the true love, the deepest, the only joy

Children are our crop, our fields, our earth. They are birds let loose into darkness. They are errors renewed.

~ James Salter, Light Years

The other evening I could not sleep.  It wasn’t typical of other sleepless nights where I lie awake for an hour and eventually fall back to sleep.  I had this sense of alertness like I was meant to be doing something, like I was meant to rise and start the day.  Only it was pitch dark and completely still.  Three o’clock and then four o’clock turning into five and I tossed about as the rest of the house settled in slumber.  On nights like these, I often imagine God is trying to talk to me only it’s so aggravating because I don’t know what to do or whether what I’m hearing is real or just a confused projection of some subconscious will working its way to the surface.  Suddenly I hear a stirring downstairs and then footsteps on the floorboards coming toward my room.  My oldest daughter has had a nightmare and wants to crawl into my bed.  Still clutching her blanket, she squeezes in next to me and we spoon like best friends, her body as long as mine, heavy with fatigue.  She smells my hair and wraps her arms around me, and even though I am turned towards the wall with knees half out of the bed, I reach around to rest my fingertips against her cheek.  We cling to each other despite the discomfort, and I know then I was meant to be awake for the rest of the night so I could remember this love forever.

 

She was forty-seven. Her hair was rich and beautiful, her hands strong. It seemed that all she had known and read, her children, her friends, things which had at one time been disparate, were quiet at last and had found their place within her. A sense of harvest, of abundance, filled her. She had nothing to do and she waited.

They lay in the holy sun which clothed them, the birds floating over their heads, the sand warm on their ankles, the backs of their legs.  She, too, like Marcel-Maas had arrived. She had arrived at last. A voice of stillness had spoken to her. Like the voice of God, she did not know its source, she only knew she was bidden, which was to taste everything, to see everything with one long, final glance. A calm had come over her, the calm of a great journey ended.

Read to me, she would ask.

In the tall brown grass of the dunes, a pagan couch that overlooked the sea, she sat clasping her knees and listening while Franca read . . .  It was Troyat’s life of Tolstoy, a book like the Bible, so rich in events, in sorrow, in partings, so filled with struggle that strength welled up on every page. The chapters became one’s flesh, one’s own being: the trials washed one clean.  Warm, sheltered from the wind, she listened as Franca’s clear voice described the landscape of Russia, on and on, grew weary at last and stopped. They lay in silence, like lionesses in the dry grass, powerful, sated.

Of them all, it was the true love. Of them all, it was the best. That other, that sumptuous love which made one drunk, which one longed for, envied, believed in, that was not life. It was what life was seeking; it was a suspension of life. But to be close to a child, for whom one spent everything, whose life was protected and nourished by ones own, to have that child beside one, at peace, was the real, the deepest, the only joy. ~ James Salter, Light Years

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