Posted in Nonfiction

The Soul Wrestles Free.


The body houses all. Its organs are not capable to dividing the precious and vile. The skin cannot filter out flaws, cannot leave behind what is crystalline and expel what is already breaking. This flesh, this blood, these limbs, each space is stretched taut with the gore and the glory of our souls.

It betrays us, the body, with its strange aptitude for seeming unsullied, during the long years it often takes for signs of our ailing to reach its surface. And when the body is lithe and graceful, adorned in glittering raiment, smooth-skinned and diamond-eyed, capable of pushing otherworldly song through the chords in its throat, and constantly erupting with laughter, it is downright deceptive. It is a projector, casting aspersions on our concerns and flickering out a performance that fools us all. I am fine, it says. I have overcome all that’s ugly inside me. I am exactly what you hope that I’ll be.

The body is wrong. But we who do not live within it can’t accept that. Even when it turns on the soul, so damaged and tortured inside it, we say: I still see the woman of old. All she needs is a touch of rest, a heart-healthy diet, a better life partner. All she needs is the right producer, the right vocal coach, a 12-step refresher course. This delusion is easy, when the body is as beautiful and the voice as iconic as hers. There is a long way to wither, to fall.

The body works feverishly to convince itself–and by extension, us–that it will have as many chances as it needs to regenerate all that erodes.

It does not respect mortality like the soul does. It does not resign itself, first to the necessity of help, nor to the futility of seeking help simply because it’s expected. All the body wants is to go back, to be regarded as the gorgeous prewar house it was before the wreckage. It gathers what’s left of the gild on its throat, its slip of burnished skin (now so translucent, we cannot deny the damage below it), its unerring, courageous smile, and it prostrates itself before parties and makes valiant attempts to steal our breath with a note.

What it does not know is that the soul is bearing down and bringing her dignity out of her, pulling her love and her legacy, her impossible pain and fragility, and her marvelous, bottomless grace apart from this earthen casing that could scarcely ever contain it.

The soul has little need to hide what ails it and comprehends that when the body falls away, most of who she is will be in open view. It shies neither from adulation or assessment, unfurls itself for scrutiny, shifts its hips and shimmies, saying, Honey, if ever there were a case of the good overshadowing bad, it’s mine.

And she sails off like comet, shedding debris in all of her glory.

Posted in Nonfiction, Uncategorized

How Loss Yields Legacy.

Your old men shall dream dreams; your young men shall see visions.                                            — Joel 2: 28b

There is a dividing line in the lives of the young. On one side is an insular existence, where the elders live and govern, taking us into the folds of their ancient skirts, where they will knit us a history. There, we are fed and told who we are. They distill from their founts of wisdom a pablum we are capable of consuming. We do not understand what we have. We cannot quite fathom how fortunate we are, to hold them, to hear them, to trace their veins with our tiny fingers. But we are no so foolish that we entirely take them for granted. We understand their arms as the haven into which we can run when our parents’ discipline feels more alienating than effectual. We understand their stores as confections to relish, their thunderous or rasping voices a theatre around which we sit riveted.

On this side, they are hearty and hale. Even if their spines curve like parentheses or their fingers are gnarled as twine, we do not note these conditions as anything more than accents embellishing their character. We do not recognize them as lashes left by the cruelest of all overseers: Time.

Cross the line, and your elders are no more. Depending on what you believe, they hover above your life, acting as guardians, or they sit at the sidelines, watching with disappointment or wonderment. Perhaps they are praying. Perhaps their prayers are preventive, and you will never know what calamities you’ve sidestepped as the result of their intercession.

What is more certain is the impact of their absence. Gone are the raised and winding veins, gone the comforting feel of the blood coursing through them. Absent also are the courageous creases, deepened through decades spent awaiting abolition, petitioning for voters’ rights, sharecropping too-small parcels of land; losing homes and children and lovers; then yielding to the technological advances that stole their jobs and divided the attentions of their once-rapt grandchildren.

You miss their certainty, their Gilbraltar-like presence. Without them, your borders feel unprotected. They carried the world so artfully, you were never aware of its weight.

Now, there are days when you can barely square your shoulders. And you are finally beginning to understand.

There are a few years yet, before we return to the other side and become for our children’s children what our parents’ parents were for us. Our work must be thorough and quick. We are left to decipher the glyphs and mosaics stitched into the story quilts they left us. We must apply their epiphanies to the balance of our days, embellishing and righting and multiplying as we see fit.

Many days, we’ll fall short of their marks. We will not all find ourselves at the forefront of revolution. We may not wind up scholars of law or titans of art and of industry.

We may merely be the mint-givers, the switch-wielders, the pipe-smokers rocking under the moonlight on our back porches. It is possible that our most significant impartation will be the secret to baking a perfect pound cake.

We are just as significant. They will need us all.

This is the meaning of legacy.