Everyone thinks that the old days were better, or that they were harder, and the modern times are chaotic and complex, or easier all around, but I think people's hearts have always been the same, happy and sad, and that hasn't changed at all. It's just the shapes of lives that change, not the lives themselves.
The coolest most amazing people I have met in my life, I said, are the ones who are not very interested in power or money, but who are very interested in laughter and courage and grace under duress and holding hands against the darkness, and finding new ways to solve old problems, and being attentive and tender and kind to every sort of being, especially dogs and birds, and of course children.
For a moment this day, for many moments this May, let us gape in awe at the strength of women, and look upon their sinewy courage with respect and humility, as the Lord looked on His Mother, and still does. Like Him we are of women born, and to women must pay our first respect, and owe our first love, for they are as strong as the very ribs of the earth.
But simple as the Sign of the Cross is, it carries a brave weight: it names the Trinity, celebrates the Creator, and brings home all the power of faith to the brush of fingers on skin and bone and belly. So do we, sometimes well and sometimes ill, labor to bring home our belief in God's love to the stuff of our daily lives, the skin and bone of this world — and the Sign of the Cross helps us to remember that we have a Companion on the road.
Simple, powerful, poignant, the Sign of the Cross is a mnemonic device like the Mass, in which we sit down to table with one another and remember the Last Supper, or a baptism, where we remember John the Baptist's brawny arm pouring some of the Jordan River over Christ. So we remember the central miracle and paradox of the faith that binds us each to each: that we believe, against all evidence and sense, in life and love and light, in the victory of those things over death and evil and darkness.
He is only one of a million no, a billion stories you could tell about the living beings on just this side of the mountain. The fact is that there are more stories in the space of a single second, in a single square foot of dirt and air and water, then we could tell in a hundred years. The word amazing isn't much of a word for how amazing it is. The fact is that there are more stories in the world than there are fish in the sea or birds in the air or lies among politicians. You could be sad at how many stories go untold, but you could also be delighted at how many stories we catch and share in delight and wonder and astonishment and illumination and sometimes even epiphany.
There are some silences that are so huge, and fraught, and haunted, and weighed, and shocked, that they just are; there's nothing you can say about them that makes any sense. All you can do is witness them, and feel some deep ache that such things arrive, and must be endured, with wordless aching all around.
...people would tell you much more than you expected to if you were generically presentable and left silence next to them like a friendly stranger; it was like they were waiting for some friendly silence so they could fill it with words; and words were useful, words were hints and intimations, words were fingers pointed in certain directions, if you listened carefully..
He claimed he had read the book so many times that the words had fallen out of it and the pages were all blank so he had to read the book to put the words back in or the book would be forlorn and naked.
I think about the people I know with the absolutely largest hearts, people with a stunning capacity for endurance and grace and kindness against the most screaming terrors and pains. My Mom and Dad, for example, enduring the death of their first child at six months old, the boy the brother I never met, dying quietly in his stroller on the porch in the moment that my mother stepped back inside to get a pair of gloves because the crisp brilliant April wind was filled with a whistling cutting wind.... Fifty years later after five more children and two miscarriages she is standing in the kitchen with her usual eternal endless cup of tea and I ask her: How do you get over the death of your child? And she says, in her blunt honest direct terse kind way, You don't. Her face harrowed like a hawk for a moment in the swirling steam of the tea.p112-13
Brian Doyle about the Irish custom of “taking to the bed.” He says “In Irish culture, taking to the bed with a gray heart is not considered especially odd. People did and do it for understandable reasons—ill health, or the black dog, or, most horrifyingly, to die during An Gorta Mor, the great hunger, when whole families took to their beds to slowly starve…And in our time: I know a woman who took to her bed for a week after September eleventh, and people who have taken to their beds for days on end to recover from shattered love affairs, the death of a child, a physical injury that heals far faster than the psychic wound gaping under it. I’ve done it myself twice, once as a youth and once as a man, to think through a troubled time in my marriage. Something about the rectangularity of the bed, perhaps, or supinity, or silence, or timelessness; for when you are in bed but not asleep there is no time, as lovers and insomniacs know. Yet, anxious, heartsick, we take to the bed, saddled by despair and dissonance and disease, riddled by muddledness and madness, rattled by malaise and misadventure, and in the ancient culture of my forbears this was not so unusual….For from the bed we came and to it we shall return, and our nightly voyages there are nutritious and restorative, and we have taken to our beds for a thousand other reasons, loved and argued and eater and seethed there, and sang and sobbed and suckled, and burned with fevers and visions and lust, and huddled and howled and curled and prayed. As children we all, every one of us, pretended the bed was a boat; so now, when we are so patently and persistently and daily at sea, why not seek a ship? p. 119-20Brian Doyle in The Wet Engine: Exploring the Mad Wild Miracle of the Heart, p. 90-91
The child's heart beat: but she was growing in the wrong place inside her extraordinary mother, south of safe...she and her mother were rushed to the hospital, where her mother was operated on by a brisk cheerful diminutive surgeon who told me after the surgery that my wife had been perhaps an hour from death from the pressure of the child growing outside the womb, the mother from the child growing, and the child from growing awry; and so my wife did not die, but our mysterious child did...Not uncommon, an ectopic pregnancy, said the surgeon...Sometimes, continued the surgeon, sometimes people who lose children before they are born continue to imagine the child who has died, and talk about her or him, it's such an utterly human thing to do, it helps deal with the pain, it's healthy within reason, and yes, people say to their other children that they actually do, in a sense, have a sister or brother, or did have a sister or brother, and she or he is elsewhere, has gone ahead, whatever the language of your belief or faith tradition. You could do that. People do that, yes. I have patients who do that, yes...One summer morning, as I wandered by a river, I remembered an Irish word I learned long ago, and now whenever I think of the daughter I have to wait to meet, I find that word in my mouth: dunnog, little dark one, the shyest and quietest and tiniest of sparrows, the one you never see but sometimes you sense, a flash in the corner of your eye, a sweet sharp note already fading by the time it catches your ear.
But if we do not dream, then I think perhaps we are misusing our heads. They are not on our shoulders only to be farms for hair.
She'll be a fierce woman, that one. It'll take a hell of a man to love her right. Be like living with a thunderstorm. Same as her mother. A fierce woman. Force of nature. The kind of woman you just hand on for the ride. The most exciting and the most heartbreaking woman you could ever meet. They don't know their own minds most of the time, but their hearts are so damn big it hurts em inside.
Did I ever tell you about Asin? She is the wild woman of the woods. It's an old story of the People. My mom used to tell me about Asin. Asin couldn't bear being married or having children or having friends. She always wanted to run wild. She ran wild through the woods. If you saw her running you had to run to water as fast as you could and drink or her restlessness would come into you like a thirst that could never be quenched. She was happy and unhappy. She had wild long hair and she was very tall and she ran like the wind. When you saw dunegrass rippling in a line she was running through it. When the wind changed direction suddenly that was Asin. She was never satisfied or content and so she ran and ran and ran. She would grab men who were fishing alone and make love to them and then throw them down on the ground and run away weeping. She would grab children who wandered too far alone in the woods but she would return them to the same spot after three days and run away again. She would listen to women talking by the fire or working in the village or gathering berries but if they invited her to join them she ran away. You could hear her crying sometimes when the sun went down. She wanted something but she never knew what it was so she had nothing. She was as free as anyone ever could be and she was trapped. When I was young I wanted to be Asin. Many times I wanted to be Asin. So do you, Nora. I know. It's okay. It's alright. My sweet love. Poor Asin. Sometimes I think to be Asin would be the saddest thing in the world. Poor thing.
There are stories in the air as thick as birds around me, he would say. I will save those stories from starving he would say. I have a great hunger for stories, he would say.
Maybe we guzzle forty stories with every breath we draw and they soak into us and flavor and thicken and spice the wild stew we are.
I do not fully understand the way of human beings. They are a curious and remarkable tribe altogether. They are capable of anything. I know that much. They are a constant surprise to me. They are a constant surprise to themselves also. They appear to live in a state of constant amazement. This makes them refreshing and infuriating. But there is a greatness about them sometimes. More perhaps than they know. Or a capacity for greatness. More than they know. It’s confusing but I know this to be true. I have learned that much in all these years.
Maturity turns out to be a question you can never answer with confidence, despite advanced age and wage.
Some women have a pulsing energy almost too sharp and salty to endure and when they are in pain their pain is ferocious and shatters all over the place.
If everything must be burned I will do the burning and so I will not be burnt but be the fire. Everything I ever loved burned and so I will be the burning. There is nothing but that must which be burnt. Women will burn and children burn and houses burn so I will be nothing that can burn. I will be the fire. The fire has no home. The fire goes where it wants. The fire arrives and departs and none can account the meaning of its travels. Everything I ever touched burned.
Rained gently last night, just enough to wash the town clean, and then today a clean crisp fat spring day, the air redolent, the kind of green minty succulent air you'd bottle if you could and snort greedily on bleak, wet January evenings when the streetlights hzzzt on at four in the afternoon and all existence seems hopeless and sad.
Well the sky always seemed like another ocean to me, you know? Like we live between two incredible oceans, and we'll never get to the bottom of either of them.
We are the rocks and reefs of the human sea, tumultuous outcrops, magnets for wrecks. The peaks of mountains you cannot see: that's us, all right. Dark even on the brightest day. Stony and defiant of the prevailing currents until we are eventually worn down and dissolved. Sometimes soaked and sometimes dry as a bone. Hammered by tides and grimly standing our ground against the pounding. Probably even secretly enjoying the pounding.