There are those who write and those who call themselves “writers”. They’re known to hold quiet celebrations upon learning to describe themselves this way. I’ve come to find the characterization oddly repellent. For me to find pride in being labeled a writer – it feels like developing severe myopia, then priding myself in my need to don coke-bottle glasses. The persistent need to write is, to me, very much like compensating for emotional myopia. If I want to see what is really going on about me – if I want to sense, feel, comprehend it, I must write – a painfully tedious, sometimes impossible way to function in today’s world – the world of instant. So I, and many like me, find we are stumbling through the Shadowlands, squinting in the darkness.
I have peered beyond the void into a world, a polar world not meant for eyes like mine. Human eyes. At the least, I am too young to have glimpsed that other place, but I cannot unsee what I’ve seen. I cannot unknow what I know. I’d forget if I could!
The first glimpse I remember came when I was young – eight perhaps – when my family attended a group picnic near a river. There were fish in this river, though I suppose not the sort that are edible – not the sort one often goes fishing for, but my child mind was unaware of this, and I longed to fish simply for the sake of the experience. During my explorations of the rocky riverbanks, I happened upon a treasure – an abandoned fishing rod. The rod was simple, too simple to expect it was good for catching anything; it lacked a reel or even a hook and lure at the end of its scraggly bit of fishing line, but an eight-year-old mind is imaginative enough to overlook such shortcomings. It was a gift from God! I imagined nothing less than a massive bounty of fish, caught with my trusty new rod. I managed a few sweet moments of delight – mere minutes of exquisite discovery – of the naked line piercing chill waters, generating peaceful, concentric ripples, beckoning the silvery fish, “Come! Come feast on the bait of dreams!”
Soon after my first casting with the salvaged rod, it was demanded that I leave the river immediately. My family was departing. It was time to go. The catch of fish would remain, at best, a childish hope. A stupid fantasy. Were my forced departure not felicitous in itself, I was required to relinquish my newly discovered prize, the salvaged fishing rod of dreams, and I was chided. Foolish child! Don’t I know that fish do not bite an empty, unbaited line? It was then, as I climbed the river’s embankment, crestfallen, that I first understood how stubborn a mirage is this life, how often reality is more of the polar world – that world I was not meant to see – that world that teases with the hint of promise, the hint of something worthy, only to snatch it from you with cold antipathy.
Visions of the polar world became more frequent from that point on. As I grew – as I encountered new experiences – I often lived days when my visions of the other place would nearly eclipse those of the walking world. For, the older we become, the more trust is placed in us to do what we ought to be doing, and when trust is placed in you, it is then that you are left alone – alone to do the things humans do. The polar world is most apparent when I am alone.
As a teen, I worked a traveling custodial job. I traversed great distances, toting a dusty vacuum and a bottle of 409 into cavernous buildings – medical clinics, mostly. I would not have admitted it at the time, but I’ll say now that I often witnessed, during the night’s hollow forever, the tumultuous battle between worlds – the walking and the polar world – clashing ferociously against one another – a pair of unyielding juggernauts, tectonic plates of reality and unreality; they became earthquakes, rattling my mind, so I was unable to discern the difference, one from the other.
The bathrooms in those clinics – they were scrutinized by the people I cleaned for. I hated them – the bathrooms, I mean. It wasn’t the toilet scrubbing; I’m not so easily disgusted. It was the mirrors. I had to clean them, “make them gleam” – a task that could not be performed without a glance at my own reflection; so it was in those fathomless hours, constrained within the density of night, that I fought to avoid the reflection of a man I thought must be the most displaced, loneliest in all the world.
I recall a night in one such building – one deeply entrenched in the armpit of downtown. I was cleaning windows when a hobo approached me, asked for some change. I was caught off guard, and I told him I didn’t have anything on me, and as he strode down the block, I became acutely remorseful, for I thought there was something better to say than “I have nothing.” Shortly after, I saw the same hobo rifling through an ashtray outside the front doors. I thought then that nothing I could do at that clinic mattered at all – not gleaming mirrors nor spotless windows nor toilets free of poop splatters – because this poor slob was compelled to scavenge the trash for a smoke. I still wonder if a day will come when I’ll encounter that man, perhaps in yet another World not one of us has seen, and we will somehow recognize one another. He might say, “Nothing. You had nothing. You stood there with your bottle of 409 and crappy cleaning rag, and you had nothing for me.”
As I age, the glimpses become constant. They occur often as I drive, for it is in those moments, when I am alone, immersed in the sights of trenchant emptiness – the peddlers of soul-softening fast food and drivers of opulent, shining autos (college funds on wheels) and once proud businesses, formerly painted with the vibrancy of dreams, now swallowed up, consumed by the shadows of disappointment and decay – these all become belligerent messengers from the polar world – pale, choking specters.
Viewed through the polar world, the pleasantry of moments is lost to me, even those spent with my favorite people, for every moment born is soon to age and eventually die. I mourn them. I mourn the aging of moments, and the thing about mourning is that, so long as it’s engaged, enjoyment cannot be attained. It’s been said of me that I choose to be sad, and maybe it’s true. Sadness, it seems to me, is not so bitter as disappointment.
People say there is no God – that His non-existence is all too apparent. They see the unending pain and injustice that surrounds us as evidence that He, supposed God of love, must not exist.
I cannot fathom such a thing. If there is no God, then there is only this and the other place. The polar world and this temporal, plasticine shadow-world. And if these two Worlds are all that exist, then we humans are creatures most to be pitied in all of existence, for we have been gifted with a view of the abstract, with the comprehension of a Creator and of Time and of Destiny. How cruel an “accident” nature has inflicted upon us if there is no God.
I believe there is more. There is a World where each individual fits in; not one is overlooked – where boys may fish with hookless lines and care little if they catch anything, for they are joined in the hunt by a Father of all fathers. It is a place where life must be experienced, for it cannot be consumed. It is a place where moments are born and eternally enjoyed – for yesterday, today, and forever are all one in the same.
It is a place where the homeless at heart find themselves home.