Dancing without movement

The red and orange leaves are dripping the last few drops, remnants of an autumn shower that drizzled a bit of cool air over the still warm sidewalks of Alabama.  In the late evening sun, shadows draw sharp contrasts to the shifting rays of orange, dappling the verdant grass of our city park, as the humidity mingles with the song of evening mockingbirds.

It is the end of summer, in that moody, mercurial weather that defines the transition to fall, as if the sky won’t quite give up warmth of summer for the ashen gray dismal dampness of a Southern winter.  In between the bouts of sleep-inducing rain and afternoons that suddenly turn steamingly hot without warning, the evenings are given to shades of perfection, warm enough to shed sweaters and shoes, and cool enough to dance and sing along with the drifting leaves.

It is September, 1999, and in this park, in this town, in this weather, we are having our own summer of love.  We are young, just old enough to be called adults but young enough to play, free of self-consciousness, filled with the exuberance of possibilities.  A new century is a season away, and we are the generation that will welcome the new century with our adulthood.

A time for rites of passage, for experimentation, for the relentless search for self-discovery that raises us from our beds full of expectant wonder tinged with apprehension, this has been, and still is, the summer of road trips, impromptu concerts, and sudden outbursts of poetry. Every day it seems, a van arrives full of unwashed kids and unimaginable stories, or an old station wagon rolls away from the park filled with guitars and hugs and well-wishes, chasing destinations unknown, and always arriving somewhere else entirely.  The possibilities are endless, and none of us can see that some day the choices we are making now will define and contract the possibilities for the future.  It is a merciful blindness, for if we truly understood this we would be bound by our own confusion.

J—- has just emerged from the pond, next to the statue of a lion, and is standing regally before the fountain, staring up at the sky.  He and several others have just emerged from a road trip that began in the late spring, and wandered over much of the continent. Arriving at the park from this journey, he walked directly to the water’s edge, divested himself of shirt and sandals, and slipped into the cool rippling water of the artificial pond created here at the head of a spring which once gave reason for siting a farm that became a town that became the sleepy Southern city in which we were raised, kicking and screaming, to this age of self-exploration.

Now the sun glints off his wet hair and darkly tanned skin, as water and eager questions pool on the sidewalk beneath him.  The kids in the park, dirty and effervescent in this radiant evening, are trying not to crowd him with expectations, but they cannot contain the curiousity that pours from their eyes, unspoken.  For now, though, it is apparent that his need is to bask in the gentle light of home, silent in his thoughts.  As he stares at some point or memory unknown to the rest of us, I can see the process of organizing and analyzing the experiences of this first foray into the complete unknown. His unformed ideas are drifting across his face like clouds wandering across a gentle sky.

There will be plenty of time in the cool days of autumn for stories, for the inevitable tales that will dance from his voice, flickering with the fires of autumn camping trips.

E—- is holding back. She seems wary of leaving the van, and with that tentaive step acknowledging the end of this summer’s adventures.  She sits, hands still on the steering wheel as if the bus is still travelling down interstates and highways, curving through mountain passes, each of which conceals some microcosm of  joy or danger, the mood of the moment changing with every shift in the surrounding environment. Her eyes are closed, and I imagine that behind her pensive mask she is reliving the road.

Amazing Grace

Tonight I was riding through the park downtown, with my head feeling jumbled and confused, in an irritable and self-immolating mood. I rode to the edge of the park, to the place behind Embassy Suites where the old railroad bridge crosses the spring, and stared out over the running water smoking a cigarette and arguing with myself, then turned to ride back towards the square. As I rode under the bridge, a little span linking two parts of the park together with really interesting acoustics beneath, I came upon a woman sitting against the wall with her bike leaned next to her, playing the recorder. I stopped, just to nod and say hello to a fellow cyclist, and without saying anything she began to play amazing grace, soulfully and slowly, the sound rolling against the curved concrete walls. I just stood there, listening, feeling the accompanying words, which resonated deeply this night, as I am feeling wretched and saved again, and nearly came to tears.

When she finished, I said thank you, and she smiled and nodded, then I rode off, suddenly aware of the bright moon and the cool wind and the glistening of the water, thankful for the way little moments of inexplicable small grandeur can rescue me from myself.