“The pale-green moths are pressing
against the screen, fluttering, they are
dying to get in to press their papery bodies
into the light.”
- Mary Oliver
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When all is lost, what then, is found?
Science tells us that everything is an assemblage of molecules. That, at the microscopic level, there is more that is immaterial than material. More not than is.
Yet. We participate in the world as if all that we see is stable. This magical thinking is what helps us navigate our lives. The table is flat. The chair is strong. The world is round. I am here. You are there.
I remember the moment when I discovered the malleable nature of reality. We were visiting relatives at my dad’s house in Mission. I was sitting in a wood chair. There was a thud…more of a reverberation than a sound. The walls morphed as they rippled into wave. My chair still held me, but felt liquid as it elasticized and wobbled.
As fast as it came, the earthquake was over.
There was a beat of silence, then two, then three…we sat, stunned.
In every report of natural disaster, no matter the language, the same words are heard. The witness describes the unreality of a crazy-new-upside-down world; worlds where pacific waves rear up into a tsunamis or canyon-like cracks suddenly appear in previously solid ground.
We all need to pretend our world is real, right up until the moment it is revealed that it is not.
My father sleeps the sleep of a man who has been on the planet for 88 years. His eyes flutter open. He looks at me and speaks nonsensiscal lines of language. Names of people long dead are talked about as if they are there with us, sharing the room. It is gibberish, but with all the right inflections of sentence structure. He stops, fixes me with a clear brown stare and clearly says, “You’re not following me, are you?”
“No,” I say, “I guess I’m not.”
“That’s okay,” he says, “It’s on the flip side of the video.” His eyes shut. A few minutes later, they open. I wiggle my fingers in a wave, “Hi Dad.”
“You’re always smiling,” he says, “That’s good.”
His eyes fall shut before they see my tears. I trace my finger on the back of his hand. I need to be gentle as I navigate over the bruises; blackened pools of Warfarin-thinned blood trapped beneath the paper skin. I feel his ropy veins, skirt the edges of the bandages that wrap his torn arms.
I move my fingers to his face, gently searching his forehead for the long diagonal scar. I remember the story we loved to repeat. Was I thirteen when it happened? I think so.
He’d decided to take my Apollo ten-speed down Whidden Road. He was going to get the mail. He’d never ridden a bike with hand brakes. He would discover, as he flew across the intersection, that pushing backward on the pedals no longer stopped a bicycle. He stopped it the only way he could. He drove it straight into a dirt bank.
He was gone too long. Finally, he appeared at the end of our long driveway. He was carrying the pretzeled bike on one shoulder as blood poured from a forehead gash that would later require over twenty stitches. He was grinning as he thrust the blood-spattered envelopes at Mom. “I got the bloody mail,” he said.
Did we all love that story because it described his invincible humour and strength, or was it simply the thrill of discovering our Mennonite father knew how to swear?
This is how it is now.
I am learning how to better respond to our new Alice in Wonderland converations. I roll down the rabbit hole with him, matching my words and answers as best as I can. There will be no more answers to any questions I might have.
I bear witness as the mountain crumbles into the sea.