|Look Twice. (M.A. Reilly, 2015)|
They were all required to drink a measure of the water, and those who were not saved by their good sense, drank more than the measure, and each one as he drank forgot all things. (Plato, The Republic: 10.618a)
I. Dark Energy
The universe is expanding--an accelerating, dark energy filled cosmos we mostly don't understand. A universe, physicists now speculate that will go on expanding infinitely--a cosmic acceleration that billions and billions of years from now will cause galaxies, like ours, to be ripped apart.
For most of my life I imagined a different universe and a different ending. Think of a big balloon. Now think of that balloon expanding by God's steady breath. And one day we would drink deeply from the black waters of Lethe before God grew too tired from the constant blowing, from our constant whining and stopped. Then the universe would fold back into itself like a collapsed river we did not know, could not even name.
But that's an old story. One no longer true--if truth, like time, is a river we cannot speak.
II. Uncle Paddy
Stories, I'm told, are a constant. And it was a story my mother told some years ago about her Uncle Paddy who killed a Black and Tan in Kilmichael, County Cork towards the end of November, 1920. It was late day, perhaps it was dusk. An ambush she thought or it might have been a fight with fists and bottles and cudgels. And perhaps it wasn't even Cork or November. Perhaps it was late summer. There was such killing that year and the next and the next and the next. Who could really say?
Were there guns? Did he snap the Brit's neck? Were his hands bloody? Did he feel remorse?Recalling details is largely shaped by what we most want to forget and what we partially recall. But some details remain true.
Paddy was too green to wear the IRA tunic the year he killed the Brit, those temporary constables who did nothing to keep peace. He was too young to be a killer and too green to remain. And thanks to the sure thinking of others, Paddy was quickly bundled out of Ireland via Dublin's Kingstown port while Cork burned.
He was almost 17 when he crossed the Atlantic and arrived in New York City. Arrived to find his sister, Catherine, married to a cop, no less, with five small children and another who would be born later, only to die before her third birthday. All of this and the weight of living in a cramped railroad tenement, but he was a hero in that neighborhood, a fighter for Irish independence. He would live with his sister's family on and off for the next twenty years. He was a man who learned to drink more than his measure. A man who would never return home. A man my grandfather would be called on to identify when the local cops found Paddy's body beaten to death.
Ah Mary, he grew to be such a hard man, never marrying, dying too young. Such were the words my mom said, her breath leaving her mouth in a rush as the late afternoon light colored everything and we sat before two cups of tea still steaming at the kitchen table. I listened to her talk and talk about Paddy and the Brit until it was dusk and the tea long cooled.
And now nearly 100 years after Paddy first arrived in the States, I find myself wondering about the Brit. Was he someone's father. Was he some woman's lover? There's so much we cannot know. But a son? Yes, the Brit was a son, for certain.
All we have are stories.
For every system we think complete is a lie, even the ones we love--perhaps those more than others.
The spaces between stories are not silences, but rather energies we sometimes heed, sometimes name, often forget. They exceed our definitions, our hunches, our partial knowledge as they are maps we make by living.
The marks stop abruptly at the top of the plate my brother brought back from Greece. They stopped a year ago--perhaps a bit longer. I'd like to think they stopped when I could no longer reach the top of his head to place the pencil against his scalp and draw the line that I would later date. In truth, though, they stopped when he no longer had the patience, nor the need for such measurement.
All our measurements are at best temporary truths--stories we can't quite hold and need not hold.
He's almost 17, I think watching him leave the kitchen to make his way up the stairs to the room that holds his computers where he'll connect with others around the globe. I pour some hot water over a tea bag--thinking how my mother would frown at my tea making--and I wonder about the juxtaposition of two young boys who each crossed their own ocean to land here. One from the East, the other the West. I sip the tea recognizing in part the folly I am making for it is always the map we make in contact with the real that matters most.
You must remember that. Tracings are mostly lies especially those we believe are infinitely traceable. For numbers and the like are placeholders for stories we can't quite tell ourselves. For stories we mostly remember, but not fully. For stories we've heard told and retell as if they were omens to heed, sadnesses to forget, joys to claim.
Tracings are never maps.
I snap a picture of the wall and think this jpg is an act of preservation. I want to remember this night. I want to feel the fullness of it so that I might later wrap it around me like a traveler's cloak when the gathering stillness, the gravity of choices made and not made, the steady breath of God, and the expanding universe leave me mute with nothing but a coin in my pocket and a dark river to cross.