Monday, April 14, 2014

All that we hold dear

The north wind is both unnerving and invigorating, simultaneously creating and releasing tension. It howls and roars like an incoming train, batters the house, bends the trees, strips chaff from the field, rocks me on my heels. To the west the sky darkens to the color of an oil slick and the sound of thunder is like the tearing of an rotten sheet of canvas. Low clouds ponderously track ever southward, barely clearing the cedars on the ridge. The temperature begins to slide. 

This is not a typical March storm wafting up from the south, aromatic with Gulf moisture and the unmistakable scent of winter’s demise, but a last, temporary hurrah to remind us of the season’s mercurial moods.

I could go inside but something compels me to remain. My emotions are volatile, as roiled as the cold front sluicing down from Nebraska, as unstable and unsettled. That this unsteadiness comes at the completion of a project that spanned over two years seems unfair somehow, and yet typical of what I’ve come to expect from the maddeningly quirky thing we call life. Instead of celebrating the sense of weightlessness that falls in the aftermath of a difficult and prolonged trial—much of it my own doing, I’m afraid—I’m wandering the field like a wraith, unwilling to return to the narrow confines of the office and uncertain of how much more of the cold I can take.

Soon enough we’ll be complaining about the heat but for now the air is crisp and bracing, perhaps too much so, pimpling my exposed skin and triggering violent changes in the atmosphere. That continual growl of thunder in the west reminds me that our basement is a cluttered mass of empty cardboard boxes, the detritus of dozens of shipments of photo paper and ink cartridges for yet another upcoming project. Mentally I slide the task up the ladder of my to-do list, ruefully wishing I could fully devote myself to one thing at a time rather than bouncing hurly-burly between chores and necessities. A friend of mine wears a bracelet that says “Be here now,” certainly a message of the importance of taking time to be still.

And here, in this mighty wind, I am still, shiveringly so. Except for my mind, of course, which churns and rumbles its infernal questioning. It comes to me that the educational projects I promised to make time for during the winter doldrums never materialized, and now that spring is on the doorstep the obligations I’ve agreed to crowd ever closer, and evermore stressful, until they taint my days and haunt my nights. The sense of incompletion is like a great weight bearing down on my chest, straining my ribs and crushing my heart. Compounding it is the idea that time is running out, even as it did for a friend of mine last week, a man far younger than I who left behind a wife and children. 

Time was once our ally, or so we thought, as limitless and distant as the stars in the night sky, but it was all a lie, something we told ourselves to disguise our inadequacies or failures as nothing more than temporary omissions. Somewhere in the middle of our lives there comes a moment when we realize that the life we imagined was never more than an unfulfillable wish or a happily-ever-after that somehow never materialized, that we have always been and always will be nothing more than ordinary. The big dreams we envisioned dissipate like wisps of smoke, and the answers we were so certain of reshape themselves into insoluble questions. And in that melancholic emptiness left behind we find ourselves looking over our shoulders for something inadvertently left behind or misplaced, loved ones or places we always intended to return to and might have if time and distance hadn’t intervened, burdened by the first blushes of a peculiar loneliness known only to those who have outdistanced their companions. 

But this isn’t a race, and the finish line isn’t fixed. Winning is just another way of finding yourself alone, or standing in a yellowed field with the wind tearing at your clothes, questioning everything but the fragility of all that we hold dear.


Bud Simpson said...

Tom, that was just stuning.

Tom Parker said...

Thanks, Bud.

Carol said...

Tom, your work, both in images and words, floors me. This piece is is all of your photography. Thanks again for sharing it. I hope to see you in Wamego in May.

Tom Parker said...

Thanks, Carol. Look me up in the photographers tent!

Scott said...

That was excellent.

Tom Parker said...

Thanks, Scott.