Saturday, September 08, 2007


During and just after our trip to the Southwest I slept badly, waking after every REM cycle as if I'd been drowning in dreams and had to surface to breathe. It was, I theorized, a combination of jet lag and the utterly new landscapes my brain had to process. And it was not just one new landscape -- every few miles the terrain and vegetation changed -- from slagheap-like hills outside Phoenix, to the red buttes of Sedona, to sudden stands of birch and towering evergreens as the highway's elevation increased, to the boulder-strewn hills and fields just before Hoover Dam.

But mainly it was the desert -- flat, dry expanses stretching to the horizon -- that had disoriented and astounded. It's like the moon, we said to one another. It was alien. We were alien. We were strangers in a strange land, a land of sand, rock, sky, sun, and tough, low weeds. We were used to leaves, and rain. Intimate horizons. Streetlights, not the high voltage transmission lines of the power grid.

These were Biblical landscapes, the landscapes of Moses and Jesus, and the landscapes of the earliest monastics, places of heat and drought and rock. Places of God-encounter, free of the distractions of cities. I'd been living in a state of distraction for the past several months -- work, work and more work, then an irritable exhaustion into which I welcomed easy entertainments, then sleep. I needed an abruption like this, something to shake up the neurons, to realign the inner power grid.

A few weeks ago, since I've been in training for the Altar Guild, I attended a funeral at our church. I had the scantest connection with the deceased: once, in choir, I'd picked up his personal, monogrammed hymnal. Someone, a longtime choir member, noticed and said, "D. was in the choir for many years. Now he has Alzheimer's." Alzheimer's, like my Mother had.

And I was at his funeral, as I had been at my mother's 5 months prior.

A phrase from the burial liturgy has stayed with me:

All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

I woke, one restless, desert night, out of one of the few dreams I remembered. My father was in the dream. He was, he warned me, about to go out on a date with a woman that resembled my mother. But who was not my mother.

Alright, I acquiesced.

And, suddenly, there she was, on my father's arm -- my mother, younger than I ever knew her, even more beautiful than I remember her -- I gasped, then remembered she was not my mother. And yet, strangely, she was, even at two removes. I went out into the dream desert and wept. The thirsty dust swallowed my tears as fast as they fell.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

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