Monday, September 30, 2013

Time & Meaning

I recently heard an interview on NPR of a brain surgeon who treats young children who have brain cancer. He is frequently in the position of having to inform parents that their children are going to die. He described the most touching parenting scene he has ever seen. One day, after telling a mother and father that their child was about to die, he went up to the child's hospital room to see how the parents were coping. What he saw was a child in bed waiting expectantly for her parents to draw back the curtain to reveal their faces and exclaim, "See! This is what it will be like when you die. You will be on the other side of the curtain but we'll still be here! Just like this!"

And the point of the story was that a life, no matter how long or how short, is still a complete life. The point at which it ends doesn't determine its fullness. It is still something beautiful.

I think we become confused when we value things in relationship to time. I work in a profession where we charge by the hour, and I will tell you that my fleeting moments of insight into the cases I'm constructing are very short-lived and yet they make the case. They are like a spark thrown from the flint of my efforts that set the whole thing ablaze. To charge hourly for my labors ignores the only piece that matters- the piece that exists apart from time.

We are forever trying to harness the value of human experience to time, and we are forever failing. Whatever time is, it bears no direct relationship to meaning. Things that are meaningful exist outside of time, make time irrelevant.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Light Inescapable

Light, inescapable, bathes the tall faces
Of buildings whose ground floors still mingle
With shadows and footfalls and breaths
That have just become visible this time of day.

This may be the one morning all year
That we feel the earth tilt on its axis
And see- perhaps down an alleyway
Drowned in the shadows-

The tunnel of years we collapse
In our memories down to their bones,
To the way the light fell
In its journey of angles to darkness.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A New Ending

I remember seeing the two of them walking down Elmwood Ave. toward me, hand in hand, and the way the smiles grew on their faces as they approached. I was working as a paralegal at an immigration law firm at the time and was working on his application for permanent residency as the spouse of a US citizen. They asked me to come to their house, down the street, to watch a movie with them. They gave me a tour and he showed me the new kitchen floor they had just put down. We ate popcorn and watched Waking Life and chatted through the whole movie about the philosophical concepts it raised. I barely knew them but they brought me in; it was as if their love grew to encompass me for an evening and I felt a sense of belonging.

I held on to that sense in the coming months as I worked on his case. His ex-wife, also a US citizen, had accused him of immigration marriage fraud, and he was barred from ever becoming a permanent resident until we proved otherwise. I worked closely with the attorney on the case to discover everything I could about his history, and ultimately was responsible to write his story. It was a labor of love. There was a way of viewing the facts that was unfavorable to him, but I had felt the genuineness of his present marriage and didn't believe him capable of committing fraud. And so it became easy for me to see his version of events and how they were believable. Ultimately, he became a permanent resident.

Only this past summer did I find out that he was charged in another state with a pretty heinous crime. From the facts available in the news, it seems pretty obvious that he's guilty. I don't know that there is any other way of looking at these allegations. He is in jail awaiting trial and probably will not be free for decades.

I have long since moved out of the city and into the suburbs, but I was in the Elmwood village recently, walking alone down the street as I had so many years ago when I met them. I could see their ghosts mingled in the crowd with their simple joy. I felt the weight of what could have been his life. I wish I could write a new ending.