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A Really Good Audience

Posted Nov 03 2008 9:00pm
The other morning I woke to the sound of someone sawing wood. It went on and on, back and forth, zzzh-zzzzh, zzzh-zzzzh.

"Why is someone sawing wood?" I asked my boyfriend.

"Well," he reflected. "Or scraping."

Ohhh. It's been such a warm, dry winter I'd actually managed to forget about the fact of snow and ice. I lifted the shade. Sure enough, the neighborhood glistened with a muddled coating of both. And Sid, the octogenarian across the street, was out doing his sidewalk.

Sid does his sidewalk daily, no matter what. According to the season he sweeps it, rakes it, hoses it, shovels. One of these days I am sure I will look out the window to see him scrubbing it lovingly with an old toothbrush. And his hedges. He is assiduous. No more than two or three days ever seem to pass between prunings. His zestful way with a pair of shears calls to mind an amalgam of Edward Scissorhands and Sweeney Todd.

And while I am not at all sure that the hedges thrive on his devotions (in fact they are the scantiest, most emaciated specimens I have ever seen), I am moved by them, and him, by his zest and patience, his monk-like discipline - the way he's drawn to be outside, doing things with his body, touching the things of this world with his two hands - which seems to translate into a humble and emphatic affinity for life.

I remember reading an essay once by Annie Dillard in which she says something to the effect that our basic job as people is to be a really good audience for the amazing eternal show that's going on all around us.

I've always assumed by this she meant each of us should strive to be an audience member who attends quietly, but not passively; one who will clap and laugh and shout and boo when such reactions are called for; and especially, one who is willing to be moved - moved emotionally, moved to thought, and moved to action - by the events onstage.

Listening to Sid's early morning scraping noises could not fail to put me in mind of my mother, who loves, loves shoveling snow. In all seriousness, I bet it would make her top ten list of things she loves. Maybe her top five.

The photograph above is of her, shoveling snow last winter. My father, who does not love shoveling snow, took the picture from the front porch. She had cancer then, but no one knew it, any more than you could know it from looking at this picture. One thing I can say, looking at this picture, is that it shows her in heaven, by which I mean present and grateful and attending with every fiber of her being to the amazing eternal show.
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