Friday, April 6, 2012

The Unbearable Weight of Nothing

I thought I had many years to
prepare for your major questions:

Where do babies come from?
What is the meaning of life?
Dad, may I use the car tonight?

But at four years old you asked this:

Are adults scared of anything?

And I had no answer.

At the middle school talent show, the
young girl stood on stage,
quiet and shyly poised. When the
emcee announced her song, we gasped.
“If I Die Young,” she said, by
The Band Perry, the
poignant ache of lyrics we all knew
sung by a girl too young to appreciate
our fears. We applauded loudly when
she finished, raised up by her a cappella
rendition, relieved to think, finally,
it was only a song.

Are adults scared of anything?

The house stood empty as the
day we first moved in, sunlight
pouring through bare windows, the
scattered dust of boxes and memories
tangible as our shared fear. With nothing but
our possessions in hand, the future was
exposed as truly unknowable as it is;
our greatest vulnerability revealed as the
chance merely to influence probabilities,
weak at that. Stripped down,
bare as the empty house,
this is all we are, we thought,
and it was an unexpected relief.

Adults are scared of almost anything, I thought.

Our childhood fears evolve from imagined
beasts and abandonment anxieties
to the usual cast of unbearable realities.
At first fear is imagined, then
learned; the deaths of loved ones,
sordid acts of violence, ultimately
reducible to simply loss, plain loss.
Buddha intoned that life is suffering,
that we might overcome such pain by
enlightened detachment, but for all his
later incarnations we remain
simple peasants of peculiar glory.

Are adults scared of anything?
Yes, string bean, we are.
But we endure because of love.

c. 2012, by Martin A. Bartels (working draft)
part of my new collection, “Unlanguage”

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