They called me up because the email thread had gone nothing short of nuclear. There was a mess of heat and flames full of blame. Assumptions and accusations coiled together and licked at what was left, searching for anything of use to burn. The sound of their voice was just as hot, with the kind of white heat that had one intention: to turn all that was standing into ash.
In the last several months and years this feeling of heated discussion has become familiar, not just to me, but to all of us. Flames are a standard form of conversation. War has seeped into our minds to such an extent that we don’t feel seen or heard until that point when all the bets, rules and decorum are forgotten. Of course, it’s hard to remember yourself when lies are passed off as truth. I remember now, when people announced a post-truth society. I remember the resigned laughs we gave. You can’t steer society, only participate.
So here we are, after the fires have razed our old ways, even our old forms of trust. We stand here marveling at the green shoots making their way from the rubble. We put our hands to the ground as if to listen through our touch. What does the tender shoot transfer to us as we gently run our hands along the soil, up its small stalk, stopping at the nub. This winter I notice the wild fennel growing its fronds in the backyard. In the woods I see the green patches under the big trees where the deer take their respite from the still falling snows. I think back to the summer and the flames. I stand still to hear the birds call, to feel their simultaneous lifting of sound, while the heavy branches bow down.
Suspension is the sign of the times. I remember those days of heat. I remember hearing that voice scream. It wasn’t the first, maybe it won’t be the last. Turn on the tele via the laptop or mobile and it seems a fair bet that this is the state of things. The fires of war abound, popping up here and then there; inside people we love, inside institutions we thought were inviolable and sacred. We see the fire of greed. I call it out, and so do you. We walk along in virtual space together, calling it out the way we used to call out if we saw a Volkswagen “bug.” We knew those better than we knew the real ones. Now we take ourselves to the woods and into the mountains so we can recall what we never had. You count the trees and I count the leaves and we get tired within less than a minute. We take ourselves a selfie, just for us. They used to call that a self portrait, ya know.
I remember that call from the last few months, the one that ripped open the last few years of pain. It gave oxygen to those flames of shame. It also gave oxygen to the green shoots of self preservation. Does the tree to my right know it is a self? It does seem to know that it has to eat, while simultaneously sharing. The plants and the trees seem to balance this self and these others in a way we have lost, or that we have willfully burned. “Not me” says a voice deep inside. “So what” says another, “You don’t run the world.”
Run. The. World. Like I still think this thing is a machine? Do I still buy that idea? Did that seep so deeply into me that I can’t pull myself from the image of this living system as a set of gears and gadgets? I thought I knew better. I thought I understood the veil of language. My sense of security slips back into the soil. I listen harder to the crunch of my soles on the pine needles and the broken branches. I think back to the heat of that last conversation when I called back and said my piece; and wondering now, did it bring me peace? Did my flame and that flame have to do it like that? I remind myself, there is no looking back.
Today I see a thousand voices calling for healing but I do not see them here in these woods. I do not hear them in the calls of the birds or the swoop of the buzzards. I hear them like blocks of falling junk, like useless boxes of stuff falling from invisible planes. They don’t belong here and I will them to dissipate before they make a sound. I take those voices that silence truth and I silence them. I take the voice of that single bully and silence it, too. Who knew the toxic parcels could come from the same one who offered me safety? Who knew that partnership could be a ruse for abuse? I did. Now I know again. I kick at the cold and the melt, at the two bits simultaneously holding space. I see this threshold between seasons and I know in the depths of me that this is everything right now. This is the threshold and these are its temperatures, its ranges of life and death, screams and silence. Once upon a time I thought silence was a marker of nothing, but now I walk into it, appreciating the fullness.
Today a dictator rages in his half -finished palace, while another rich man wonders what there is left to conquer. This afternoon a bunch of politicians will attempt to curry favor and power with people they like to call voters. The workers are fighting for their rights, resigned to define themselves like we all do, as parts. We give ourselves new names. We change up our clothes. The game remains somehow boring and old. That call rages in between my ears. I remember declaring myself a target, which feels both alive and not real, like being a spirit inside a body. It reminds me of this thing that is fashionable in debates right now, this thing they call consciousness. You came after me: translates into: you came after all that I use to define my purpose in this world.
So here finally as we exit the trees, you brushing your curls, me cleaning my glasses, that we exit the issue and come into the clearing of our conversation. This is a problem of purpose. This is an issue of what we serve. Who do you serve? What do you serve? What does that service look like and who gets hurt or helped when you serve it? Do you gather damages along the way; declaring yourself an elemental being? Do you revel in being fire? How about in being a flood? Does nobody serve as the spark? Or the simple snowflake that does not regret its melting, because within that there is movement and within that there is a purpose to refresh. How did all of this turn into things? How did we turn into things? How do we turn ourselves back into beings and out of things? How do we start?
They called one last time to say nothing. Their voice was cold and sad, all at once, like a cave after its hermit had left. You stole from me. Silence. You tried to steal my sense of self. Silence. You sold lies to others and billed them as truth. Silence again. It’s funny how cowardly silence is also full of stories and shapes that one can not describe except to say they are like clouds you can not see, but that you can feel. “I want truth and reconciliation” said their voice. “We can’t have that without justice,” I replied. Somewhere today, that voice is selling a revolution to an innocent bystander who has no idea the fire behind that sell. They have no first hand experience of the singe and the sound of the sizzle, of me, of those others who were manhandled on the way to someone else’s greatness. Did they beat you? No. Did they hurt you? Yes. How? Through lies; through the greatest and least honorable of fires. How can fire achieve dishonor? Whenever it is set as a screen, as a way to choke out discussion or the sounds of the birds. Whenever fire is set by those who forget they are only a spark, not a god; that is when fire is nothing more than a streak of chaos.
So finally we get into the car because in these parts we are not rich enough to have access to trees and horizons. We must drive to hit the edge of ourselves and we must deal with our compromises as we fill up at the pump. You go inside to use the restroom because you forgot to pee in the woods where your urine would be useful. I stare into the sky through the windshield, the wipers pulsing intermittently. Today the world could not be a machine because no machine can run on chaos. Only living things can run like this. Only living things can produce the sounds I hear now as I cycle through the radio presets. Classical piano, saxophone jazz, an attorney for a jailed instigator, an attorney for a failed dictator; a mother discussing nutrition, a doctor discussing vaccines, an astrologer musing on supplements; at the end a cumbia-electro pop remix from a tribal member hoping to discourage the palm oil trade. Only a living thing could be this thing we all are but it doesn’t mean I understand it at all. You get back in the car. I pull the gear into drive and stare into the road and listen to the beats while they synch up with the lights. I take the roads towards home and mention a trip in the spring to Phoenix. You laugh, knowing all too well my sense of pilgrimage and storytelling.