A well-established French cinematic tradition is to spin out a story that seems to be about very little—until you get a peek beneath the surface and can see it is about a dizzying number of things. Then the themes and symbols rain down, forcing you to watch and listen carefully lest you miss one of the clues that helps explain, perhaps even solve, the tale.
I’ve seen the Kathmandu corpses, garlanded with marigolds, burned to a crisp, holy smoke sifting across the river, censing the air for the tourists. In Annapurna’s narrow lap this valley, chock full of bones, is too cramped for burials. Instead, the dead are loaded onto burn piles stacked with logs from the foothills, now naked and eroding, pillaged for ceremony, death gathering to itself more death up the slow gradient of necessity. Mourners chant. Mortality teaches our ears, eyes, noses as the little boats of skeletal ash and charcoal are launched, freed from the funeral ghats, to drift downstream.
Urged now to weigh the manner of my final dispersal, I’m not averse to incineration. But I confess this foolish comfort: to lie beside my husband in our grave—a double bed we chose together— the full, aged remnant of the body he loved, knowing heaven can pull together from earth or urn, from bones or ashes, whatever is needed for what’s next.
Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. Psalm 81:10 (KJV)
Don’t be afraid of your hunger. I gave it for your fullness, The cravings, the pinched gullet, the corrosive wants, all have come to serve you. Don’t be afraid of the pablum, the drivel in your diet, or the sharp cactus burrs when you swallow. Don’t be afraid even if you don’t know you are hungry.
If, as Karl Barth said, God may speak through a blossoming shrub or a dead dog, I reckon God may be found at rock festivals. At least that is my hope every spring as the Chicago winter finally eases its grip and I begin planning rock music outings.
The bag I drag is solid as earth, clods I couldn’t shake off roots reeking of rocks and blackness, the kind of dirt they’ll use to bury us. As in Iraq, where the body count climbed so fast mortuaries posted Help Wanted beside the highway.
And let me mention my own complicity with darkness, buying a jade jacket sewn by a hungry child in Singapore. And the way I say darkness, a skin tone not my own. Even the calibrations of a poem, tricky, the justice of lines, evil wrestling with good in the miniature Madison Square Garden of a page.
As I weed, I listen to the sweet cacophony of neighbor kids on scooters, the argument of work, its ache in my arms.
When the lawn bag rips, dandelions tumble out, eager to spread their seed. You know how gullible evil is, sure of itself, always believing the worst. Are dandelions weeds or flowers? Maybe I’ll tear the bag, send seeds flying, encourage a suspicious universe to bloom.
Eve got off the bus in tears the day her third grade teacher scolded her for using a hankie. “It’s not sanitary,” she said. Miss Pauley had no notion of what a handkerchief means to us: reusable tissue, wash cloth, gripper of lids, wiper of smudgy glasses, emergency bandage, keepsake we carry to the grave. Peekaboo with a hankie triggered Eve’s first laugh, and later she sat through sermons watching Grandma Yoder fold a flat square into a butterfly or mouse. Now Eve does that for her sister and knots Ruth’s Sunday pennies in a corner like a hobo’s sack. She irons and stacks all the hankies in our drawers and brings a bandanna drenched with cold water to her dad who ties it round his neck. Last Christmas she gave me a set of four lacy kerchiefs embroidered by her own hand, each with my initials and a leaf or flower to signify the season. Straight from a city college, Miss Pauley could only count the virtues of a Kleenex. “Like a lot of things, hankies grow softer as they age,” I said, using one to wipe Eve’s tears.
A Turkish couple living near the Syrian border invited 4,000 Syrian refugees living in or near their city to their wedding party. The idea came from the groom’s father, who hoped their example would inspire others. The couple pooled money they had received from family members to throw the party, and wedding guests contributed food as well. The bride admitted being shocked when she first heard about the plan, but agreed that seeing the happiness in the Syrian children’s eyes was priceless. Nearly 2 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey (Telegraph, August 4).