Two sheets of legal paper, turned horizontal, filled up with the cascading words of four speakers in proscribed order, one, two, three, four, two, one. Discussions of God and the role of evil and the amount of suffering in this life, discussions of love and the nature of it and the sincerity of seduction, the role of chemicals and free will in our approach to the way we pair. And driving, hours of driving, driving up and down coasts and over roads traversed recently and long ago, through snow, over ice, sliding and turning, the revolution of our world being that of the rubber tire, grooved and wearing, the amalgam of melted chemical shipped in from a land far away to cover our own pseudo-land, paved asphalt.
A dinner, non-celebratory but still communally held and gathered, one reminiscent of some of the closest gatherings of a bygone team in an era that feels exactly one lifetime prior. What role will meals like this serve for its youngest participants? For its oldest? Is everything an attempt to recreate the past in some way, are we all beating against the tide of memory, is everything done just to do it again? Is it routine we crave, or something deeper and more rhythmic, or is it merely the idea that non-suffering is so fleeting in this life that the glint of its reflection is to be chased and mined out of every possible moment, mirror, window? The best we can hope for must transcend that which has already been experienced, but such reality is always a surprise. And worse, we become accustomed all too quickly. In a flash, it becomes the new normal, an adjusted baseline, at best a shiny object to be buried under the pile of daily living, to shine and glimmer and be unearthed in future recollections all over again.
Gasoline pumping, coursing beneath my shaky hand in the buzzing lighted frost of a two-degrees-below Western Massachusetts rest stop. The previous stop, so familiar and knowing, the last stop on the Mass Pike before bending down to I-84, but it had ever-so-fittingly been felled by a power outage so as to bring a full stop to the reminiscence. There is the idea that one knows not what one is doing in the midst of one’s ghosts, but also that ghosts are fluid, mobile, hard to see, present. Their transparency gives them great strength, the kind of strength God must have, to flit unseen, to exercise the greatest force in the greatest restraint. It is this offering of power that the ghosts must make, or might not. And what is the point of running? Is not the great message of the Western canon that one cannot outrun one’s destiny, cannot outpace one’s past? Better to embrace, to collide, to retrace and reimagine for the purpose of greater armoring against the swirls of an opaque time to come.
The thrall of the moment, of still being able to hold a crowd on pindrop, to twirl their emotions on bended word with a flash and a flourish, now loud, now quiet. The plaudits of articulated feedback and laughter and pounding, their steady rhythm reflecting my own heartbeat and perhaps, for a night, nourishing its course. It’s not a fair fight, but no one says it needs to be, and what in this world can be labeled as truly fair? An old trope, to be sure, but one that resonates all the more in the recent audacity of certain claims. Maybe they’re right after all. Maybe we are all just a collection of bouncing chemicals, of measured manipulation, of raging self-interests clashing in the desire to be coldly satiated or justified. The pale black fear that rises up during the prior discussion about God, the confrontation with the diversity and depth of disbelief, the echoes of an earlier friend joining me in my own self-admonishment. Even the most convicted must have doubts sometimes, and even those doubts must be knee-bucklingly ferocious in particular convergences of imagery and thought. All of this cannot be for naught, but what if it is? All of these things must still be important, but what if importance itself is somehow contrivance?
Contradiction runs high and the doubts do not persist, but there is much to be gathered from the coursing energy of an overnight drive through star-wreaked skies and sleep-soaked cities. It is the routine moments, the floors of our happiest times, that will linger the longest in pained regret. Look down. See. Take what you take for granted and hold it up skyward. Cherish, treasure. I am not the first to beg you to do this, but that alone should tell you something. For there is a future, here and maybe elsewhere, and this floor will be gone. Or pockmarked, or stained, or torn into dangerous slivers around the edges. And you will regret having walked on it. Having dropped the shavings and chaff of your daily celebration on its beautiful flatness, its unappreciated solidity.
Strive, my friends, to look down. We are all in this together.