Monday, May 21, 2018

Words in the Wind - A Brigid Guest Post

A young woman walks out to an old rural mailbox and pulls out a couple of letters, standing in the cold as she looks through them, for in her haste, she wears no coat. Her eyes are alight with hope, as she scans the postmarks, almost naked in their pleading.  But there is no letter from him today, no news that he is still safe.  Her eyes grow quiet, two shining gloves in which a world at war lurks in profoundly small scale.  The mailbox shuts and her hope draws itself in, like measured string being rewound into a spool

Thirty later, her children, one at the edge of the field, one away in a straight line about 30 yards away, connected only by two paper cups and a taut piece of kite string. One speaks, the other listens, and hears  "there are 4 of them to our two. But we have the water balloons!" The words are simple but they are personal, shared between brothers in arms, even if one is a sister.

Another thirty years later, miles apart, a simple message  "hi, it's me just landed, I'll call after I get to Dad's, stay strong."
How our methods of communication have changed over the years.  Not long ago, sitting behind me in a Thai restaurant, four 20-somethings in casual business attire, all texting or surfing, the server unacknowledged but for an order made without consulting the menu, not a single word between them as invisible food was consumed with invisible fingers and invisible thoughts.

Just the other day, I sat in the airport reading a classic novel, on paper, no e-reader, while all around me people are texting. Now there are times that a text is better than silence, a quick stop to let someone know you are safe, or that you care, but too often people are doing it at the expense of the actual written word.

What would the books on my shelves, or the one in the hand of the young lady seated across from me be, if simply summed up in text?

Deliverance - tourists XperENs local hospitality

Frankenstein - Science progress big FAIL w genRL public. Ptchforks say STBU.

War of the Worlds - LEgl aliens wnt evrtng 4 frE

Twilight -  join d undead az alternative 2 college

Pride and Prejudice -i longed 4 him i married him crp

Soylent Green - locals hav isUz w regional cuisine

Romeo and Juliet -  Dny thy fathR n refUZ thy name, o if thou wilt nt, b bt swrn my luv, I'll n lngr be a cpult,

The Manhattan Project -sum of aL fears comin 2 a rogue n8tN near U

The Audacity of Hope - DBEYR srsly

Bridge on the River Kwai - brits cn whistle despite stiff uppr lips

The whole way the world interacts, communicates, and connects has changed since our parent's age. In a trunk in Dad's attic I found those letters my Mom wrote my Dad during WWII, carefully tired with still taut ribbon, the handwriting faded, words that traveled thousands of miles to England and back, carried by mailman and ship, to gather dust that gets in his eyes when he talks of her. In those letters she is still with him, still young, more than just a shadow-bound to him with a shadow of ribbon.

Now, we instant message, we Skype, there's Facebook and web-mail and blogs, wherein the means of communication are many and the word "friend" has oft been reduced to an anonymous sign of popularity from total strangers.  ("Hi,  I'm Kim Jong-un, please LIKE me on Facebook!").  Maybe I'm alone in this, but to me, friendship is not something granted to random strangers simply because they wish to claim it, but to those who, through shared experience, through laughter and listening and time, become part of a complex life, on and off a computer.
Yet, this mass means of communication has its advantages, we know more of decisions being made that impact us, that threaten our way of life, even if much of it is twisted by the media.  We have to dig, dig hard for the truth, but at least the words flow mostly free, our view of the world, not just one radio show, or one newspaper dictating how we should think. From the lies, we have to glean the truth, but there are still so many avenues to get to the truth that previously were simply withheld.  There's also the sheer learning of it, so many things at our fingertips to explore, to share.

But in a world where we are constantly chirping and texting, too often,  very little is actually being said, reducing human emotions to punctuations as if somehow a smiley could convey the nuance of a heart.  I look at Dad's letters, then, and his letters now, the degradation of the handwriting a sign, painfully clear, that he is declining, soon to leave me.  But his words are still as sharp as his mind, even as his hand sometimes fails him.

He writes of the family and the "steelhead that got away",  words of humor, of inspiration, of compelling faith. Sheets of paper that over 30 years have charted a course for me through adulthood,  abiding strength still radiating from his descriptions of love and loss, the papers having a weight to them of his life. A weight that will keep me anchored.
He first started writing them when I went off college.   I'd read them on a train, for that is how I got back and forth to my home on the occasional weekend, not being able to afford a car and tuition.  As I traveled, I penned my letters back, my fears, my thanks for Dad's support.   How could I have imagined this world today, where such things are expressed in acronyms and emoticons.   How do you explain what it feels to live, to breathe, to fear, to fly, in exchanges briefer than epitaphs, as personal as commands?

All those years ago,  I'd sit in that car and write my trains of thought,  words flowing in sturdy motion and time, their spaces containing the heavy load of pride and longing,  fear and desire. The train barrels forward in steady progressions as moving clouds fly overhead and shafts of sunlight peer through sliding cars, into their depth. As others transmit through satellites and space, I watch the landscape from the viewpoint of the train. Structures of iron lace, the suddenness of buildings, clouds of morning mist all crossing my line of sight, my muscles straining with the curves through fog-shrouded landscapes, moving with the train, thundering through empty fields of past loss into meadows washed with light.

But now, 30 years later, I am writing these words on a computer, miles away from the one I'd most want to read them, the mailman driving past as I sip my coffee, no longer a troubadour for distant lovers, but simply the carrier of pizza coupons, junk mail, and bills. The computer sits in front of me, framed in the window like a stage, the words in my head now, like the beginning of thunder, as loud as a whisper, and as electric.

There are still paper and pen, solitary objects of unspoken promise, of thoughts that flow, but I do not have them here.  I have this, and whether short words or long, I'm speaking my heart.  As my fingers clatter against keys, the words pick up speed, splaying themselves out along the tracks going forward.  I am back on a train, running into the rain as the cars gain speed, waters cleaning the windows on which I look out on life.  I hurl words into the darkness of an upcoming tunnel and wait for their echo.
 - Brigid

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