Little Beams

By Eric Le Roy

Content 18+ I hear all of us speaking of ‘my life' and ‘our lives'. “What should I do with my life?” What is the best way to live my life? “All my life I have…..”

My life. Our lives. The word ‘life' is tossed off so casually that nobody really thinks much about it, they just say it. “I have never seen anything like it in my life!” “For the life of me, I couldn't understand what she meant.” And so on.

Life sucks and then you die.

“Don't make a move or I'll take your life, motherfucker.”

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you will get.” (Forrest Gump)

The whole idea starts to lose track. The word ‘life' starts to sound funny, like if you said ‘popcorn' over and over and over.

When John was alive…../It was the time of my life/ The 49ers came to life in the 4th quarter

But increasingly, as I look at myself and other people, and especially when I study my wife, my dogs and my cat, as I do when they are not looking and I make memories out of them even as they live – and as I observe other creatures that are very small, I understand that the whole equation: appearance, character, motivation, and existence itself depends on sustaining this single indispensable ingredient.

Life is what makes an atom more than a speck of quantum rubbish, a molecule more than pins in a place of rocks, and a cell more than a room full of pointless cosmic commotion. It is what drives a bag of muscle, bones, or both, to rise, trundle out upon some path and go hence. Without it, whatever the previous height and grace of the edifice, no matter how lovely its inhabitant – the value of the property shrinks to zero; the remains worth nothing more than wind on the street, and no one there to call it beautiful, even sad or cold. Or home.

And since nobody can stir a single breath without the force of this power coming from within, it sure sounds like something on a grand scale, something irrepressible, something almost inevitable. What is it really, we wonder, knowing only that it rises up out of the magic of the water?

At times it almost seems like the proverbial genii in a bottle or the brief incandescence of the lightning bugs I used to see in front of our house back in West Virginia. It glimmers in our eyes and throbs in our hearts. It is the dance in the dance, the god in the god. And even more bewilderingly it attaches itself to something called ‘identity'. I ask myself: can something really be said to live if it does not have any sense of who it is ? I don't know. Dig up Descartes' bones and ask him. Ask a worm or a cockroach. I have never had a reciprocal conversation with one, but it seems they prefer ‘life' to ‘death'.

For several evenings, a little bug would come to my desk and wander around as I did whatever I was doing. I don't know the species, but I saw that he could fly if he wanted to. For some reason he preferred the wooden meadow of my desktop. If I sat still, did he know I was there? He had a hard little oval shell, like a Roman legionaire's shield, not unpleasant to look at, and very long arms and legs of no greater circumference than what you would imagine for laser beams doing intricate eye surgery. At times, he would seem to rub his hands together like someone washing up for dinner or getting ready to count his money. If he had worn something with sleeves, he would have rolled them up. Blown up to a size a thousand times bigger, he'd had made a great alien

He liked to move around and sometimes cling to the perimeter of my lamp bulb, in the warm light it cast on the table. I liked the little fellow and encouraged him to stay. Once in a while, as he poked around, I would put my finger in his path to see if he would mount it, almost hoping he would climb aboard. But he would think it over and then move away. I found myself talking to him: “Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt you.” I figured by now at least he knew I was in the room.

I had the same experience back in Florida years ago when I took a job doing landscaping for a big company. One day I was stacking bricks at the edge of a forest, when along came a snake and parked himself a short way from me. I saw him and he knew it but he just lay there looking at me. I kept on with my work, chatting away with him, the same as with a stranger on a bus, except that the little serpent just listened. Somehow, he knew I wasn't going to hurt him, nor was I afraid of him. He was still there when I finished, said goodbye, and went away. I doubt he was poisonous, the little critter, but you never know. And if so, he put his poison away at some point, maybe the moment he understood I was just like him.

Possibly, you will find this eccentric, but what fascinated me was knowing that the little bug and the snake both possessed the same thing I had, which is ‘life'. We had much more in common than either of us did with the computer in my office or bricks I was carrying from one side of the lot to the other.

I am much moved by the luminosity of these fragile little lamps, the vessels that we are and who we say we are. At any moment, for an uncertain of elusive reasons, the light in each of us can go out. Just like that.

On death beds it ebbs like something someone was going to say, but no longer can, or simply forgot, or a stray animal dozing off in an abandoned warehouse, neither knowing nor caring where it is. Death was always on the silent to-do list, but we never got around to it. Now a shower of blackness over the heart and a tarpaulin wave that sprawls across and blunts the mind, tells us of our belated purchase, our final acquisition.

And surely those who lay dying now understand that death did not just come to the door but was there all along, a stoney rose among those more fecund and more sweetly or elegantly petaled flowers in its wake, that were never what they seemed, but false friends after all, like chorus girls running out of the theater when the storm troopers march in, looking specially for you.

They find you of course, as they always do, and that is your moment of reckoning, that instant when life, life – your huckleberry – silently, politely, and formally, offers you a stiff bow at the waist and, with accomplished mien, leaves the room like an elegant butler in a 16th century manor house.

That is when life ends, a flickering out that means business. And then, I fear, the ultimate amnesia comes, except it isn't that at all, for the amnesiac struggles to remember, like an insect climbing a tall empty glass. Death, I fear, is beyond amnesia. It makes amnesia seem like a math class with the figures askew or literature with pages smudged beyond recognition. Death accepts responsibility, I think, only to do a thorough autopsy on what remains of a stone that once was you, grind it into seed, carry it all in its fist to the high fields and fling it away. And that's how spring and summer come forth.

Bearing these miniscule light shows in mind, the light of life, I sit in my home and watch my family. I steal a glance at myself in the ; vaguely remarkable, I decide, the odd little light looking back as if it were almost an obligation, a labor of the looking glass.

I and my wife, our two dogs and our cat: we are sparks in everlasting , for night comes from places far from light. We live, we have life, in this place of darkness, an oblivion that some insist has holy purposes, and sparkle together,

As I grow , I am deeply, deeply moved by the narrow and most perishable, to be sure, lights of life which are my family. I have nothing else except those lights to comfort me. Age has robbed me of the rest, and let's not mince words or play games: Death sits like a circle of wolves just beyond the lights, and I understand that they are hungry too. To me they are death but to them I am life. I do not resent their slavering appetites.

But as my now thin little wife walks in the room, still in recovery from severe necrotic pancreatitis that was nearly the end of her, I understand how precious that small sliver of spinning animation is, the will that lives in her and is called life and how, if it went out, I would scream in the darkness, the unhearing darkness, with inconsolable anguish.


Last updated February 01, 2018


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