Ned wakes up with a wheeze and a cough; I go to bed with the same. I’m forever cleaning dust, wiping it away, sucking it up. I hear that we’re dust, too, somehow. Benj used to say that dust was skin cells and the Bible agrees. So many actions in our lives are these small repetitive movements, of living, dirtying, cleaning, renewal. Movements and moments of tiny living, tinier dying.
This does not depress me right now, though. The other day I thought of the phrase “Sparks in the darkness,” from the James Taylor song There We Are:
There we are,
sparks in the darkness,
speaking of our love,
burning down forever and forever.
This song has particularly sweet meaning to me because this was one of the first songs Ned shared with me when we were first almost in love. I didn’t like James Taylor back then, but once I heard that song, I did. The lyrics are simple, innocent; his voice, just plain James, unaffected. He reminded me so much of Ned, that was (is) Ned’s essence to me. I’d never met anyone so pure, so still, so sure. I was consumed by a soul-squeezing, breathless love almost as soon as we met, that just grew more intense as we remained friends only — his request. For the better part of a year, I hung back, my brain screaming, “Why? Why? Why can’t he love me?” Until finally I let go of it. One spring day as we went our separate ways — he to 1920 Commons dining hall, I to class, I thought, exhaling deeply, “Okay. If that’s what it has to be, I’ll take it. I love him no matter what, that’s all there is to it.”
Just like that, everything changed. Just two days later (I think), he became my boyfriend.
That was thirty years ago. It’s not just the years that have changed us, it is everything. These days so many of the couples I know are just barely together anymore. There’s not that strong a line between divorce and just kinda staying married. I think that I have not really understood that, not really known about that, until recently, when the stress in our life pushed upward to a whole new level, and I became very very sad. The uncertainty about Nat just weighed on me, pulling at my heart, making me hurt inside all the time. I kept thinking back to a different period in my life, when I felt like I had it all. This, surprisingly, was not when I was a young woman newly in love. The had-it-all time was more recent than that, around the time my first book came out.
I went away for one night, all the way to New Jersey, to my sister Laura. She’d heard a few words out of me on the phone and she said, “You need to come here.” So I did. She fixed me up. I slept in her guest bed. The thing is, she has five cats and I’m highly allergic. I didn’t care. I didn’t care if I wouldn’t sleep all night, I had to be there. Laura, being a doctor, had allergy stuff for me and so it worked out. I woke up in air dusty with cat dander but I was okay.
Last night Ned and I went together to drop Nat off at social group, because we figured we could catch a little dinner out during the time he was gone. Because we were early, we sat in the dark of the car together waiting for people to arrive. A young mom pulled up and and got out to pick up her child and I thought of the complicatedness of her life, this little task, all the intricate parts that made up this little task: the car and its own engineering and troubles, locking the car and what that implies, being unconscious of all that as she rushes in to get her little girl. Maybe not even thinking about her little girl because she was thinking that there was dinner that still had to be made, for the family. Maybe her husband was a pain in the ass and never helped.
I thought of our busy-ness. I said to Ned, “We all do this, we all think we are so important, every little thing is so important, yet we will all be gone one day. And that’s really the way it is. Everyone always thinks that their own bits of their life are so important. It’s what we do. It’s what humans do. Every animal does his thing; humans create intricate lives. But still we are only a tiny tiny part of all the others before and after us. Sparks in the darkness, remember?” He did.
It made me feel good, like I was part of something, even if I am ultimately just dust, part of the mass that makes up the universe. I felt lucky to be one of the living doing my little thing, right now.