Tuesday, May 03, 2005

An older man than me

told me a story today. He often strikes me as a sad man—constantly under the weight of the things he knows, of himself and of others. He is excited by others—by what they do, what they say, what they write, how they feel, how they make him feel—but it is as if all the while he knows that he has chosen not to do those things. For that decision, perhaps he has never quite forgiven himself.

His story was about a woman who died and the people who gathered to honor her death. I don’t remember now the details of the woman, or the words used to describe the gathering. The tears that almost fell didn’t, and have since run dry. Likewise, the intensity of drive and determination and excitement has similarly faded. But I do remember a few things:

The woman had fought for rivers; specifically, rivers in Montana, and protecting the fish in them. She had lobbied and acted and written in an attempt to preserve what she thought needed preserving, and then suddenly, she had died. When her family and friends gathered, they did so beside a river, in Montana, and as they formed a circle and talked about the things that the woman (dead but not gone) had meant to them and done for them and done for others, a great number of salmon began to surface feed in the river next to gathered crowd. And the fish, and the people, were gathered in the same spot, and were all there because of this woman that had died.

The people were there because they had known her and were now mourning her passing beside the river near her brother-in-law’s cabin; and the fish were there because she, with the help of others, had saved them and their river.

There was more to the story, and there was more to the telling of it that made it good and powerful and true, but I can’t remember the details. All I am left with now is the knowledge that for a while today—it still lingers but fades fast—I knew that there were several paths through life that I did not want to follow, and they were those paths toward which I have recently been most strongly leaning. I desperately wanted to give up money and ease and comfort and success and normalcy to be standing there beside the river, listening to the throngs of salmon feeding at the surface of the water and then, like the 40 others who came and who understood why they were there, I, too, wanted to take a long pull from the bottle of Irish whiskey before adding my stone, from my river and my place, to the humble monument we had constructed.

I don’t know if I will still want this when I wake up tomorrow morning, and more importantly I don’t know if I will want it when I make those decisions which will begin to steer my course either toward or away from that monument-making. It may take another woman and another gathering and another story to bring back what, for a moment, I knew.

I am left with knowing only that the things I feel the most are, for now, at irreconcilable odds with the things I feel the most passionately. Which is the more easily forgivable? Not sure.

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