Last weekend I took myself back to the woods and retraced Stanley and my 14-year old walks there, ending at the pools. The weather got cool. There was also lots of shooting at a neighbor’s shooting range, a harbinger not just of fall but also of deer-shooting season that begins right after Thanksgiving.
A large grove of very tall pines, just above the path going down to the pools, lord it over the smaller trees. They swooshed in the wind and their needle leaves muttered: “Aren’t you missing somebody? Where’s your companion?”
“What does that mean?” they demanded.
“You know, dead, in the ground.”
They consulted, then got back to me. “Our life is in the ground, in our roots. Our life comes up from deep in the earth.”
“Well, that’s where he is.”
“Too bad,” they said. “He had a big shadow. And he was interested. Sniffed, scratched, chased out the chipmunks that hollow out our trunks, loved to sniff at the tops of our roots.”
“He also peed on them. Not much nourishment there,” I said.
The treetops swooshed and the leaves whirled: “We’re big, we could handle it. You, on the other hand, don’t look like much. You don’t sniff, you don’t dig, you’re not dazzled by the sounds and smells around us. You walk between us like a shadow.”
“Hey, I’m not a dog.”
“You miss the point, human.”
“What’s the point?”
“You humans are not interested. You don’t see us.”
“Of course I see you. You’re the tallest thing in the woods, how can I miss you?”
They couldn’t be bothered to reply, so I went home and thought about it.
Tell me, who among us humans doesn’t want to be seen? Who among us doesn’t want everyone to look deeply into them, see what made them how they are today, read the story, witness the questions, the endless quest and struggles, even the failures?
There are those who hide from the world, hermits and recluses who stay in huts in the pine groves. And there are those who always try to put their best exteriors forward, afraid to reveal anything that smacks of frailty or indecision, afraid to show their real selves. But even they still have a desire to be seen, not to be isolated or alone.
Milan Kundera wrote: “What is unique about the ‘I’ hides itself exactly in what is unimaginable about a person. All we are able to imagine is what makes everyone like everyone else, what people have in common. The individual ‘I’ is what differs from the common stock, that is, what cannot be guessed at or calculated, what must be unveiled, uncovered.”
I go to bed with someone in order to be uncovered. My fantasy candlelight dinner is to sit across the table from someone, have him look into my eyes, and hear him say: “This is the woman I see. I see this about you, and this, and this. I see what has brought you to this moment. You are not perfect; at the same time, there’s no one like you anywhere.”
Am trying to emerge from stinginess. How? By doing my version of sniffing at the roots of something. Reflecting back to someone what he or she is doing, how unique it is, how it captures who they are for me. Being specific, and giving praise. Giving devotion not just to the formless, but also to the formed. Reminding him, her,, and me that if and when they die, that mold will be broken, that life form lost forever, no replica to ever return.