In my dream, people mill at a fair, trying things they’ve never before done. There’s horseback riding on flashy steeds and archery with brightly fletched arrows.
At the fair’s farthermost edge, wings rest upon the green. Their colors €”kite colors €”catch at me. I cross the field whispering, I’ve always wanted to try this! An attendant helps me strap into the hang-glider. I snap helmet and goggles in place and cast myself to the wind.
Well, it turns out I’m a natural. Within me wakes the Aufklarung of flight, of orientation with the horizon and fearlessness in the face of movement ungrounded. I spin course by stars I cannot see and trust in winds I do not control. Over the green I soar, in accord with a finely drawn yet constantly changing map in my blood. I both follow and make the map as I go.
Suddenly, there’s a wall! I wheel to the right, only to find another, rising hundreds of feet into the air. I turn on a wingtip and circle, but €”another wall! What do they mean?
Looking up, I realize that the odd tint to the sky is the shadow of a vast ceiling. Skylights bubble outward, permitting glimpses of free air, yet it is a ceiling all the same.
I fly within these confines, skillfully using the space, but my condition has been reduced to that of a swallow trapped in a barn. Looking at the skylights, I think, I must get my wings into that blue.
* * * * *
The MRI shows that some conflagration has laid waste to more than a third of Mattea’s brain. Water-filled cysts, like giant blisters, remain where portions of right and left lobes once were. Genetic tests come back normal, and close scrutiny of birth records leads to the conclusion that, while the birth was precipitous, nothing about it could have resulted in destruction of such magnitude.
Antibody screening, however, reveals an abnormally high count of anti-bodies in Mattea’s bloodstream and in mine for cytomegalovirus. I’ve never heard of it; but as it turns out, it’s a common pathogen, found everywhere €”one of the few able to cross the placenta and attack a fetus whose immune system has not yet armed to repel marauders. The reality is staggering: Mattea suffered terrible damage from this organism while in my womb, and I hadn’t a clue. I failed to protect her from something I didn’t even know existed. The doctors’ assertions are severe: €œblind and deaf, € €œquadriplegic, € €œno hope for self-reliance, € €œneeding a host of interventions. € Some of these I know to be untrue, but the business of sorting through it all to figure out what is or what might be is maddening. Where do we go from here?
* * * * *
Deeper into the canyon. Like a tonic, the pollen dispels hesitation. The world rushes through my seven-year fog of diffidence, nearly to the point of overwhelming me, yet my senses, wildly aroused, strive forward.
Ravens’ voices rattle in the cliffs. From time to time, I see a single black bird dip into the wind and sway from rim to rim. Its lazy skimming across a cliff face provokes me.
A canyon wren calls, its song dropping like a pebble down the smooth face of silence. These pebble-notes drop into my soul as if into a pool; ripples of pleasure spread out, then roll back on themselves.
As I walk, a phrase I’ve heard recently leaps to my mind: wilderness interface. This term refers to areas where urban development has crept onto the rough ground of wilderness. Craving relationships with Nature that has receded to areas no longer located near work or shopping, people build among the nearest native wildlife, then commute. Such developments appeal to me, as they do to many others. I mentioned my admiration for one to a friend who works for the U. S. Forest Service.
€œA nice area, € she said. €œBut as a Forest Service employee, I must point out it’s a wilderness interface. The fire hazard is high there and the residents have just one path to safety so far. € She spoke of the fact that the development is thickly wooded, with a single road leading into and out of this tinderbox.
Every year it happens somewhere in the West: wildfire, destroyer of the status quo. Forest, meadow, human flesh, animal flesh, cabin, million-dollar home €”it doesn’t matter. Property rights go up in firestorms, resorts and last resorts reduce to ash. Sometimes we fight such fires, trying to save that to which we feel we have a right €”home. At other times, it’s just too big. We surrender all, risking to trust the new green sparking beneath ashes of incinerated old growth, new green often dependent, in fact, upon these very fires to prepare the ground for burgeoning.
What I feel as I hike through the canyon is like the chemical and muscular fires of childbirth. It happens not because I will it €”though conscious human will leads to points of ignition €”but because, I think, the soul has its own wilderness interface area. There the domesticated new brain meshes with the ancient wild one, and sudden fires ignited by lightning bolts of circumstance €”vicissitudes €”sweep through, burning everything to the ground. Yet always, lying beneath the obvious and expected, old forms stir, ready to lift life to the next level.
Now I run toward the beauty of this place like a beggar to a table spread with shining delights. But what’s here at hand or within sight isn’t enough. And I don’t desire to devour it, but to get across it.
How can I explain this? At this moment I feel the ground I walk spinning with unnamed and uncounted bodies and forces through wide fields of possibilities. The world I have lived in €”a world of senses atrophied by focus upon domestic crises €”falls away. Perspective opens. Stretching into blinding blue, I orient by stars I know are there. And there. And there. In the stirring and shifting of lights I taste momentum and position as if on the tongue but can’t taste both at once. It’s heady, like flying. Well, it is flying €”life rising to its next level. Yes, I remember now: life craves living. This trip is no longer about escaping captivity. Now it’s about getting out.
First published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Spring 2005): 119-129.