Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"...and the ghost again possessed me."

There are lessons in life that we learn.  Hard lessons.  Whenever these lessons rear their ugly head again, I think of these words from Norman Maclean (a wonderful but underappreciated author):
[...] sometimes saving one's life depends entirely upon taking one's life in one's own hands and that at other times one's life and the lives of others must be put entirely into the hands of one boss--old lessons that throughout time have to be learned and relearned, only to be forgotten again.*
This has been a week of learning, and forgetting, and relearning.  I have reread books that I have not read in years.  I have rewatched movies that I had nearly forgotten.  And in the rereading, and rewatching, I have found some answers (or perhaps I am simply recalling them), and with the answers I find more peace...

The book has been on my mind for a while, so I went and got it off my shelf.  The copy is well worn and well loved.  I was young when I bought the book.  I was young, and I loved to read, and somehow I heard of the book and I simply had to have it.  I had to special order the book from our local book store, because it was not a book they routinely carried.  The book made it into my hands on November 11, 1993.  (I know this because, at that age, I had a habit of writing the date which I acquired a book inside the cover.)  The book was "Young Men and Fire" by Norman Maclean

Norman Maclean

The book looked back on the Mann Gulch fire on August 5, 1949, but it spoke to me even then...and it speaks to me even more so now.  Even then, in my early twenties, I knew the words were not just beautiful, but wise.  I underlined passages and dog earred pages.  When I flip through the book now, the words still hold the same urgency:

I find in trying to record the tragedy of a good many characters who were young and much alike that a few remained distant from me and anonymous and were always dead--only some came close to me and asked me to visit their crosses when I returned to Mann Gulch and to try to be of some comfort to them.

Strange, how some people--long gone--reach out to us.  How words on the page can transcend time and distance and create a connection across the ages.  How words, once read, can burn into our soul.  How dreams, once dreamt, can haunt us long after we awaken.

I want to write.  Not just to write, mind you, but to write words worthy of being underlined...worthy of a dog-earred page. 

The evidence, then, is that at the very end beyond thought and beyond fear and beyond even self-compassion and divine bewilderment there remains some firm intention to continue doing forever and ever what we last hoped to do on earth.
These words, in particular, carved themselves in my mind.  They brought to mind Sisyphus and the agony of of his eternal task--the completion of which goes forever unrealized.  For years this idea nagged at me...tormented me.  But now, so many years after I first read those words, I wonder:  Maybe, instead of an unresolved task, it refers to continuing to strive for our goals...defying time and death to finally realize our heart's desire.

Perhaps, as T. S. Eliot penned,  "That is not it at all, That is not what I meant, at all."  But this new interpretation gives me hope; I think I will hold onto that for a while. 

So I will try to move beyond my fears...to continue doing what I hope to do on this earth.   "I had once seen a ghost, and the ghost again possessed me."

Fear.  Such a strange thing.  Nearly as impalpable as time itself.

[...] fear being only partly something that makes us run away--at times, at least, it is something that makes us come back again and stare at what made us run.
*All quotes herein are from "Young Mean and Fire," by Norman Maclean.