Friday, 18 January 2008
By Rabon Saip of Elder Times
There are moments in life we remember because of their impact - precious moments, frightening moments, meaningful moments. The following are three such moments from my younger years.
I was ten years old on VJ Day, 1945, and a truckload of pears turned over near where I lived (Tiburon Wye, Marin County, California). The driver was unhurt. He sat by the side of the road drinking from a pint whiskey bottle and merrily inviting passers-by to help themselves to all the pears they wanted.
A number of cars came slowly driving through, honking horns of victory and crushing the spilled fruit beneath their tires. Standing in the midst of all those pears scattered across the pavement, eating as many as I could, I absorbed the relief at the end of world war. I felt great pride and joy. I was part of the greatest nation on earth.
As I speared a pear with my pocket knife and held it above my head, waving at the honking cars, the part of my being that records history clicked in and I was suddenly aware that I would always, always remember this moment. G.I. Joe had just handed the whole world to the U.S. government on a silver platter, and voices of great joy and optimism filled the air.
When I was thirteen, I ran away from home and rode freight trains. Once, when jumping from the top of one boxcar to the next, like in the movies, I slipped and fell between cars and barely managed to grab hold of a worn metal ladder on the end of the forward car.
From my hips on down, I could feel the suction of air rushing beneath the fast moving train. As my fingers began to slip and I dug them into the metal, my consciousness shifted.
I was suddenly lying on the back porch of my grandparents’ house, years before, watching as my grandmother churned milk in an old wooden churn. The grain pattern in the wood was remarkably clear and detailed, illuminated by the morning sunlight and just inches away from my nose.
At the same time, I was having a conversation with my stepfather and little sister; at the same time, I was playing with the family dog; at the same time I was sitting in school. Endless scenes from my short lifetime began to materialize. And, in spite of their sense of "reality," their vivid individual detail, these things all seemed to be happening simultaneously, as though time were a still pool into which I had been submerged.
Then, as I lay gasping on top of the boxcar, I wondered where I'd been.
Years ago, when I was camping with a boy scout troop in the Sierra, another moment of wonder entered my lifelong album of treasured memories. A group of us had gone off for an overnight trip away from the main camp. I had managed to get off by myself, away from our temporary campsite, to enjoy the wilderness solitude. I had walked for about ten minutes, careful to note the land-marks for my return, when I came upon a sight that spoke directly to my soul.
I had wandered to a spot high above a long and wide canyon, receding away into the distance. Enormous boulders, like flat stepping stones for a race of giants, were staggered but evenly spaced down from where I stood, down into the late afternoon depths of shadow.
Tall sentinel trees, like cathedral pillars on either side of the canyon, suggested an architecture so grand, so colossal, it was far beyond anything that could ever be achieved by man’s desire. And the low orb of the sun, perfectly centered, casting its light through distant trees, formed a stained glass appearance so beautiful, so appropriate, my eyes brimmed with tears.
As I stood there, mesmerized, I experienced a longing, an ache, that was nearly unbearable. And, although I would later come to understand its source in a different way, I knew then exactly what the ache was about. To experience such beauty as I was given in that moment was one thing, but to share it with an intimate other would have made it complete. I was overcome with a strange loneliness.
I had just been initiated into a reality of the human condition that would years later find me in a grassy field with raised fist demanding: "Oh God, did you really have to make us in two parts?"