Monday, August 8, 2011

No Country for Old Men

Pondering the imponderables is just what I do, both for a living and for "fun."  Whenever my mind isn't occupied with something concrete, I launch inward, soaring ever-tighter circles on whatever updrafts I can find in that bizarre land called the Great Mystery. It's just how I'm wired.

So, late this afternoon, after yet another piece of hard news about my dad's health, I velcroed up the bike shoes and rolled out the Vaya for some local dirt: The paths of the cemetery just down the street from us.

I don't like graveyards, as a rule; they have always elicited a sullen downwardness in me. Tonight, though, it was the place to be. I found that rolling slowly up and down the swales and vales was much better than walking, standing or sitting, the three typical modes in such a haunt. I kept moving, just faster than the moist tendrils of entropy insistently trying to twine themselves around my rear spokes. That meditative speed enabled me to feel myself alive among the dead -- yet alert enough to catch, out of the corner of my eye (where all worthy revelations show up) whatever it was that called me down there today.

It became clearer than ever to me this afternoon that no one has any idea how long my old man will be hanging about this earthly veil. Being who I am, my reaction was, head for where the dead folks are.

I was the little kid who, when there was a bully lying in wait for me after school, sought him out in the hopes he would do his worst. I have always had a feisty hatred of the dread unknown. Living in fear is far worse to me than whatever punishment today might dish out.

This graveyard is pretty, really. It's small, lined with maples and oaks; there are no paved paths, only dirt. Lots of old-time gravestones from antiquity. Soft woodsy smells everywhere. The afternoon was hot and sticky, but not stifling. I let the fire of the sun bite into my skin; it's summer, I'm alive, and I didn't want to miss a fleck of sunlight, no matter the temperature.

As I circled around for the third time, I became aware of an unseen boundary forming about the cemetery, perhaps called up by my ritualistic revolutions. I was alone, and suddenly knew myself to be in a land apart, a twilight place, where colors were vivid, but also translucent, shot through with late-summer light. The air took on a gentle tension, as if a miasma were gathering. I flashed on my father telling me, on a walk a couple months ago, that he felt like he was in a different country. He was referring to the odd land of Clinicalia -- hospitals, specialists, big, loud, "imaging" machines, biopsies taken at mysterious, capricious intervals. Yet I think some part of him knew that, past the shore of that strange new territory, lurking in the dark interior, lay yet another reality altogether. I was lingering in a gateway to that farther land this afternoon, gazing past the stones, leaning on the handlebars, thinking how Dad's become the best friend I've ever had, and that, in the long view, I have nothing to complain about. I checked myself for anger, sadness, fear. They had all retreated, at least momentarily, driven back by the ghostly golden summer light, and the unquestioning, unquestionable presence of the Big What.

I moved on. Rolled a few circles about a big cross in the middle of the cemetery, where there were mysterious gifts laid out for... the Madonna? The deceased? A few rags, dirty from cleaning headstones. A muddy cloth doll. A CD, still packaged, of children's songs.

I turned to go. On the path leading to a gap in the fence, I glimpsed -- out of the corner of my eye -- a large headstone engraved with the word Joy in bold letters. I always get my insight if I go knowing that I might not.

I pedaled easily home, and joined my wife for dinner and a cheesy old movie -- a Sunday night in the land of the well.


Herringbone said...

A tough subject, I know, beautifully written. E-mail me sometime.

Human Wrecking Ball said...

That was a snap shot into that place no one wants to go. I always thought real tragedy makes the world look different. It's like you are so hurt you live in a dream for a while until your body and mind can process the grief.
This was a transporting piece of writing. Hang in there. Positive thoughts heading your way from blog land.

Velosopher said...

Thanks, guys. I do appreciate your support.

Juancho said...

Living in fear is far worse to me than whatever punishment today might dish out.

Amen to that. Bring the fight to them. Writing like this helps everyone who reads it.

Velosopher said...

That means a lot, Juancho. I remember complimenting a singer-songwriter I admired for being so honest in his songs, and he said, "That's helpful. I spend a lot of time feeling like I'm walking around with my pants down." I'm glad it helps others; it sure helps me.

SOC said...

Another evocative post, beautifully written. You're putting into words things that are barely describable. Continued thoughts and prayers for you my friend.