Mental Contagion

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Rūs Mental Contagion
Notes from Open Land
by Wendy Lewis

Zeitgeist

There are nights and then, there are nights that pierce and decimate time and space. It’s not profound, in terms of specific environment, information exchanged, anecdotes or clever one-liners; instead, it’s the brilliance that arrives when everyone is there and comfortable enough to simply speak—the eccentric display of individuality. Each person at the table plucked what bloomed from their brain stem, right then. Fresh, succulent fruit. It’s the tiny, enormous statement that spills from a mouth unawares, without any inclination to protect an utterance from opinion or judgment, or the unabashed response, sans theatrics. As I drove home alone after paying an exorbitant bill and hugging each person present as if it was the only time we would ever meet, they filled the interior of my car. It was the only event that would ever occur that way, that night, that moment. I thought about Annie Dillard’s obsession with cloud formations and how they hover over our lives. We people possess records, like gravestones, of individual clouds and the dates on which they flourished. There is no recounting the revelation that rose and fell back into itself becoming the initial, singular revelation, like the glop that undulates in a lava lamp. I followed my headlights down the highway. All I can say now and all that needs be said is that I got to have it.

That night, waiting for my friends to arrive, I sat beneath a navy umbrella while tentative bouts of rain kept trying to move me indoors. I resisted. I had an impervious need to be outdoors. Buses stuttered slowly by, belching diesel exhaust. Cyclists peddled through swollen rivulets running alongside the curb to the sewer drain, their clothes dampened with exertion. A man and woman attending the AA meeting across the street argued in a doorway. She lit a cigarette and adjusted her baggy pants around her boney hips, pointing her finger at him while her voice became more shrill and accusatory, whereupon he stopped defending himself. He looked at his feet or down the street behind him or at the sky, but never again at her. A dapper elderly gentleman with carefully combed hair sat with his back to me under an awning, offering bits of food to his white, standard poodle sitting attentively at his feet. A couple strolled by with backpacks slung over their young, unburdened shoulders, laughing and leaning into each other, palpably magnetized.

The afternoon had ushered-in torrential rains, flooding the streets and closing major highways just before the rush hour commute. On the interstates, there was gridlock and detours. My waiter delivered a glass of pinot noir, turning her face skyward querying me about the weather. I imagined that she was thinking how it might affect her night’s earnings, as the tumultuous front crawled through the city and kept people home. Another errant cloud opened up but I opted to stay outside. From beneath my umbrella, I watched the cloud formations pushed by the storm front quickly morph from one shape to another. I watched a cow in her entirety, back to front, slowly turning a lazy head revealing her sloping profile, which suddenly tipped forward and grew into a tyrannosaurus rex, then a pelican as the nose elongated further, and finally, briefly, a perfect seahorse; all this occurred within a minute of my full attention.

Recently, I’ve been aware of my mortality. It’s not a fear-based awareness as much as a climbing vine awareness – little feet gripping and mapping the architecture of my body; skeleton, musculature and nervous systems, internal organs competing with body clock and a moment to moment game of chance. It’s both thrilling and anticlimactic. I think about these things as I drive 75 to 80 mph down Highway 52 on the morning commute. It could be the fiery crash or the crashing heart, as mine flutters mysteriously like a wounded bird from time to time and I wonder what is happening beneath my rib cage. A 50-year-old friend, who had no symptoms, no signs or family history of heart disease, collapsed on a treadmill in a doctor’s office after all his blood work came back looking great, and was flown to the Mayo Clinic undergoing an emergency triple by-pass. After he recounted the story, I asked him what pleasures he had enjoyed his whole life he would now be pressured to do without. He said, “Well, the doctor says I’m good for another 50 years!”  I bought him a drink. He chased it with another piece of cheese.

There are things I could do differently to improve my chances for “longer life,” but in either case, I worry about it less and less. I’ve had myriad brushes with death and I like being here a lot. I harbor few if any regrets and if it all ended when I put the last period on this essay, I’d have lived a rich, voluminous life and I would only regret missing the party that will be thrown in my honor. Living long has never been as important as living well, but that’s a worn phrase on a refrigerator somewhere and it sticks in my mouth in an unpleasant, trite way, sounding like an excuse for something. When I have a night like that night, which happens more and more frequently as my very human and sophomoric measurement of time ticks away, being alive matters not because of what happened before or what may happen next. It’s not about following the rules or breaking them and it’s not about what I think or what I believe or what I hope for or desire or lose or gain but about who I am in the alchemy of moments—each and every glorious one of them.

* * *

What makes you think it's gonna last
When everything you've ever done was to be past
Just think about our bodies in this place
And imagine us shooting through space

Stop dragging us down
With all your tick-tocking clocks that seem to never slow down
Stop dragging us down
Because eventually this future's gonna swallow you

Why do you think it's gonna end
When everything that's ever been around on this echo train
Just think about our bodies in this place
And imagine us shooting through space

Stop dragging us down
With all your tick-tocking clocks that never seem to slow down now
Stop dragging us down
Because eventually this future's gonna swallow you

Chad Van Gaalen
“Echo Train” from the CD, Infiniheart

       
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