I may have had a taste of the Ephemeral, a glimpse of the end of reign. Nothing lasts, though, does it? We all reach the ends of our useful leashes, if not Now, then Soon. The centre cannot hold forever.
There is something I have come to know that has hung from a branch in the woods for months now. Maybe years… I watch for it, anticipate it each time I pass: a fading strip of weathered cloth that must have blown there from the trail in a winter storm, but its origin is a mystery. Was there a struggle that tore it from a passing shirt, and was it missed, or, appreciative of the escape, ceded to the nearest bush as a thankful votive? I like to think it was hung there by a bird to commemorate a nest, or maybe attract a mate. It certainly didn’t mark the trail -if anything it distracted hikers from their goals.
But it is old and fading like me, so we have a lot in common -I wonder if it, like me, looks forward to the meeting, and waits for me to pass each week. Does it wonder why I’m there to wonder why? Age greets Age comfortably, I suppose, but does it know? Recognition is a gift we give each other silently -some things have no need of words: the vagaries of kinship cross whatever boundaries arbitrate our worlds.
It’s not the thoughts that bind -it’s something else: familiarity? Or, are our Magisteria so profoundly different we are trapped, each in our own incomprehension of the other? Both of us so alien we would not even entertain the idea of entrained identity, both as blind to the other’s life as a hand is to a rock?
I suppose there can be no answers to that wonder now, though. It hung there a week before -or was it a month? I know it was still there because I spoke to it -well, greeted it with a mumble to show I acknowledged it was a member of my day. But after all this time, despite my stopping to inquire about its health, yesterday it was gone.
I searched as best I could beneath the tree, risking the mud and brambles that mark the boundaries of the trail -risking adding yet more cloth to the naked branch- but with no success. The marker simply was no more, and with it, a fragment of the walk just disappeared.
Perhaps Nature works more quickly on its own -I’ve never really understood the way of things- and yet I still feel guilt. Can I really believe that insentience has to be an insurmountable barrier to friendship? Can I not befriend a cliff? A house? An idea? And if they disappear or change somehow, can I not feel sorrow for the loss? Does memory occupy as large a space inside as something I could touch if I made the effort? And is reality merely potential: something with which I could interact if I chose to do so?
At any rate, I should have known it wouldn’t last, but I must have hoped it would follow me through my days until they stopped. I should have paid it more attention than I did. I should have treated every meeting like a gift.
And yet, although I feel silly according it respect, dressing it in clothes it probably never wore, we all understand the world uniquely don’t we: seeing patterns that were never there, and evanescent colours shining from rain-drenched trees, finding find life in the dance of a waterfall, and words in the groaning of a river’s current as we linger, entranced, on its bank.
Who’s to say what counts as truth? Who’s to judge the value we ascribe to something others fail to notice? Who’s to judge the meaning of a piece of weathered cloth?
I don’t know anymore -perhaps I never did- but as I age, the things I see around me are less disjoined. Affiliations I would never have suspected before, surface briefly like unexpected pentimenti then slowly disappear beneath the surfaces I was taught to trust.
Does this happen to us all towards the end? Does the cosmic mystery resolve itself in unsuspected fragments? In hints that all is not as we had come to believe? Can the Divine actually hide in a strip of cloth?
I suppose I’ll never really understand until the end, but for all I know that will be too late. Epiphanies must come now, not then. Significance lies in consequence, not absence…
I’ll walk the trail again I hope, and probably find something else to notice as I pass -a leaning tree, or perhaps the strangely-patterned moss on a boulder I had not thought to inspect before- there’s always something to replace a loss. But maybe that’s what I fear: the intolerability of vacuum, the rush to fill the space with something new.
Or maybe it’s not so much a fear, as another question: is it only an object we seek to replace, or something more -more than a simple tit for tat exchange, more than just a random choice? Did I walk the trail each week and see the marker –experience the marker- simply because it was there, or because it meant something to me. Gave purpose to the journey, like expecting to see an old friend?
I’ve lost something on the trail for sure, and no matter what tries to take its place, it won’t. Nothing could. I don’t make new friends simply in order to replace the ones I’ve lost, like a substitute player on a team. It doesn’t work like that; even with a new friend, the old one is not forgotten, not filed away in a drawer somewhere. There is a room where old friends stay and murmur quietly amongst themselves; the door is never locked. They only wait for me to knock, and maybe that is enough for me… It has to be, I think -at least until they make room for me inside.