You Can’t Unring the Bell

Short Story:
Fiction/Non-Fiction/Alternative Rock

I can tell you that indoors the weather is just fine. Perfect even. Outside though, it’s a soppy, dingy dish rag that sporadically drips into a mop bucket full of beetle-colored water. The yard a soupy mess. Rain becomes so droopy without wind to accompany it, so forgetful without the boom of thunder to remind the constant tick tock of water to slow or quicken or mix things up. No punctuation. No gusts or light shows. Despite the vertical, straight march of precipitation, a stillness encapsulates my little world into one whole thimble, and I find it hard to believe it’s not raining in China. Or somewhere across the world that apparently exists.

The flat, cheerless sky has hardly faded from two or three shades of a trendy-kitchen grey since morning to now, night. Almost night. The humanity!  Do you know what unchanging, murky tones can do to a life like mine! But the sky isn’t listening. It doesn’t want to fight. Or talk right now. It’s too busy emptying a stream of many forms of consciousness, of prayer and disruption and quiet and mirrors, most of all, so we can see. So we can see each other, the sky finally relents. I wore her down. So we can see what we’re doing to one another, and this aquatic ritual to restore balance, maybe it might help us look. No dummy, not at yourself. (I had tried to find my reflection in a dim puddle, a reflective twin of its sky) At the others. At what your lack of looking has cost these “others.” I forget a mirror is a plane, a device, where I can see other things besides myself. Other, dare I say, dimensions?! I dare not say. Not because I don’t love a good dare, but because I didn’t look. I don’t look yet. I know that once I look, I won’t be able to un-see. Once I know, the bell will be rung. You can’t squeeze the toothpaste back in the tube. So I continue not to look and my ego agrees with this decision, but my innards do not. 

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Monty, the dog, he never even hesitated whether to look. He’s the reason I’m outside at all. He’d seen all along and it wouldn’t take a smoky sky and day of dirty dishwater drizzling filled with absolutely stupid feelings of nostalgia about an ex-boyfriend who no longer exists on this plane, for Monty to even consider the choice to see. He would never even have dithered or delayed. Think of people who are kind but who don’t have to try hard. They simply breathe and even their breath is kind. As opposed to those who put forth a lot of effort, noticeable effort, who are being good because they know it’s right to be good, but it doesn’t come easy to them. And they enjoy (prefer) a lot of accolade for it. I fear I can have this tendency too often. How else would I know this person exists, if he weren’t inside me somehow? Too different from Monty, from my dad, who never seemed to try so hard but had to saddle with the same choices we all do. They just didn’t grapple with what to do and they were happy when given the chance to do something kind and valuable. Me, I have to get all existential about doing the damn dishes. Eye roll. A person made of genuine good converses on the street, smiles when they see trash in the gutter, pick it up, and dispose of it while continuing their joke about where cows go on dates. To the moooooooovies. 

A person made of too much ego would first, never tell this joke. Secondly, they’re absolutely disgusted at the sight of this same trash. They pick it up with a crab face and a secret pride that they’ve braved touching and holding le garbage, even if they are carrying it eight inches away with an angry stiff arm like a strangers dirty underwear. Then they angrily stuff it in a can while interrupting their own story, but of course their own story is about why the youth are a disaster as well as weather, frogs and politics, don’t get him started, and throwing away this trash is just proof that a disaster is just what the world is. Unlike an earlier time when there was simple decency that just doesn’t exist anymore. I fear a lot about living like this latter person. I guess the most I can say is I’m trying, and my insides tell me Hey, that’s something. The result is the same, right? The trash finds its way to the proper receptacle, but one of those people is clearly sad about getting old. I want to get happier that older I become and the more I know, which is very little now. 

Watching Monty in those puddles makes me want to be good but keep quiet about it. Never have I seen even a moment of blurred consciousness in him. Or questionable kindness. Where is his ego? I wonder this as he splashes into a huge puddle and flecks of overjoyed water bullets burst out from under him and rise and fall, absorb into the earth. He saw every color reflected in that puddle, in every tiny droplet that exploded out from under the soft but protected pads of his feet, and still nothing but glee emits from his every move. How could he exist in such an effortless joy of Being? Did he forget to remember that we used to do this with someone else? Someone no longer around? How could he behold both truths and still be at such ease with the knowledge? That dog is roaring to go, bursting at the seams, to go anywhere—the mailbox—do anything, awake at all times, and yet he can count. He can remember. Still, every day is the best day of his life.

He knew about the way things once were. Who used to be here. How many days he has left, if you were to demand those kinds of numbers and answers from him. But once you knew, once you’d looked, as I was still certainly not doing, it would be absolutely silly, and stupid, not unlike the nostalgia over an ex-boyfriend, to calculate days left. To play the mental movie over and over of people gone and being wronged and things lost all along the way. The questions would hardly even compute, actually. Those kinds of calculations lose meaning in the way we interpret them—they lose their heaviness, their value, as does “losing” the people and things we love. Once you’ve looked, you would never use the word lost or lose. The whole metric changes. It would be like asking, “How much purple is in the sunset?” 

I close my eyes a moment and listen to the sky busied at her nearly impossible task, pouring love that has to consist of a main ingredient truth, and thus pain, because this is how we’ve decided to handle truth: insulting instead of informational. It pelts the glass at my window and the lights on inside seem to inhabit the living room as though someone were in there. But we’re outside, not looking, and the dog seeing it all. 

A sadness comes over me, knowing what the sky has to do. Wake all of us up, in a defiantly chosen, solid sleep with our fingers in our ears and our devices producing nature sounds. The pettiest of things distracting us even from idle, filler dinner conversation. If only zombies weren’t so trendy! Not looking. Not listening. Crossing the street anyway. And yet we curse her when we do harm to one another. Manipulate, kill, lie, take advantage. Deny a person their humanity. What do we do? Where do we look? Up. We look to the sky, angry, demanding answers to our violent curiosity: Why?How could you? This is why she offers the rain. And the rain offers a reflection. A way in. To see. Will any of us feel the fear stirring and jump anyway? Never go back to sleep again? Most of us only glimpse this possibility, and most of us won’t take the leap. It would mean never able to tell a lie again, not without knowing the untruth within us, and relying on ignorance is often very helpful. 

She has many tasks, and waking the unconscious from their dream, their million year-maze of thoughts, is no cakewalk, I can assume. She can only try to show us what’s already there, but ultimately the dreamer has to want to aim his sight higher, at least want to wade through the stickiness of his psyche and open even one eye and see, if not awaken altogether. So many are too afraid of what they’ll lose, and in this instant of stillness, space—the gap— I see that I am one of them. I harm myself, and others sometimes, then I ask the sky how it could be so cruel.

Some part of me that I don’t very much like, doesn’t want to know, no matter how much in a conscious manner I can claim to want all the answers with a ferocity I don’t come across much in myself. That part of me that’s always there, the gatekeeper that doesn’t know the difference between stories and reality, no doubt finds the option to see as an ultimately punitive experience. Think what is means, it whispers in my forehead, where a mental playground of emotions, mundane observations, good and bad assumptions, real and false interpretations of reality all flow in and out like a river, all water of the same source, indiscernible when it comes to water that matters and water that’s muddied and wrong. We can agree this makes him a pretty bad gatekeeper. It means that our choices may be all our own, and not the intricate plans of an angry sky. That there may mean no answer for pain and struggle, even if we might actually be able to harness value from it. A good reality wouldn’t require us suffering to see or act. The voice becomes entangled in a web of sounds and rushing water and it’s hard to make it out anymore. It’s just so easy to hear the rain as a lullaby instead of some alarm. 

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I open my eyes and temporarily, the heaviness lifts. The tasks disappear. My to-do list seems strangely laughable. It melts as if held over a flame, the edges darkening and curling. Monty is still jumping in puddles of rain and mud. In the puddles, the flecks of flying water in various shapes, I see myself from the outside. I see just how many choices were mine that I’d somehow attributed to unfairness or plain chance. In my night terrors I know when I am dreaming but I can’t wake up, and I wonder if ever I’ll be able to use the power that’s been given to get myself out. But I only get glimpses. Things around me dissolve like they’ve spontaneously turned to fine sand and dropped as a choreographed fall to a bottomless ground.  Then they return in nearly the same moment. Reality becomes a solid. Things are regaining their importance. My to-do list resumes it’s urgency, reassembles in perfect form. The phone beeps at me, prying, crying for attention to matters of total inconsequence. What will you do, Mary? Pretend you never signed up for this stumbling of life? Ignore that moment you knew and signed the contract anyway? I chose to come here, some time ago. What am I doing crying about the end, an end I seemed to comprehend with that flick of my pen, but now feels like a puzzle that can easily turn pain worthless, and that’s the problem with forgetting. So the sky, she tried. 

Sleep. Wake up. Jump. See. The space, the still, calm waters in the back of my head, the reflection to the foreground of my consciousness, whispers that the leaves of the tallest tree rustling at me every night are in fact my dad saying hello, and it’s OK to sound crazy when you write that out loud. And the crumbled dead leaves shaped like hearts on the dirty ground, that when I came across as a kid made me smile and cry because I knew they were him reaching back at me. Little tiny reminders, all of them. They go far far back to a dream I cannot remember, nor do I have the words to get right.  The conscious waters splash and say it’s OK to take my time.  “But we could really use you. No pressure.” That place is the gap—the space between thoughts—just like Tolle taught. But the gap is low in numbers. Too many sleepers.  

The sky grumbles with thunder, like a disgruntled old man picking up a mess that isn’t his. The wind picks up. The drizzle elevates into a downpour and I sense the greatness of the sky, separate from my body and yet capable of removing its weight, able to reckon the things we always thought of as separate. Monty jumps in another puddle but I call him in, weary and limp-limbed, head pounding, words swirling in my forehead I still can’t make out. He trots, tail wagging, nearly a prance. He is so happy to be here; alive and at peace. The fact that he has never caused harm, that he wouldn’t know how to makes me feel like crying, which I feel pretty stupid about and so I cry some more. These thoughts do no good and worst of all lack total creativity. The gatekeeper fails. When will I believe the obvious whispers? The glimpses I catch. Something illuminates then leaves with barely any time to remember, and my memory of it is so far from the form it took while it was here. Like a dream there is no language for. But the clarity while you had it, stiff as the second you drive under a bridge in the rain and the quiet gets in. Then I lose the grip. 

I have not been there but peeked in on that place of truth just on the other side of this one. Wakefulness animates everything residing there. People tell jokes and look each other in the eye. All their brothers keeper. No devices in the way of our eyes. Egos can try, but when they get even close to too large they pop like a balloon. At the bottom level it sounds like popcorn at one minute 20 seconds. I cannot wait for the grand relief of being there again. Of having the courage to see and stay there. Falling asleep here and choosing the illuminated reality there, where nothing hides, nothing lies. The folly of all our burdens gone. The great weight lifted. 

*This “short story” or whatever it is probably belongs in the poetry section of this blog even though it’s far from poetry either, but I couldn’t figure out how to post there, so here it is. It’d been blinking at me on my screen for too long, so it was time to set it free like a dead persons ashes in the ocean. Sorry, morbid. Health and happiness :)

 

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Looking Up

If you’ve ever looked at that iconic photograph of earth sent back from space by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972, chances are you may have felt very small. The things you do can seem insultingly unimportant, useless, or a total waste of energy—the effort, our pain, the whole point becoming lost in the incomprehensible hugeness of it all. In one snapshot is a glimpse of our existence within the context of an entire planet: billions of people.

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There we are, floating, in orbit, rotating at some figure I could never pretend to compute or understand. A sphere of blue and green, dusted with blurs of white clouds we learned the names of in fourth grade. Cumulonimbus. Stratus. But it expands even further. A planet, within a galaxy, within a solar system, within a boundless universe for which we can only account for a relatively small portion. Why am I worried about the U2 album that came pre-programmed on my iPhone? I didn’t ask for that album Bono, I didn’t ask! But you look at our planet like that, and sometimes it helps spot spilled milk when we’re unable to discern it ourselves.

Snapshots just like this are every where in all types of forms– landscapes like the ocean, trees hundreds of years old, music that hits us somewhere deep or a night sky full of stars. They stir inside us some sacred moment demanding our attention. Attention beyond the five senses. These are the stirrings of Consciousness, I think. Or becoming aware of it. That divine desert in our depths, dormant and shy, but reliable like a sleeping dog, waiting on us to wake up and snap our fingers, let him lead the way. Always that calm sits in the background of our thoughts—that sturdy part that never leaves. The gap between breaths, but we forget. Last week I sensed it watching the wind rustle the leaves of the bamboo in our yard for I don’t know how long. I don’t get out a lot.
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I know this is Consciousness I’m confronting, because a stillness envelops me, time melts like a clock in a Dahli painting, and the typical limits and boundaries fade. A noise that usually dominates the atmosphere diminishes to silence. I haven’t arrived or gotten anything, I’ve simply met the present moment and there the forms, my thoughts and the sounds seem to run out of ink. A space is required for Consciousness to awaken, but it’s usually drowned out by the incessant noise of our lives. Opinions and drama and auto-pilot tasks and Snapchat. Trump. Chatter. Twitter! 

We are bombarded by distraction, no doubt, and there will never be a shortage to keep us looking the other way. Because consciousness doesn’t operate according to the limits of space or time, we are glimpsing eternity in that instance. A non-quantity! It’s no wonder we can’t hold the reality of this perspective in the forefront of our minds for very long. It almost operates on a separate plain. Size without a producable sum total– time beyond a unit of measurement: this is not how we learned to understand the world. It’s like trying to remember what words looked like before we learned to read. Then going out in the world and being told not to interpret the thousands of messages we’re assaulted by. Even Monty knows this is basically impossible. It will take some time to unlearn the default.

So we can only live in that space for so long before it vanishes out from under us, like a dream that dissipates as we slowly awake. The sky then fades back to a ceiling, a black ceiling with white dots. The ocean returns to an aquatic location where we swim and fish and take family pictures at sunset. And why not? Sunset by the ocean is the perfect backdrop for photos.

d62e90913370966f6d5efa7a2e878b0b.jpgThis Consciousness is hard to reconcile with the world we live in though, because it veritably negates the way we’ve been taught to perceive the world for centuries. At the same time it also perfectly encapsulates  Tolle’s explanation of our life here, which he emphasizes is not according to time, but to being awake in the now–the closest thing to time that actually exists. The Eternal Moment, he calls it, which works out in every scenario where you try and deconstruct it. I’ve tried. Still, when you’re down here in the dirt, when you’re in pain, it seems far too simple a way for things to operate.

So when the window opens, we can expect it to be small, but we should hold on as long as we can. I know that’s where a much more permanent and truthful dimension in us lies, it just hardly gets time out of the box. So I try not to be afraid of the quiet, of being alone, of having nothing “to do”. In these uncommon, custom moments, forces larger than us might be at work, awakening something that the whole world, not just us, is in great need of.

Most nights, I walk home from my parents house with Monty. They lock the door behind me and sometimes my mom yells Watch for snakes! Marc flips the switch and the Christmas lights in our trees illuminate a path to my house, a whole 15 steps away. Monty bolts off feigning a hunt of a squirrel or raccoon or some other Southern vermin. Midway between our houses is a small wooden path over the ditch that connects their yard to my driveway. Every time I reach that bridge, I stop, almost reflexively. I look up. Every time.

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Sometimes I’m holding a laundry basket full of clean laundry with my head pointed upward at the sky and mouth agape like an idiot. I often don’t even remember making the decision to stop or look up, I just find myself with my head directed that way. For whatever reason I think, I’ll remember this when I’m older. I see these constellations of stars and whatever shape the moon takes and if I’m lucky, rarely, a shooting star. I remember then too: the sky is not a ceiling. The sky is not a ceiling. Then I try to reconcile that truth without my mind exploding, and consider that what I’m looking at goes on. Then I try to humbly just appreciate the beauty of this magnanimous thing and think  think how I have absolutely no idea what the hell I’m looking at.

I just know I’m mesmerized by what I see and some part of me is drawn to look there, every night. I wonder a hundred things. A part of me thinks maybe it’s the soul making a nod toward its source. The same way we’re drawn to look out at the ocean or up at trees the height of sky scrapers.  Maybe it’s just a bunch of burning gas with no intrinsic meaning and this is a crap romanticists idea of the cosmos. But that notion feels too simple when held up to the backdrop of the universe’s complexity.  Just like staring out at the ocean. These stars, this water: all here before us. All to go on after we’re gone.

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I think when we capture these hiccups in time, it’s not meant meant to make us feel small or meaningless; That none of this matters.  But I do think it helps us remember that our time here is temporary. We don’t exist on earth forever, which the human being practically takes as an insult. How dare there comes a point when I die! So we don’t talk about it, fine. We don’t have to talk about it. But we have to deflect the thought that just because we live in a boundless world with a kazillion people that we’re somehow replaceable and we don’t play a very needed and unique part in the production. It takes a trust that’s very hard to reach for, let alone find. I don’t know what the answer is, but I can assume one is that we’re not meant to torture ourselves over not knowing it. Maybe living with the mystery while trusting our path is answer enough, for now.

I’ve been writing about this for a while because one, my brain has run the speed of sap. And two, I’ve been sick every day this week and stuck in a half conscious state in bed. The last 4 months haven’t been much better besides an occasional ‘OK’ day. I realize compared to some of my sick counterparts, thats nothing. But still, it’s hard. It’s like you’re tethered to the world, and you slowly start to drift outward, losing your connection to people, your passions, a reason that makes sense. The further away you float, the more convinced you become that cutting the chord would be no big deal. That couldn’t be further from the truth, and I don’t say that flippantly. I say it as a testament to the power of the mind and our thoughts. They can actually make us believe we don’t matter, which is a dangerously powerful indictment that can be incredibly hard to fight off. I’ve been there, and I’ve had people help dig me out of the hole. I’ve been lucky, and I know that.

During trying times like this when my body feels like it fails me repeatedly, I’ve lost my belief that there is worth in a life spent sick this way. But that stillness, that other plain that awakens under night skies or oceans that you can’t see the edge of, it is so much more powerful if we only give it space to grow. Even just recalling that I’ve felt it before can help me remember that these periods in the dark will be “burned up by the light of consciousness” (Tolle), as they have before. I am still learning. Part of that lesson is to accept the mystery of pain, to even yell at the sky about it if that’s what has to happen, but to keep going, nonetheless. Even if you don’t trust where you are, keep going. At least allow yourself the relief of eventually finding a place you do trust. Like Churchill said, If you’re going through hell, keep going.tumblr_n18wf3teth1r7wnmko1_r2_1280

Life is working in pieces, one day at a time, like always. It doesn’t have to make sense in order for us to be happy. I wish it would– I feel violently curious for answers sometimes, knowing good and well that no answer will bring back the things I’ve lost.  But here we are, who we are, with the hand we’ve been dealt. It matters now how we play our hand in the game. With carefulness, attention, and reverence that you’ve got a hand at the table at all. Be still, make space. And look up once in a while.

I’m talking to myself again. It doesn’t matter. I still I believe there are answers everywhere. We don’t have to know them to awaken the space where they might be easier to find.

Health, Happiness, Looking Up