A Memory: The Silence of Darkness

A Memory: The Silence of Darkness

It was a cold northeastern Pennsylvania night. I don’t recall the day of the week, or even the year, but the season was tucked into that idiom wrongly called, the dead of winter. There’s nothing dead about it.

I was in my teens and still living with my parents. It was late night and snow had covered the ground one day in the early nineteen-sixties. While night, the reflections from the snow allowed me to see everything, although it looked like a blue-tinted black and white photograph.

While all years of my life were important, those teen years are prominent memories. I still recall how I felt then, but now it’s hard to describe. I’ll never feel like that again. The wonderful adjectives of youth applied to me: vital, vigorous, and energetic; yet so did lazy, horny, rebellious, and impulsive. I would not say pensive or thoughtful. Yet, there was that one night.

 

As I walked through deep snow above my ankles, a powdery white mattress was laid out around me in all directions. The white snow was tinted cobalt blue by the moon-lit night sky. None of the snow was marked by footsteps or car tires. The blanket was pristine. The cemetery across the street was a charming and peaceful sight. I loved the sight of the snow, the reflection of street lights with a wintery halo, the contrast of red brick buildings with lines of white where snow landed. Even boarded-up windows seemed fitting to this natural artistic sight. What I saw made me feel good. I was happy, but thoughtful about what I saw.

If anyone saw me, they might assume I was lonely. I was not. Never. While my teen years presented me with daily challenges, feeling lonely wasn’t one of them. Even back then, I treasured my alone time. I have searched for more nights like that one, but I will never discover such a night again. Nature’s art is often so fleeting.

I may have been troubled by any one of the issues I thought life changing. Today, I recall few of those traumatic teeny-bopper problems. But, I can still visualize the night. While I have long since been free of my adolescent burdens, I remember. I didn’t feel cold. I felt both my pending freedom and a connectedness to my surrounding, to the night, and to the silence. And to the darkness, the light, the snow, and a sweet silence only night offers.

I was wearing plain old brown leather oxford shoes and white socks. My pants were a bit too short and much too snug: a style of the times. Adults thought my hair too long. It was a little greasy, and it hung down to cover part of my face. I didn’t wear a hat. My outer layer was a hand-me-down, black, Navy-surplus pea coat – unbuttoned and hanging open. The collar was up.

As I picture that night, I feel my experience. That not-to-be-forgotten night was like a photograph taken with my eyes and ears, sensed with my tongue’s taste buds. I could smell the clean crisp aroma of the night air. It is imprinted in my memory: a serene moment, fifty-some years ago. A semi-normal teenager, I realized that something remarkable was happening around me. I liked it and I wanted to share it with you.

The day’s white powder parted like a soft curtain as my feet gently led me forward. Sidewalks, streets, and any surfaces open to the sky were topped with the blueish flakes. No cars passed. The plows would not be out until early next morning.

Months before this night, trees had lost their leaves. Now, white fluff-covered bare branches stretched skyward like arms reaching to catch descending flakes. Evergreens bore much thicker and fuller sparkling white coats over their needles, a weight they endured with their strong, flexible, down-sloping boughs. I sensed a soft chill as a gentle breeze brushed the powder from trees onto me.

As snow clouds passed, I saw the clear night sky of spiritual proportions. A nearly-full moon illuminated the earth with light reflected upward by snow. Even with the light in the sky, billions of stars floated above me, while below them the sheen of fresh powder glistened. I was so young, yet I intuited the unimaginable enormity of what was around me. I could sense the sheer winter-night beauty of it all. I felt comfort in that notable moment. The night and the silence were etching a memory no artist or photographer could duplicate.

The silence was purposeful and reasoned. A quiet so intense the night air was a sharp penetrating stillness that muted other sounds. All was perfectly still. No movement, not even a hush. It was an absolute quiet: a silence so powerful I imagined intense peacefulness within me.

I stopped. Didn’t move for a long time. I listened for sounds of anything, silent sounds. I heard nothing but silence itself. Very still, breathing shallow, listening intently to what was the most peaceful moment of my life as my personal Sounds of Silence came from nature. I was with my friend Darkness, where I felt destined to be. I experienced sensual pleasure in the absolute beauty of that cold winter night.

I saw silence in the stillness as nothing moved. The world had stopped. I tasted tranquility as the clear, dry night-air slid over my tongue. As the still coolness flowed into my nose with its chilled crisp fragrance, I smelled a fresh aroma only nature could provide to a young mind open to such images. I have aged. But, this memory remains set in the mind of a teenage boy.

Slowly, I started to walk a bit farther. Then stopped again. I knew this was exceptional. Then I walked more, and I stopped again. I do not recall walking away or going home. The memory leaves me standing there, taking it in.

I didn’t know that this memory would be discovered and retrieved by my muse over half a century later. Said she, “Up now, Lad. And write in yer book, before ‘tis lost again in the disorganized gaps of your mind.”

If you have no time for the video now, please come back to watch it. It’s worth it.

Live in the present, but look both ways,
to the past for who you were, and to the future for who you’ll be.
Mind the gaps, but fill in where you can.

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Quoting Pat Conroy

Quoting Pat Conroy

I’ve been reading more Pat Conroy. I continue to be impressed with his ability to tell the story and to talk about his life and the lives of others entwined with his. Mostly, I treasure and envy his awesome craft of writing, his vocabulary, and how smooth it flows as I read. I have no right to judge the writing of anyone, much less a man with such a gift.

What I feel as I read his words is not so much judging (as in “love it”). It is about me and my experiences, feelings, and thoughts about a man who was born less than one year before I was; who grew up when I did, but under very different circumstances, and who seems to have lived a life that I oddly, but resonantly, relate to in many twisted and indirect ways. Autobiographical fiction; strangely, I get it.

Except for graphics, the following quotes taken from his writings are my notes. Any error is mine. This was me stopping the flow of my reading to write down Pat’s words. Cuz, picture it, me saying “wow” while reading and then grabbing my notebook.

I have been using Public Library e-books lately, so I cannot highlight as with paper books or on my Kindle app. Yet, writing them down in my notebook may be better for increased mental indelibility and the likelihood of my sharing.

I grouped these by category and added my comments. I realize that context is lost by such grab-and-go’s, but I like them. The photos and memes are not my work, except to click “copy as.”

About writing, reading, and writers

“Fear is the major cargo that American writers must stow away when the writing life calls them into its carefully chosen ranks.” (Agree. I do. I must.)

“…nothing is more natural in his (Tolstoy) world than the mysterious and necessary attraction of men and women…their attraction for each other and impending marriage seems part of the design of the Universe, as right as the stars that make up the belt of Orion.” (Pat read War and Peace three times.)

“Teach me how to die.” (This is one of those phrases when I think, “I wonder what he meant?” Context!)

“I want to always be writing the book I was born to write.” (Exactly.)

“But I’m speaking of all the yesterdays that will not come again.” (Old guys say cool shit like that.)

“…that I get to live in the Old New York Book Shop on the night of a book party.” (This was Pat’s idea of heaven after he died. That book store is no longer there, but it was a big deal to him. Do you have a place like that? A memory so profound and pleasurable that it would do for a permanent state in an afterlife?)

“Nothing is more difficult to overcome than a childhood of privilege….” (Or abusive parents.)

“My childhood taught me everything I needed to know about the dangers of love….” (I intend to use this when I write more on the paradox of love.)

“We got some things right.” (About writing, the publishing writing world, and himself.)

Regarding Norman Berg, Pat’s friend and book rep., “He was a hard man who dismissed fools without conscience or regret…. He was an easy man to dismiss, and a hard one to love.”

“Know everything. Feel everything. That’s your job as a writer.” (Said Norman Berg to Pat, quoted by Pat.)

“The tribe is contentious, the breed dangerous.” (Regards writers and why he claimed to have few friends among them. Pat Conroy had many friends, and many of them were writers. I don’t really know enough writers to have an opinion, but the ones I know, while seemingly neither contentious or dangerous; most are unapologetically opinionated. Norm Berg’s job description?)

“The world of writers was a snake hole, a circle of hell – a rat’s nest and a whirlpool and a dilemma – not just a world.” (Pat was opinionated. I wonder how he felt about French writers? See is time in Paris, below.)

Pat’s youth and college days

“Two pillars of authority, patriarchal influences shaped my childhood. Dad and the Catholic Church. Punishment of anarchy. Contempt for anyone different.” (Mine, too.)

“There was an amazingly limitless capacity for ruthlessness at the heart of the family of man.” (Regards all of life, but learned from the plebe system. This is from The Lords of Discipline.)

“What will this make of me? A man, or a monster?” (Regards surviving his freshman year in college)

“A prize that exacted an awesome tithe of spirit from those who loved it.” (The Lords of Discipline)

“It was sublimation and surrender to the efficacy of denial.” (Pat had something specific in mind, but I can apply this to so many times in my life.)

“The history we are born into always seems natural when we are young, but it seems misshapen and grotesque as the winter years come upon us.” (I have had similar thoughts, but my experiences were a little less profound.)

New words for me

Three of many words I learned and liked reading Conroy: décolletage, oleaginous, and unctuous. (I am smiling and could go on and on and…)

His time in Paris

“Parisians and polar icecaps have a lot in common except that polar icecaps are warmer to strangers.”

“France is the only country in the world where friendliness is one of the seven deadly sins.”

(To be fair, Pat loved his time in France and cherished the memories. But why deny the French acting so “frenchly”?)

 

In our reading life, we must look both ways.
In writing, mind the damn gaps.

Am I Too Old?

I see my reality very differently

Am I too old?

How old is old enough?
am I too old to feel young?
am I too old to run and hide?
am I too old to care?

How old is old enough?
am I too old to want to know?
am I too old to love someone?
am I too old to care?

How old is old enough?
am I too old to feel you near?
am I too old to call you babe?
am I too old to care?

How old is old enough?
am I too old to dance with you?
am I too old to share your passion?
am I too old to care?

I am not yet old enough,
so dance me to end of time.
Still I see the fairies dance,
for your love is always mine.

by bill reynolds 7/5/2017

To live long and prosper, look both ways and mind the gaps.

Forever Young!

a prayer

***

O Sweet Zepher

O sweet pacific Zepher of pleasure,
overcome and make everything better.
Thru my heart send cleansing measures;
touch my face, unsettle my hair, water my eyes;
refresh all things as you pass.

Bring rain to silence my mournful cries.
Wash my body, brush my thighs,
blow clear my eyes that my mind might see,
this imprisoned heart now set free.

Take away dirt and dinge from the air.
Sweep foul poisons drifting there
left by souls seeming not to care.
Send your sweeping wind of rebirth
into the vile sky polluted by human greed,
now cleaned by your blessing of me in need.

With your breath of god, remove this stillness
that saps life from creatures on earth we crave.
Replace placid with salty moist freshness.

Revive all of me with your ocean scent,
sooth my yearning for pleasures spent,
revive my fondness for life on earth.
Raise my desire for nature’s worth.
Bring to me your refreshing pleasure
into my dead soul, sweet pacific Zephyr.

by Bill Reynolds 6/21/2017

***

Let the sweet breeze of a zephyr touch you. Face the wind, then turn and enjoy life.
Feel the air as you look both ways and mind the gaps.

Thirst for Alone

 

I want out to be alone.
Away from all people,
I’m called into the night.

I want to be alone.
To ponder, I don’t know what,
To think about my thoughts.

I need time alone.
To gather something in me,
To stand and sit, and to rest.

I need to be alone.
To feel my loneliness,
To look inside me, still and alone.

I want to feel so alone.
To feel something in me,
To feel something leave me.

Into the dark night – alone.
Pointless, aimless, tranquil,
To find nothing important.

I feel the tug. To hear the call
The insignificant calm of night.
Give me my true loneliness.

—La soif by Bill Reynolds 6/3/2017

***

Can’t you see at night?
Don’t look both ways into SoC poems.
Just see stars. Feel. Release. No gaps.

prisoner

I have not sinned
against a god nor man
nor woman
harmed no beast
—cared for Mother

why do I suffer
these sins of others
the revenge of Man
sins against me
—why am I prisoner here

admit they say and
confess – to what
I did no wrong
I harmed no one
—and yet I’m here

yet I am punished
forced – I sit alone, told to
feel some shame and
remorse and
—guilt for my breath

my dignity
my humanity
they took all from me and
I suffer – I do – I am alone in
—my pain without sympathy

why am I punished
made less than
human – no son of god
son of man
—fuck it all – fuck them all

try harder they say
love this god they pray
why must I see their way
It’s their way I’ll suffer
—the goodness of Death

prisoner by bill reynolds. 5/31/17

Look around. Mind what you see.

Mother’s Happiness

I know little of what my parents thought about any deep subject such as a philosophy of life or their world view. I managed no more than hints or rare tidbits. Regarding my father, I remember too much of the bad and little of the good. The opposite is true of my mother.

I remember more in Mom’s case, and most of it good. The few bad memories were usually not her doing. Mom may have had her share of bad days, but I can’t remember one that was her fault.

My clearest memories are the pleasant ones about our overall relationship. We were close. Not in the best of friends sense you may hear some parents brag about. Mom was my parent – not my friend.

As a teenager or young adult, I would have railed against being called a “momma’s boy.” I now look back on our relationship with pride.

My mother protected me, mostly from Dad, but also from a few other things. Oddly, not from bullies. If I developed an early skill in dealing with them, it was avoidance. Later in life, my approach was more direct. Conversely, she liked telling people how she often broke blood vessels in her hands spanking me. I don’t recall any of that.

She and I argued our share. I was a momma’s boy – not a good or obedient boy. There were times when I was disappointed in her for not coming to my aid. Looking back, I now realize how right she was.

When she did help me, she did it her way. She helped me in a manner that permitted me the dignity of learning difficult lessons the hard way – which was apparently my preference. When she felt like I needed to learn a painful lesson, she gave me the space I needed. I now realize how difficult that must have been for her. My mother’s love for me, and mine for her were never in question.

When Dad’s health was declining and she felt like she needed to help him, she postponed action on the lump in her breast. After his death, she moved on to her own health care. Everything she did during the period of that treatment, she did with the occasional assistance of her sister. My sister and I lived too far away to be of much help.

While Mom was a long-term breast cancer survivor, the invasive disease brought on her death only after she decided to end most of the treatment.

But years before that, the spot on her lung had been removed and she was recuperating in the hospital the day my flight from Texas arrived in Pennsylvania. Walking down the hospital hallway, the sounds and smells were unique. I would know where I was had I been awakened blind.

As I walked down the hall following the directions I’d been given, I knew I would take the next right into another hall, then right again into her room. I anticipated walking in and finding her groggy and sore from the surgery. I envisioned her smiling up at me, weak and tired. I turned the corner.

The window at the end of that hall looked down on the hospital’s parking lot. Its sill of hard tile was about a foot deep. My recovering mother could easily sit there and gaze down to the parking lot, watching for me.

When she heard my voice, she turned her head and saw me walking toward her. The day after surgery, my 70-something mother jumped off the sill and started running toward me. Mom drove her five-foot-tall frame hard against me, wrapped her arms firmly around me, and then pulled my face down and kissed me.

After I suggested that she get back into bed, we walked to her room and she slid back onto the sheets and pillow. Mom was excited and chatty. She was always happy to see me. But on that day, her response was overwhelming. The doctors and nurses kept Mom alive. All I had to do was walk down the hall at the right time. I became the star of her show. I will always remember how happy she was to see me that day. I’m glad I could help.

Happy Mother’s Day to moms everywhere.
Look both ways and mind the gaps.