Friday, July 13, 2018

a surplus of understanding

All day, there has been a squirrel at the birdfeeder with a cage around it, designed specifically to keep the squirrel away. The squirrel has been holding onto the green wires with its feet, and, twisting its body so that its cotton-white belly shows, it reaches for the green tray at the bottom, which holds sunflower seeds, and scrapes them into its upside down mouth, hungrily.

It is a perfect visual joke, which resists verbal translation. And I can't help but think that there is a moral lesson in the squirrel who insists on eating from the bird feeder, when there are plenty of other piles of mash and seeds provided by my grandmother around the yard, but the squirrel resists moralizing.

I think of this squirrel as I am driving through the various subdivisions of Cary, in search of small hole-in-the-wall restaurants which will be our wardrobe-doors, leading us not to Narnia, but to the far-off reaches of Baghdad and Kolkata. We will talk to the white man whose blue eyes mirror ours about the history of his mithai and his Bengali wife. At the cash register, the bakery proprietor schools me on proper Arabic pronunciation, and quizzes my grasp of the gendered second person suffix.

A Gormenghast-black crow swoops over the sunlit grass. It has been temperate all morning, as I did the exercises which are half yoga and half talisman against the pain which creeps over the back of my knee while reading Le Petit Prince. It has begun to grow humid.

As my grandmother tells stories of neighbors and the neighbors' scions writing them to buy parcels of acreage off of them, I am struck by the vital importance of land. To own land is to be rich—to be established and stable in a way that I, whose dream of stability is a year-long lease in an apartment, cannot even fathom. It is perhaps, to use a new distinction recently discovered, not a luxury but a blessing.

I wonder how you can love people through the wounds that they bear. Not fresh wounds, the scars that have compiled over years, twisting the flesh into ugly rivers of scars. How do you begin to untangle the muscles in your leg so you can actually walk? One knee injury causes an injury in the opposing hip, and before you know it, you are wearing a brace on your right knee, while beginning stories: well, when my left knee got injured. Wounds are not stagnant, they are a domino effect inside our body.

How do we love people who suffer not simple, not compound, but complex fractures? We are not living a world of unscathed people. But people wound in labyrinths of histories of injuries, of wounds suffered, and the inadequate homemade remedies we have self-administered to hide them. These labyrinth obscure the true cause of our pain, it makes it almost impossible, it seems, to diagnose the ills that plague them. And us. For woundedness is a contagion—it reaches from one art out to another.

There is no shortcut, I cry. You have to unwind the labyrinth, to retrace your steps back to the first hurt, the first lie you told yourself to hide it—ineffectual as a plastic bandage on wet skin—and the histories you've spun around it.

Perhaps there is a shortcut, one which isn't easy, but cuts through all the winding cloth, frees us from the tombs of our own bondage.

I think of how much energy I expend trying to tame the lions, heal the wounds, snuffle through the data of old stories to find The Truth, promised to set them, us, me free.

The truth is not the solution to the mystery, it is the mystery. In answer to the problem of how to love another, the truth that sets us free seems to be:

I will not demand
where you've been or where you've come
from—I will simply love you.



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