one single person. One single beautiful person who is as unique as any separate plant or animal. But plants and animals all do the same thing. They have instinct that forces them to follow the order. Humans do not. We carve our own way. We see things in gray and sometimes choose the good and sometimes the evil. So many personalities and history and art and music and beauty stirred together to create an individual. A drop of chaos in the sea of human history. What will that drop do?
Does that drop have a reason for existing?
I ruminate over the history that matters to me. Human history. The never-ending, cyclical timeline of my species.
It seems as though humans were instilled on purpose… with a purpose. But what? Wouldn’t we follow the natural order otherwise? But why? What was Mother Nature thinking? What could’ve happened if we were once a part of the natural order and then somehow escaped as free radicals running amuck upon the earth?
What gods aren’t based on humans? What gods did not consign Fate to some individuals while leaving others to dangle on the threads of simply existing?
I think about too many things, but it always leads back to this Purpose business. I have yet to discover the root of death. It has only led to the root of existence, and now this. All my searches only lead to more questions. These questions don’t matter to most, but that’s because we’ve been trained to put them in the back of our minds and leave them trapped behind the bars of what could properly be labeled Fear. But I can’t stand to leave them caged. I have to let them wander, constantly coming back up again at the slightest indication, even in the flattened body of a chipmunk.
I go back to my list of infallibles and bite my lip while twirling the pencil between my fingers. I put it to the sticky pad. It takes a minute, but I slowly carve the words.
My search has only begun.
(Photo: Will van Wingerden)
The man looked wild. Dark stringy hair that was only out of his face because of an old bandana and gray, misty eyes. He had stubble all over his face and neck, and when he smiled, dimples appeared. I tried to figure out his age, but all I could guess was that it was somewhere between twenty and forty. Somehow he was still handsome. He wore those gloves with the fingerholes cut out and brightly colored clothes that had faded dramatically over time. Or maybe he had bought them like that. He looked like an adventurer, so it hadn’t surprised me when he’d said:
“I like the wild. That’s the kinda life I want to have.”
I was tired but wanted to catch the view out my window. And then there was the David Livingstone-type stranger sitting next to me reading The Art of War. My eyes kept wandering back and forth between them. These two wonders.
“You ever read this book?” he asked when I happened to be glancing at him. I had turned to the window just as my face heated up, but I looked back. I studied the book cover. I’d seen this book in my college library, but never with this cover. A worn, black leather cover with gold lettering.
“You’re missing out.” He smiled. That’s when I noticed the dimples.
He looked like he was trying to go back to reading, but was more interested in the strange woman beside him who kept looking at him. I don’t think I looked disgusted or judgmental. I don’t think he took it that way either. I was just curious.
He closed the book and stared straight ahead for a little while. Then he turned to me.
“My name’s Steve Harding, but a lot of my friends call me Stev and, I don’t know, I guess I’m just used to hearing it.”
He grinned. “Hey, I watched a movie about you once. What, did you trade your soul to get some legs?”
My cheeks turned red. “I have a boyfriend.”
“What?” He laughed. “You’re a terrible liar. But I’m not hitting on you. Just passing the time getting to know the person stuck next to me.” He cleared his throat then smiled. It was gentler, almost sad looking. “Being a bad liar isn’t a bad thing, because it takes practice to be good at something.” He winked.
I was scooted as close as I could get to the window. It’s not that he freaked me out or was dirty. He actually had a good smell, like musty cologne. Something that was ancient on purpose. He was just… different than anything I had ever encountered. Then he held out his hand.
“Nice to meet you.”
I wasn’t too keen on shaking it, but I did anyway.
“Thank you. You too.”
“So what brings a city girl out here to Montana anyway?” When I looked at him, he shrugged. “Sorry, you just look like a very eastern-coast-type person.” Then he smiled, like there wasn’t the slightest bit of offense in his words.
“My friend’s mom died.”
I had lied. It was my mom, but Steve, or Stev, or whatever, had been wrong. I lied all the time. Not for malice or anything particularly bad. It’s just, sometimes it’s easier than explaining the truth.
I had expected his sympathetic smile to appear, but instead, his eyes widened.
“Oh.” He didn’t seem to know what to say, until he said, “But at least it wasn’t your mom, right?”
“She was like a mother to me.” I turned away and looked out the window.
“Sorry, shouldn’t have said that,” he muttered. “I say everything that pops into my head when I’m nervous.”
He went quiet. I could feel him staring at me.
“You need a hug, Ariel?”
I looked at him.
“Sorry.” He grinned. “Sometimes people just need a hug. I’m still not hitting on you. Some people might use it for that, but it’s just a basic form of human contact to show other people that you care. That you are there to support them.” He smiled again, but it was that sad smile.
“Oh. No I’m fine. But thanks.”
“Okay, but I’m here if you change your mind.” He propped his knees up on the chair in front of him and unfolded his book.
I watched him for a minute, then looked back out the window, then back at him.
“What are you doing out here, Steve… Stev, I mean.”
He smiled. “We’re taking a bus up to Canada. It’s perfect weather for ice climbing.”
“Yeah, it’s like rock climbing only it’s mountains of ice.”
“Why?” I asked. He looked at me, and my face burned a bit. “I mean, why do you like doing that? I’m sorry…” I shook my head. “I–”
“It’s fine.” He laughed. “I’ve been prodding you with questions this whole flight. And I dunno. I guess to prove to myself that I still can. It’s very physically and mentally challenging.”
And that’s when he said it with a very child-like smile. He liked his life wild. I asked him what that meant. I knew what wild was, but what did he define as wild? What did he want to accomplish by living wild? I don’t know. Maybe I’m too technical, too “by-the-book” to understand, but he laughed and got a twinkle in his eyes.
“I’m so glad you asked, Ariel.”
Then he told me about his life. About his time in Africa, digging wells for villages, herding children by fifties from wastelands to orphanages, and using the Burner from his hot air balloon to keep away the lions at night. He talked about his time in India, the bogs with half-buried Hindu statues, the people who smiled though they had nothing. He talked about the catacombs in France, the wolves in Russia, and the dialects in China. He talked about the Sea of Trees in Japan where he waited for three days, then found a woman, and talked her out of killing herself.
I almost didn’t believe him… and then he showed me the pictures. There was the hot air balloon, the well on the western part of Ethiopia, and the Japanese woman named Hatori Sakura with her and Stev having their arms around one another. They were both smiling.
“She was a mother and had lost two of her kids.”
“But there was still one left.”
He looked at me. The ashy somberness of his eyes had flecks of blue and white that reminded me of the sky.
“It’s kind of selfish really.” He smiled and looked back at the picture. “I wanted to save someone’s life. I mean, not anyone in particular. I just wanted to be responsible for saving them, you know? I wanted to feel the pride that comes with that. That’s the whole reason I went out there.”
“You still saved her though,” I said quietly.
“Yeah.” He shrugged.
After a few minutes of silence, I stared at the seat in front of me, then at the floor between my feet. I could feel him watching me.
“You feel better, Ariel?”
Then he hugged me. It kind of shocked me at first. He hadn’t even asked me if it was okay. But I hugged him back.
Our flight was almost over.
“I’m not really from the city. I was born and raised out here. On a farm. But I never belonged, so I left. I figured I would fit in more in a bigger place. Well, a place with more people.”
“Yeah, you seem weird.” He grinned. “But like, weird in a good way. Stretched too thin across the continent. But you’ll never really find where you belong. There’s no place. It’s just you… Does that make sense?”
“Yeah, kind of.”
But the more I think about it, it does.
“How old are you, Stev?”
“And you’ve been all over the world?”
“Well, not all over. After traveling, I realized I’d explored other countries more than my own. That’s why I’ve been home these past two years.”
“Where are you from?”
“New York… I know, right? But not the city.”
“I’d love to travel, but I can’t afford it. Not right now, anyway.”
“Of course you can. There’s always a way. Maybe not the conventional, or the safest way, but it’s possible.”
“So you just travel for a living? And help people?”
“I’m a photographer. Sort of. I explored for the first time when I was nine, and took a camera for the first time when I was twelve. Capturing moments is… it’s the reason I live.”
“You capture the moments for the people who can’t see the world?”
“No, I capture the moments to encourage other people to see the world.” His smile turned to that sad version. “I’m going to say something, and it’s probably going to offend you. Okay?”
“You’re in college, aren’t you?”
“I would ask why, but I already know the reason.”
His eyes turned ashy like they had a few times during his stories. My heart started to pound. We were about to land.
“You go to college because you don’t know of anything else to do. You think it will help you figure out who you are. A few people might have a plan, but they’re the exceptions. Like me. You go to college to discover what life might be like, but all you discover is debt, stress, and people who don’t actually care about you. You want to learn about the world, but all you learn is how to act and think like everyone else in this society. Where does your knowledge of the world come from? From books and people who have never seen the world but still get up and talk about it because they have been to college, from limited perspectives. From… Ariel?”
All the blood had drained to my feet. Stev’s face was as grave as his eyes. No child-like laughter any more. Then he smiled, and everything turned a bit gentler.
“You okay? Am I being too rude?”
“No. You’re right.” I swallowed hard and nodded. “You’re right.”
“They try to teach you what truth is based from other people and other perspectives, but you have to go out and discover it for yourself. Think for yourself.” He shrugged and leaned back in his seat. “I know some people have to go to learn how to be a doctor, but even then. Doctors learn when they’re in the field. They learn from the real world. Not from the books. I’ve talked to doctors. But I don’t think you’re going to be a doctor, are you.”
“No.” I was shaking. “But books make you smarter.”
“Yeah. But those books had to be written by someone who experienced it, or who experienced something profound enough to make them think of it. And trust me, you could never write everything that’s out in the world into a book.” He sighed. “If you don’t have a reason to stay, then go… You like to read, Ariel? You should read about my inspiration. David Livingstone.”
“A Scottish explorer who went to Africa to help people. The overseers of his group tried to keep him under their reins, but he wasn’t there to play it safe and stay in one spot. So he went out into the jungle to find people he could help, and that’s how he discovered Victoria Falls. I’d like to discover a waterfall someday. Something.”
The flight attendant was talking, and people were getting up and getting their stuff. Stev watched them with glazed eyes.
“Man, I’m tired,” he muttered. He looked back at me and smiled. “You should come with me sometime.”
“Exploring. You know, get a taste for it. I promise, if done right, it’s addicting. And it’s not that expensive.” He looked over my face and started laughing. “I’m still not hitting on you. Man, have you been attacked or something to make you think that everyone’s got their own evil agenda?”
I could feel the blood rise to my cheeks.
“I suppose it is getting bad nowadays. Sorry, like I said. No filter.” He pointed to his head and grinned.
We got our stuff, and we left the plane. It was a small plane. Not much cargo. Not many people.
Stev started walking with his back to me, and my heart jumped several times to my throat. Was he going to leave without at least saying bye? After hugging me?
I lost sight of him in the crowd. My stomach wanted to twist itself in knots, but I tried to convince it that he had only been a friendly stranger on a plane. A friendly, weird stranger. But when I walked in, I saw him ordering a coffee. I was determined to say goodbye. To say thanks. My heart was pounding and my blood was practically frozen, but I needed to do this.
Was Stev too informal? Should I have called him Steve!
“I used to hate black coffee,” he said, turning before taking a sip. “You want something?”
“Uh no. I just wanted to say bye. And thanks for showing me the pictures.”
“Leaving so soon?” He glanced around. “I’ve got another three hour wait till my bus arrives. It comes with the next flight. I guess that gives me enough time to finish this book you had distracted me from.” He winked. “You might think I’m flirting, but I’m like this with everyone. Even my gram and grandfather.”
“Gram and grandfather?”
“Yeah, stark difference, huh? She’s basically what you’d expect for a gram, but he’s super formal. Very businesslike, lawyer-type fellow.” He almost winked again, but I think he stopped himself. “He wanted me to be a lawyer. Said I was bright enough, but I guess I’m more of the photograph and save the world type of guy.”
“Here.” He handed me a folded napkin. It had his phone number. “I was serious about you coming with us some time. If you’re worried about being the only girl, we can try to convince Isaac’s wife to come. Call me after this funeral. I think it would cheer you up too.”
“I have classes.”
“So did I at one point. So did my buddy Joe till I convinced him to come with me once.” He laughed. “Just call, and we’ll work something out.”
“Okay…” I almost told him that it was my mom’s funeral. That my dad had died of cancer when I was twelve. That I hadn’t talked to my sisters since I’d moved away. That I was scared and sad at the same time. “Thanks. I will.”
I forced a smile, and I walked away, dragging my luggage behind me. I could feel his eyes watching me. Part of me wanted to turn back, but I resisted.
Instead I turned on my phone and looked up a picture of David Livingstone.
(Photo: Izzy Gerosa)
Sometimes I like to close my eyes and remember I’m seven again. When I was seven, I went to the moon.
When I was seven, I crawled onto the swing of my grandmother’s porch and flew to the moon. Sometimes, I flew beyond the moon to the stars. I even flew to heaven once. I met God and told Him I loved Him.
When I was ten, I took a walking stick and adventured out to my grandmother’s barn, to her river, up her mountain. I jumped haybales, I skipped rocks, I climbed up a tree to find the hidden trails.
When I was fifteen, I sat in my bathroom floor and put earbuds in my ears. I listened to pianos, guitars, and harps. I drew people, I painted emotions, I wrote about love.
When I was twenty, I sat by the oceanside, I stood on the cliff of a mountain, I curled up under a blanket in my dorm room with my headphones on. I listened to violins, cellos, and flutes. I wrote about sacrifice, contentment, and the mysteries of the world, about seeing God in everything.
Last summer, I visited my grandmother’s old house. I sat on the unpainted, cracked porch swing. I closed my eyes. I went to the moon. Then to the stars. Then beyond.
I never really grew up. The adventures just became grander.
I have lived a happy life.
Am still living a happy life.
There was a man who chased the moon.
He said it was for love.
I chased him round until we flew,
The ground beneath us gone.
The stars all looked like splintered glass
With emptiness between.
I asked him why we floated so.
He said it was for love.
A floating, wandering, unkempt love
In search of a lost moon.
He said the ground was too below,
And us, we’re too far gone.
This love is new and rich, I thought,
Unlike I’ve ever seen.
She’s chased and chased, but never caught.
I asked him why he cared.
“Unsafe, unknown, and wild, this love,
But would you ever know?
Her smile at night and pale, white light
I’d rather chase than forgo.”