Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Murmur of Rain

This week these two thoughts ran a parallel path in my mind, it seemed to me anyway. Truth was they were on subtle, but convergent tangents that crossed tonight. 

John Hull who went completely blind at the age of 45 wrote:

"I opened the front door, and rain was falling. I stood for a few minutes, lost in the beauty of it. Rain has a way of bringing out the contours of everything; it throws a coloured blanket over previously invisible things; instead of an intermittent and thus fragmented world, the steadily falling rain creates continuity of acoustic experience."

"[E]verywhere are little breaks in the patterns, obstructions, projections, where some slight interruption or difference of texture or of echo gives an additional detail or dimension to the scene. Over the whole thing, like light falling upon a landscape is the gentle background patter gathered up into one continuous murmur of rain."

In the video still above from the short film about John Hull called "Notes on Blindness" Hull's character says "If only rain could fall inside a room, it would help me to understand where things are in that room, to give a sense of being in the room, instead of just sitting on a chair." In the film the directors simulate rain inside the kitchen.

C.S Lewis grieving his wife shortly after her death:

"Slowly, quietly, like snow-flakes – like the small flakes that come when it is going to snow all night – little flakes of me, my impressions, my selections, are settling down on the image of her. The real shape will be quite hidden in the end. Ten minutes – ten seconds – of the real [Helen Joy] would correct all this. And yet, even if those ten seconds were allowed me, one second later the little flakes would begin to fall again." 

Tonight as the wind cuts around my little hut, bleeds through palm leaves, I can hear it distort, blunted by this, whistling through that. In fact, it is only because the wind comes into contact with resistance that we hear it at all. Like rain revealing contours or snowflakes of memory falling like a shroud over an image, that which can not be seen (at our vantage) is experienced still because of another unseen thing, the wind.

In Radiohead's video for their song "House of Cards", no cameras or lights were used. Instead, 3D plotting technologies collected information about the shapes and relative distances of objects. The video was created entirely with visualizations of that data. 

The bible says that faith is the evidence of things not seen. What if then, when we pray in faith, (and any prayer to an invisible God is faith) it is a little like 3D plotting or even echolocation. That is, prayers going out and revealing the contours of things not visible. But unlike Radiohead or the dolphin or bat or the stealthy submarine, what goes forth in prayer does not collide with Thom Yorke's head or fish or insects or treacherous underwater terrain, no, what if prayer goes out into the invisible world and collides with what is beyond our natural physical perception. 

And furthermore, while were on about this sort of thing, what if, (like we are want to sing), Grace does fall like rain. And what if, like Mr. Hull's rain, Grace falling creates a continuity of spiritual experience. Reveals the hidden world behind all worlds that corrupted sight cannot see. And like Mr. Lewis' snowflakes, Grace is God's impressions and selections and thoughts settling down on the true image, the true nature of things.

Hull finishes his poetic passage on rain by saying:

"This is an experience of great beauty. I feel as if the world, which is veiled until I touch it, has suddenly disclosed itself to me. I feel that the rain is gracious, that it has granted a gift to me, the gift of the world. I am no longer isolated, preoccupied with my thoughts, concentrating upon what I must do next. Instead of having to worry about where my body will be and what it will meet, I am presented with a totality, a world which speaks to me."

And isn't this just it! That God's grace rends the veil to reveal the world! Though we had eyes and could not see, He gives us the ability to truly percieve, and see beyond ourselves, beyond our isolation and our preoccupation with our thoughts-- and we too are presented with the gift of a new world, a world that speaks to us, a world where finally, our spirits can be at rest.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Gory Bits Gone Wrong

I was on my lunch break, lying skyward on a bench, reading an excerpt from John Hull's memoir about going blind called "Touching The Rock" when...

Something had happened. Something was wrong.

At that moment, her little world was only as big as the belly of that stuffed animal turned wrong way out, wires like blown arteries, sheared from a heart in the shape of a battery-less box. 

Something had to be done. Right then.

I walked to my shop, found a tiny screwdriver, some electrical tape and pliers to strip the sheathing from the wires. Her worry receded a bit, the implements in my lap meant -

Something was going to be done. Right then.

She was a steady nurse. Kept the little screws safe in the folds of her pillowcase dress. Scolded the boys for wrapping electrical tape around their appendages. But her eyes never wavered, never left our patient. 

Something was about to be done. Right then!

Her body language willed my fingers on as I twisted wire into wire, first the black and then the red. I turned my palm up and she placed the electrical tape into my hand. Slowly I wrapped the once severed wires, first the black and then the red. Her eyes had questions that her mouth never asked. 

Not now. Something was being done! 

I pushed new batteries into place.  Switched the little switch to on. And she held her breath, held it in, held back elation, held back joy. Not yet.... 

Is it done? Now??!!

Her eyes did not need a mouth to ask. I handed her our patient, quickly she pressed it's paws together and from somewhere inside it's belly, little electric currents carried a signal to a tiny speaker hidden behind fake fur flecked with dirt. 


When all my guts, all my gory bits have gone wrong. When my insides feel like they are on my outsides and I don't feel like it will ever be better. I hope I remember today. Remember this child. Patient and trusting and willing and hopeful. I hope I am like her when my Divine Physician must work on me, when He strips back the sheared places, and slowly twists my heart back together.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Sky Was the Color of Skin

The sky was the color of skin. A cadaver’s skin. And she was smiling, a plastic smile.  A sort of fake flowers on a fresh dug grave sort of smile. And I was asking her what was wrong and she was just then going to tell me, once and for all. 

But the words stuck in her throat. I mean really jammed, like a stick in the spokes kinda jammed. And the years of resentment flew over the handlebars of the little bicycle of her mind and she simply said. “I’m tired.” So I said “we’ll go then” and of course she had a good cry to which I said I was sorry about a million times until we were both t-i-r-e-d, tired. 

She asked me to drive us home but I forgot to move the seat back so my legs were clumsy long on the pedals. I hated her car anyway because the seats were leather and I was always being reminded that they were leather and being told to be careful of the leather or mindful with my coffee on account of the leather. I was driving way to fast and by the time I realized it she was already looking disdainfully at the speedometer which made every muscle in my leg want to push the accelerator straightaway through the floorboard. But I eased off, though imperceptibly gradual so she wouldn’t have the satisfaction. She started crying again to which I said, “Is it something I did?” Which is really like screaming, “What now???” To which of course she cried harder and I white-knuckled the amaretto creme colored fine Italian leather steering wheel cover all the way home.

She went straight to bed and I tried to get a little work done and then had a cigarette on the patio careful to place the butt in the ash tray "this time" and not on the ground, "again". I smoked most of another and returned to my typewriter.

Death is a dark animal.

No. Too....warm milk and white bread. Let’s see. Death is....

Death is black bird. 

Yes! Yes, I like that. Ok good. I typed the words. Then retyped-

Death is a black buzzard


That feasts on fallen flesh.

No, that’s too obvious.

Death is a black crow. 

No. A cat. Yes. A cat!! I started over and typed-

Death is a black cat, with yellow eyes that sits on a fence in a dark alley, licking its paws.

Wait. What does that even mean? Death licking its paws? 


I needed coffee. I put on a pot and waged a war of words in my tired mind. Death is….

Death is a black buzzard with a brown hangman’s hood.

Yes! I forgot all about my coffee and hurried back to my desk.

Death, dreadful death, speckled bird of death that feasts on fallen flesh.

Um, no.... 

I got up and got my coffee from the kitchen. Ok. Maybe death is a cat. 

Death is a demon fiend in feline form with eyes of tourmaline and black velvet fur.





And....or wait, what about an oil black crow? I typed-

Death is an oil black crow with beady black vacuous eyes.

Something moved outside of my window.

No. Death is definitely a buzzard. Or a cat. But not a crow. Never EVER a creepy crow! A needle-beaked, beady-eyed, beetle-black crow!!

I sat at my desk staring into the milky brown cataract of my coffee cup. I thought about death, conjured death, called it by name. Libitina, Azreal, Than, Valdis, whispering each name into the silence of the room. 

I thought about the first time I ever saw death. It was a bloated yellow dog in the shadow of my grandparent’s house one miserable Maryland summer. I held my breath against the smell and with one arm I shooed flies away while the other poked the dog with a stick. It was writhing white inside with what surely must have been a hundred million maggots. And only later did I realize that it wasn’t death that had scared me, nor was it the squirming fester of the maggots that sent the sudden shock of fear freezing and electric through my chest. But it was something else, something about the dog itself. The smile that was stuck on his face, and the way his wide open eye watched me eagerly, waited patiently, for me to throw the stick for him to fetch.

Death is a bloated yellow dog with one wide eager eye.

That. Is. Just. Dreadful. I paced back and forth.  Ok.

The day she died the moon was a great white gash in nights black skin.

OK!! Cigarette. Coffee. 

Or....I typed faster now, like machine gun fire.

The day she died the moon was a far flung coin minted in the mind of God.


I poured another cup of coffee, walked outside and smoked another cigarette and rehashed the clinical definitions I’d read earlier about death and the process of dying. 

Know your enemy sorta stuff.  

Death is a journey. A person starts down that road by acknowledging death will undeniably occur and by accepting their own mortality. There are common markers along this road; withdrawal-as a means of preemptive separation, reminiscence- evaluating how they lived and dealing with regrets, and resignation-the first  death, the death of will. The dying eat less, drink less and a strange euphoria settles over them. They sleep more and their senses alter. Some experience delusions or hallucinations. Thinking others are trying to hurt them or seeing people who are not really there. The body temperature lowers. Blood pressure decreases, pulse becomes erratic. There is increased perspiration. Skin color changes; breathing alters, becomes rapid and labored. Speaking dwindles and eventually stops altogether.

I closed my eyes and went through the mental checklist I’d just made, trying to imagine myself slowly succumbing to death. I finished my cigarette and went back inside.

The night she died the moon was a pale priest presiding.

OK!! 3 a.m. and I was so hopped up on caffeine I’d never sleep. I crept up the stairs to grab a sweater from my closet. I tripped over the cat and received such a brutal tongue lashing from it that my skin went warm with humiliation. 


Surely that woke her, but there she was lying so still. She was beautiful, doll like and distant, and I had loved her once. We were married so young, we practically raised each other. Waif like and worldly, we were emaciated twins, all heroin chic and thrift store couture. We had opinions on every subject under heaven and summarily dismissed all the ones above. Our souls withered in the shadow of our egos. But god she was beautiful. I kissed her and her skin was cold. 

Too cold! 

I felt for her pulse. 

Holy Capote she’s dead! 

I reeled backwards and crashed into the dresser. I panicked. A scream frozen in my throat finally thawed into a gasp. I ran down the stairs to find the phone and then I thought....YES!

The night she died the moon was a yellow dog dead and bloated.

No that’s pure shite! 

I dialed 911 but got a busy signal.

Death is busy signal, a dead line, the last dropped call. 


I redialed. The operator answered. Emergency vehicles were dispatched. 

Death is the voice of a stranger on the other end of the line.

Or how ‘bout....

Death is a siren’s wail.

Not bad.

Behold, death stood at the door and knocked but no one answered.

Very Old Testament/ camel skinned prophet.

Death bangs on the door, demands to be let in.

Well now I do like the sense of urgency.

Death breaks down the door and scans the room.

But I mean, what would death be looking for?

Death comes with many questions. 

Death as an inquisition. Interesting....very heady.

Death asks what are you doing, where is your wife, why are you typing!?!?

Death angry, Death yelling. Accusatorily. Good, good. Very strong, again with the urgency.

Death is the final incarceration.

That’s good!

Death is the last stroke of the key, the unfinished sentence....

....the end.