“Tonight I tried to rescue a tiny insect clinging to the side of the tub, before I turned on the shower, but it was likely too frail to withstand my usually quick and gentle trick of tucking it inside a tissue and whisking it away, so I’m pretty sure it died. I was not meticulous enough. I could have spent more time at it. I laid the tissue on the sink, leaving the actual outcome to fate. Because I could not weep, I swore quietly.”—Anita Sullivan
On The Other Hand
By Anita Sullivan
I. A Giant Swore At My Demise
EUGENE Oregon—(Weekly Hubris)—June 2018—Tonight I tried to rescue a tiny insect clinging to the side of the tub, before I turned on the shower, but it was likely too frail to withstand my usually quick and gentle trick of tucking it inside a tissue and whisking it away, so I’m pretty sure it died. I was not meticulous enough. I could have spent more time at it. I laid the tissue on the sink, leaving the actual outcome to fate. Because I could not weep, I swore quietly.
Stepping into the shower, I made up an equivalent situation for myself. Me in a land of giants, fallen into a giant’s tub, same scenario. The big, kindly, pudgy, lethal fingers squashing me into a tissue the size of a meadow. His tepid regret.
My own regret did not generate enough sadness to fill a dollhouse teacup. The time I ran over a squirrel I cried for quite awhile, but a furless insect resembling more a vaguely articulate piece of dust than a fellow creature did not possess the heft to rouse me to fully compassionate behavior. I’m not blaming myself, it’s just one of those biological hierarchy things hard-wired (as they say) into the enormous untidy hodge-podge of the human psyche.
Still, if in a parallel universe where I occupied the position of insect among a set of lethal monster giants (as early humans actually did, during a period when the bears were eleven feet tall and the bow and arrow hadn’t been invented yet) —if I suffered a death like that of my tiny, nameless insect—would it not (my death) possibly qualify as worthwhile, because a giant swore at my demise?
But that’s not such a bad way to go, is it? To die leaving behind one giant supplicant to honor, if not quite to praise?
II. Tai Chi Time
Today in Tai Chi class, while we stand quietly waiting to begin, I find myself noticing the soft digital ticking of the wall clock, the way you sometimes become briefly aware of a background noise as if it were just now showing up for the first time. It’s a good clock, barely audible most days, but now it sounds exactly like stealthy footsteps on leaves: “pad-pad” instead of “tick-tick,” as if, like Pinocchio, it has turned into something real, at last. I smile and relax, feeling immersed in a soft cushioning of natural elements—my classmates, our teacher, the enormous clerestory windows high above us, the hidden blue of the April morning light, and someone out there tiptoeing through a forest.
But as the dozen of us begin to move together into the first part of the form, the clock seems to grow louder, like a single shoe going round and round in a distant clothes dryer, drawing attention to itself for no useful reason.
I squint. The clock has no rhythm! I realize suddenly.
This almost causes me to forget the sharp turn for “white crane spreads its wings.” I yank my concentration back to my body, and to the directives that are pulling it forward, urging it to flow through an austerely complex set of rhythms that over the past four years have penetrated my muscles and bones, turning me into a sort of tree, riddled with roots and tendrils. These roots inside me, like those of plants, keep sending out smaller filaments into the bacteria-ridden soil around them, in a fractal pattern—regular and predictable in an immediate sense, but in some ultimate way, totally unknowable.
The clock’s metric voice, by contrast, is quite knowable, and therefore useless here. Relentlessly, it interrupts the air, the silence, sketching out a two-dimensional symmetry which the vast world around it largely ignores. Who needs it? We’re trying to learn how to live.
What does this mean about Time? I briefly wonder.
Humans do rhythm, which is connected to a different kind of time than what this hapless device insists upon. We are not doing clock time, we are outside of it. The clock, and its mindless even-handedness, intervenes between the human body and its natural, malleable rhythms. Our hearts beat at varying speeds and intensities, and our breathing—though regular—is even less symmetrically configured. And though lord knows we humans might have been a less wretched collection of mutually-exclusive and ungovernable passions if we had evolved a “clockwork organ” to keep us at least wobbling back and forth across the straight and narrow path to full consciousness: we did not. So, the clock ticks on, irrelevant and foolish upon the wall, while now and then we catch the higher rhythm of someone (Natty Bumppo, maybe) out there in the gloaming, trying to walk silently upon a path of twigs and seeds.
Note: The image of the spider derives from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsGvT2DYJMc; the image of Tai Chi hands derives from https://healthbeat.spectrumhealth.org/body-poetry-set-to-music-tai-chi-arthritis/.
To order Anita Sullivan’s book, The Bird That Swallowed the Music Box, click on the book cover below.