Monday, September 7, 2015

Magic Hat 09.07.15


The Chinese think of time backwards, a stranger on the train told me recently-- you're standing with your back to the future because you cannot see it, looking back on everything behind you. But what is the purpose of looking back at everything, I wonder in response, if it's just going to cause pain?

I wonder but say nothing, I have caught only the distinct tail end of summer and with this I remember in particular a 9 year old girl by the name of Marcia, who I had the privilege of taking care of this past summer at camp. At the end of summer, she looks at me with eyes that are not full of tears, but of a joyousness that reminds me of the first time that we met.

We know nothing about each other— but this does not hinder her from expressing her openness and love to those around her, a quality that I find to be astonishingly rare in adults, let alone in children. In the beginning I know nothing about her, aside from the fact that we have both been born in Russia— I regard this with a slight, exaggerated interest. Like myself, she has come here when she was 5 years old. In this we are the same, but Marcia— as I gradually piece together, during those first weeks before her mother visits— is an adopted child. 

Soon the bed in which she used to sleep is empty, and the entire bunk is something that has been left behind— an empty place, our final assignment as counselors in the summer of '15. Her absence is marked by a hollow heartache, but soon I recognize the pain to be not one of sadness but of being full of all the beauty that she, among others, has managed to teach me during the 9 short weeks in which I've had the privilege of knowing her.

When she leaves, there are no tears to be be dabbed away with the sleeve of my shirt-- in front of her parents she is too old, too mature for all that. I miss you already, she tells me, matter-of-factly, and wraps her arms around my neck with a surprising strength while her parents look on.

She has already cried the night before, and knows now that it will do the summer no justice. She has done this and much more out of sight of her parents, and it is hard to believe she is leaving-- by the end of the summer, I have caught her writing a story about a girl whose super power is to make all those around her happy. As each day passes, I realize more and more that this is becoming her autobiography.

I had thought of it, until now, as a downfall to be the observer while others are busy doing all they can to express themselves-- perhaps I had been searching for what I needed in the wrong place, I would remind myself daily, as my mind grew numb to the same outdated reassurances.

When Marcia first tells me of the days at the orphanage, we are sitting and drawing together, pictures of dogs and lawns and rainbows; and she tells me horrible things about her treatment in the Russian orphanage, speaks about it with such an ease that part of me wonders and hopes that is she is fibbing. Marcia has a wonderful imagination, I reason-- blindly wishing for the best. How is it she can remain cheerful, I wonder, in the face of such a past? By the time she is finished, I still hope dearly that she is making up her stories, but the hope has nearly dwindled. 

But she has been shown that miracles do happen. She tells her story to everyone, as a result, and it is in the tone of her voice, in her sincerity and sassiness and her infectious laugh and smile;  the degree to which she is alive. She hasn’t got a lot but she can sure use it and, as a result, she is so fully alive— she is the epitome of the word “despite.”

The hope that she is making up the story is nearly gone, now, and remains only because she is quite the storyteller-- I recognize the sparkle in her eye, and glee in her voice which is coming simply from the act telling others her story and having them partake in the writing of a new history. She takes great pleasure in reaching others, and perhaps is already beginning to catch on to the way her own story encourages others to share theirs. It is an element I dimly understand, and a pleasure I have long denied myself and which I am starting to recall again. 

When did I become so adverse to storytelling? The space in which she used to be is a blank, an inverse lung empty of air, a vacuum in which the mind floats free of the body. It is nothing like the embrace of her arms around my neck and the specificity of her laugh as she jumps me. When I see that she has written something in pen on the posts of the bunk bed where she has slept in the same large, lopsided handwriting as I had glimpsed in the notepad Marcia was here, sessions 2, 3, and — I hesitate to take a photograph, as we are supposed to, or even to look too long at the place where I know it is written.

It is as though I am afraid to ruin the genuineness of the moment— and suspect that, in the act of trying to take it into the future with me, of preserving it by artificial means, it would become too instantly fabricated and would desecrate the moment’s intrinsic value. Trying to allow the simplicity of the moment to last for as long as possible, I am wary of the idea that to resist it's absorption into the amnesia of the past, to treat it as a moment more special than another, would be to cheat it of it's disappearance into the sea of memories that is ahead of me-- but the true reason is that I am afraid it will into a memory too painful to hold, to difficult to carry long enough to share with others.

Every three weeks on visiting day, when I speak to her mother, she relives her daughter’s horror in the preset tense; over and over again she tells me her daughter's story as though she was there to see it. I am told of the experience of adoption down to every single detail, but what strikes me more is the way it is told -- with harrowed eyes and lowered voice she tells me of the terrifying taxi rides, of the conditions of the orphanage, as though she has lived it herself. It is as though her daughter’s near death experiences highlight very sharply the beauty of simple things, which suddenly appear before her as she is done speaking-- as she is fulfilled by the act of sharing this experience with another person, even if the other may not feel it quite as deeply. It is as though the act of clutching another heart and pressing it to her own, telling this story, involuntarily raises her awareness of her own life. She is haunted and possessed by it, by her daughter’s story and a life that is not even her own; and I wonder what kind of love must possess someone to do this, to experience so deep an empathy that it invigorates the storyteller so fully that it allows her to feel life again beneath her fingertips, in reach and able to be touched again, if not grasped, if not held and carried in the nook of the arm like a child.

Marcia has three brothers, all of whom care about her very deeply. She looks nothing like them but they look nothing like their mother, who shares a deep resemblance to Marcia-- they both have the same dark eyes and black hair, differing only in age and expression. One of the two is certain, and the other yearning. One is still a child; one alone can singlehandedly wrap her arms around the entire world, around each moment that comes at her, and can also simultaneously have arms wrapped around her. Though they are not blood relatives, mother and daughter share a connection between them that is beyond those which can be easily explained. By the third week, after her mother visits, I know so much of her life story that it is probably more of it than Marcia herself remembers.

I know that the Russian officials at the orphanage mentioned to her new mother, upon dismissing Marcia to her new mother, that this little girl had won the lottery. To which her mother replied, under her breath, recalling— who won the lottery, really?

Time goes backwards, now, with the utmost certainty— there is nothing as certain as the past, told from the point of view of the future. The future has it's birthplace in your mind, a future which it is your responsibility to then express to the exterior world. At the end of summer, I am reminded that the junior lodges in which I had lived for those long weeks used to be the carcass of the old music building, it's multitude of rafters and high ceiling, the large chamber, unfit for acoustics; suddenly, all recovers it's potential for meaning. The haunting sounds of previous concerts resonate within it-- I have stayed there, by the window, for months-- and only now think of the way things would have been different if I had been there in the previous generation. I try on the possibility like a garment, shift around the perspective in my head-- it is no longer a longing, but a sincere consideration of a perspective that is not mine. I imagine having been there, when the entire division had no walls to separate the three different lodges-- when the whole building was alive with sound that was more than the laughter of children. I wonder where I would have been in relation to this other music; in the corner of the room, where I had slept by the window, where a bird had once flown in frantically, knocking over my things, unheeding the separations between of the bunk beds and the rafters. Now the lodge is like a bare tree in the winter, an empty house ready to be filled with music again.

Is there a chance that we were to be the ones to let our voices sound across the thin air? To let our voices branch across it’s emptiness, still dark, so that the others may begin, so that collective birdsong could become the broadening morning? Perhaps it was the birds which caused the morning to arrive— or the morning which caused the birdsong. What is the use of arguing, anyway, when something happened simultaneously? Is this not the act which is called singing? I recall all those who have been kind or unkind with love, and make sure that no voice is kept silent. 

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