Anthem of a Finite Forever

The second part of the French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964):

L’absence.

The film has been described by critic Jim Ridley as containing an “anthem of a finite forever and an eternally preserved present that never loses its ache.”

***

“Catch if you can your country’s moment, begin / where any calendar’s ripped off.”

—Adrienne Rich, “An Atlas of the Difficult World,” Later Poems (1971-2012)

***

A Black woman passes by the two of us as we are seated on a patch of grass, our eyes trained on the vacant sky expectantly. She walks along slowly, coming to a halt further down the sidewalk and keeping her distance all the while. A babbling family with two dogs, one large and one small, does not. After the fireworks begin, crescendos of red and green and blue interspersed with shimmering showers of gold, I glance over at her again. Her mask, printed with the American flag, hangs limply from one ear. In her left hand, she is holding a cigarette, which she brings to her lips before exhaling slow. In the right, a drink with ice cubes that tinkle lightly against the glass rim. The smoke begins to mingle with the haze from the fireworks, and the full moon looks on overhead. (I would later learn it was a “buck moon” and that the evening held a lunar eclipse and the planetary nearness of Jupiter etched in the night sky.) The scattered groups around us hum and buzz and cheer, but she remains steadfast and silent, gazing at the explosions as if she has already felt them somewhere in her very marrow. As if they have nothing to teach her. She is unmoved or, perhaps, only mildly thoughtful. Cars begin to stop haphazardly in the middle of the street as drivers whip out their iPhones from warm denim pockets, aiming to capture their next Instagram story. All I can think is “This does not feel like the land of the free. Not yet.” and “Why must protection and poison follow each other so closely?”

***

“I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of your glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice; I must mourn…”               —Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852

***

We pace around our city, heads bowed. We pray. We worship. Then, we are told to clap for the police officers surrounding the perimeter of the State Capitol, to thank them for their sacrifice. The Black woman beside me does not move, keeping a steely gaze, her hands in fists. Dignified. Outraged. My hands—a flurry of motion—numb.

***

“The cross and the lynching tree interpret each other. Both were public spectacles, shameful events, instruments of punishment reserved for the most despised people in society. Any genuine theology and any genuine preaching of the Christian gospel must be measured against the test of the scandal of the cross and the lynching tree. ‘Jesus did not die a gentle death like Socrates, with his cup of hemlock….Rather, he died like a [lynched black victim] or a common [black] criminal in torment, on the tree of shame.’ The crowd’s shout ‘Crucify him!’ (Mk 15:14) anticipated the white mob’s shout ‘Lynch him!’ Jesus’ agonizing final cry of abandonment from the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mk 15:34), was similar to the lynched victim Sam Hose’s awful scream as he drew his last breath, ‘Oh, my God! Oh, Jesus.’ In each case it was a cruel, agonizing, and contemptible death.” ―James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

***

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole;
there is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged
and think my work’s in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again.

***

A church sign spotted beside a winding serpentine road, homeward bound:

“He is in the searching and the waiting. He is in the suffering and the healing.”

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