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.”

healing: midsummer

“I think that I am here, on this earth, / To present a report on it, but to whom I do not know. / As if I were sent so that whatever takes place / Has meaning because it changes into memory.” —Czeslaw Milosz, Unattainable Earth

***

Every summer, I scuttle down the front porch steps without shoes, propelling myself towards our gravel driveway, where I make my way tentatively over the crumbled, jagged forms of scattered copper rocks. By the end of the season, the soles of my feet become calloused and strong, and I stride without wincing, without any hesitation.

***

The thing I remember is the feeling of dirt beneath my feet. Stepping gingerly into the garage, looking for a terra cotta pot or the like, I had left my sandals inside. After scanning the laden shelves, I noticed a tin watering can with a withered brown plant inside. We quickly removed these brittle remains, and the budding green thyme plant nestled itself happily within its abode, supplied with new soil. It overspilled its bounds.

***

“All that matters is to be at one with the living God / to be a creature in the house of the God of Life. / Like a cat asleep on a chair / at peace, in peace… / feeling the presence of the living God / like a great assurance / a deep calm in the heart.” —D.H. Lawrence

***

Inbox (1 unread): “Dear Mattea, I am delighted to inform you that your scholarship application has now been processed, and you have been granted a postgraduate award in the School of Art History. Congratulations! If you have any further queries, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.”

***

Juneteenth: an annual holiday observing the end of slavery in the U.S. and marking the day—June 19, 1865—when the news of emancipation reached people in the deepest parts of the former Confederacy in Galveston, Texas. They had been free for two years. They just didn’t know it yet. Their lived reality didn’t align with the words scrawled upon the page, skeletal, black upon white—by a man who confessed he cared more about saving the Union than he ever did about slaves. On September 18, 1858, Lincoln assured an audience: “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.” No right to vote, to serve on juries, to hold office, or to interracially marry. Who decides what freedom looks like and when it is won?

***

Memento (2000):  “How am I supposed to heal if I can’t feel time?”

***

To the gentle baker who remembered my name after only meeting me once, the one with the gentle eyes, the one who insists that I take a box of pastries home with me after my shift so they will not go to waste: thank you. I wish the world was wholly made up of such kindnesses.

***

I am reading, and I am waiting. I am healing. Colette, Annie Dillard, then Fitzgerald. This chapter of untethered postgrad life with abundant time for contemplation has awakened me to the deep need for healing in my own life—in areas I thought I had already surrendered, in issues I thought I had processed and put behind me long ago. I have also had my eyes opened anew to the desperate need for healing and reform throughout my own nation. My heart is heavy, but this is no excuse to turn away. Each Instagram story is the face of a precious child of God we have lost too soon, a linked resource, a petition, a plea. So I read up on environmental racism, dietary racism, misogynoir, police brutality, and the intersection of race and mental health stigma. What is the difference between simply breaking and breakthrough? How can we make this last? What seeds are we planting? What will they become? How many will stay to tend the garden and how many will be left to partake of the fruit? I’ve been clinging to a quote by Rilke about loving all our unresolved questions so we can live into the answers. Lord, come.