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Reflections (complete)

by on December 18, 2021

Reflections

Marco M. Pardi 1973

                A baby lay in its cradle, placed upon a sunlit terrace in the cool blue of the morning.  Gazing into the blue mist, seeing clouds as reference points among the hues, the child felt, without knowing, the rim of the cradle sun shade, the clouds, the hues of sky and deep sky as a plane upon which he existed; a point lying within what was at first glance, merely out there.  By turning his head he could see the crystalline shatter of the sun’s light coming through the black silk of the shade.  And in the same, but a different way, the hues, the intensity, which took meaning only by their relationship with all else.  And he knew his body as being.  He knew his being in the warmth of sun-drenched blankets and the cool shade of the deep, deep sky; the blackness which was the balance of the sun.  Too black to see, too bright to see, but holding him in the joined love and harmony of essence, of oneness.  And it was as it was for all things at that moment.

          Many moments… and a small boy in a military uniform ran and walked and ran down a long slope of thick green grass.  To his left was a line of tall trees.  The leaves intertwined to form a solid barrier to eyes that looked but did not see.  They waved and chattered in the gentle breeze of the sunlit afternoon.  In winter they stood mute and quivered in the thrill of the silent, cold, and white shrouded landscape.  The boy’s destination lay several hundred yards ahead.  It was a creek.  Not a special creek.  It twisted and bobbed up and down as creeks do.  It came from nowhere and went nowhere, as creeks are. 

          Every afternoon, unless the rain was so heavy that he was kept inside, the little boy, who was the youngest and smallest in the military academy, ran unhesitatingly from the asphalt playground outside the school building down the hill to the creek.  In winter he could dive onto his sled and streak through the crackling snow like a swallow swooping low over the tops of tall grass.  He never went to the creek; he always came back to it.  He sat in classrooms in the main building; he learned atop the rounded boulders in and around the creek.

          As he walked down the slope the squeaking swing chains, the banging of seesaws on asphalt, and the shouts of children living in games merged and faded behind him.  He watched the ground, the grass, the bugs, the trees, the sky.  Not looking for anything, just watching.  In the fall the creek was just beginning to show life.  Cooler weather and storms brought it forth.  The water gurgled and gushed by, seemingly enjoying itself, but without guilt.  As the days grew shorter the trees grew orange and brown and red.  Stronger winds carried leaves into the water and they spun by atop the waves and bubbles.  But there was something there.  There was an undefinable balance.  A celebration of the course of nature; the separation from the mother tree.  And the vague and murky concern for what is to happen.  Where will the leaves go?  It was the sour joy of being in time.

          As winter came quietly closer the leaves became fewer, and delicate layers of crystalline ice formed along the edges of the creek.  All nature slowly hushed as the vibrant greens, yellows, and reds evolved into browns, greys, and an increasingly large mantle of white.  A cold sun shone through the nude, brown patches in deep sleep.  The creek was covered by ice now, but it was there.  It was always there.  Now the bright colors of nature were to be seen by joyously diving into glistening snowdrifts until the melting snow dropped dozens of watery prisms from young eyelashes into eyes that could see.  And the biting cold was a friendly reminder, a lesson from nature, a hint of that which balances what we call life.  And without sorrow or joy.  With simple and open forthrightness for those who see.  There was unspeakable excitement in courting the cold.  In wondering where one would go, and what one would be.  Winter froze life in the tracks left in the snow and gradually shifted those tracks until they were gone.

          And then the snow lost its strength.  It sagged and dripped before an oncoming sun.  The world of white was growing increasingly brown with living mud.  The creek was running now with melted snow.  This was where the snow went.  This was what it was then.  And soon the last of the ice would give way to the gushing, roaring tumult of life bursting forth in the creek, in the trees, in the air itself.  The muffled presence of winter was overcome by songbirds, insects and gushing water.  One could almost hear the sap bubbling through the trees and bursting out as leaves bright and green and joyous.  The rites of Spring were being celebrated all around.

          One day, while running to the creek, Tonio felt the tree line calling.  His footsteps slowly waivered, then definitely followed him to the base of a particular tree.  There was something to be known there.  As he drew closer he became aware that, as if in slow motion, he was at once looking at a cat and gliding down into a relaxed sitting position by the cat.  The cat was too relaxed.  It lay on its side; legs and neck outstretched as if in sleep.  Its face was almost tucked into the crook of a gnarled root from the great tree which was hovering over its students.  Ribs showed through the fluffed fur.  Fur that had been cared for by the winds and rain.  Milky, sagging eyes gazed out beyond the root and into the deepening hues of the blue sky.  Fleeting images.  The earth and blue.  Clouds and a root.  There were no sounds within the boy.  A sky, a tree, a cat, a boy were wordlessly one.  No joy, no sorrow.  In being.  And there was a gurgling from the creek.

          Toward the end of the school year the late spring rains meant spending recess in the gym.  While others played “battle ball” or some such game, Tonio caressed, and reluctantly threw a basketball at one of the baskets in the far corner of the gym.  The ball had been a Christmas gift from his family.  Faces were hard to remember, but he could always recall the voice that he heard on an occasional Friday afternoon telephone call.  He knew they were far away.  The ball was there though.  He was reluctant to throw it at the basket; it felt good in his arms.

          Suddenly the ball was wrenched from him and as he turned he saw a much older boy dancing and grinning, taunting him with the ball.  Tonio stood transfixed with shock which quickly turned to horror.  This older boy had led the others in dancing around him and taunting him by singing the song, “Baby Face.”  He was the bully who would punch boys in the stomach or kick them during close order drills.  The old Army captain never saw him do it.  He often saw a boy bent over or kicking back and gave the bully’s victim an additional thrashing.  The deepest despair became strongest resolution to destroy the monster.  The young boy was only two steps from the rack in which the wooden practice rifles were kept.  In a move undefined by time he perceived the back of the older boy as he had turned to run.  The young boy knew that his arms were bringing a rifle, stock first, in full swing toward the fleeting back.  In an instant the rifle crashed against the older boy.  The force sent half a broken rifle skittering across the gym floor, and the large boy slamming to his face.  The ball was no longer in sight, no longer in mind.  The barrel end disappeared from the young boy’s hands, and, as quickly, a new rifle appeared.  Again his body knew itself in full swing as the butt end of the rifle went streaking through a high arc over his head.  As the older boy rolled over on his back, blood streaming from his nose, a second rifle butt smashed into the gym floor where his head had been.  The older boy was showered with splinters from a second broken rifle.  Hands grasped and arms clenched Tonio until, in his rage, his captors held only his body.  he could not see through his tears, he could not hear through his sobs; he was totally alone.

          The next morning, in that same gym, the student body was mustered in full military formation.  A dusty looking old captain stood stiffly in front of the cadets and read off the charges against the young boy.  There had been no hearing.  A kindly nun had sat with him a while during the night.  But this was the day of infamy.  As the captain droned on, the boy watched the sun filter through the metal grates over the gym windows.  For the first time he saw in them another meaning.  Then he heard the command to “Front and Center.”  Having so intensely seen himself as front and center up until then, he had no idea why it took so many steps to get there.  He gazed at the silver bars on the captain’s coat as the older man solemnly pronounced him stripped of his rank and confined to the dormitories.  He watched quietly as scissors clipped away his one black stripe from each arm of the gray uniform.  They fell onto the gym floor.  And were barely visible any longer.  The captain ordered him dismissed from the assembled corps to begin his confinement.  As he marched through the companies of faceless boys he knew he should be sorry, he should feel badly.  But his arms were actually lighter.  In singling him out as a failure, the captain had freed him from this nameless mass.  He had an identity.  The voice on the phone changed after that.  It was never the same.  But the bubbling creek knew.  And it laughed with him in wordless love.  The young boy felt old.  He felt trapped in a little body but aware of so much more than even the bigger bodies were aware of.  He wondered what he was to become. 

The mid-September dawn came quietly over Firenze, as if looking for something and hoping not to be noticed. Five weeks short of his 8th birthday, Tonio hopped down the outside steps into the garden. Skirting the large concrete fish pond and fountain, he ran to the base of the high wall separating the property from the street.

Over three months before, his family had packed up everything in Ohio and moved back to Italy.  Grandfather, grandmother, mother, older brother and Tonio had come by ship to spend at least two years in grandfather’s home town.  At first Tonio had missed the monastic boarding school, deep in the northern Ohio woods where he had spent the last two years. He had made a friend there, an odd kid whom the other boys also picked on.  But Tonio’s grandfather seemed to be a friend; at least, unlike the others he actually engaged Tonio in short conversations. And he once took the boys into Firenze to the Thieves’ Market, where they had fresh ham sandwiches and Tonio saw his first amputee. Sitting on a rickety wheelchair, a war veteran waggled the stumps of his legs as he held out a tin cup for donations.

The summer months were eventful from the start. Moving into the large villa they had leased, unpacking twenty four steamer trunks and getting things situated had been greatly facilitated by the household staff. Elvira (el-VEE-rah) prepared three meals daily, her husband “Beppino” performed a variety of heavier chores, and their daughter Anna functioned as maid. Occasionally, Beppino’s brother Ugo would come by to spend time working in the garden. A Partisan fighter in the war, Ugo’s hands had been cut off at the wrist and Tonio watched him as he hooked pails of water over his forearms and went about watering plants.

Tonio and his brother were quickly handed over to Signora Broglio, a widow whose physician husband had been killed fighting Germans as part of Italy’s elite Alpine troops. Sra. Broglio came daily in her Lancia to pick up the boys for the day and refresh their Italian up to grade standards for their entry into school.  As they drove from the villa into Firenze she would point out various buildings and have the boys recite, in Italian, what they could of the history before them. Tonio was fascinated by the number of buildings with numerous bullet holes and other damage. Crews worked slowly each day to patch them. One day Sra Broglio had pointed out that there was a large monastery in the deep forests covering the nearby Apennine mountains. Excited by this enthralling news, Tonio asked to hear more. However, like many Italians aware of the Church’s support for the Axis, she said no more about it. 

In the first couple of days after moving in Tonio had discovered a tortoise living in the garden, near the wall.  Thinking at first it was a large rock, Tonio decided to name it Petra, after the stronghold in southwestern Jordan carved largely from rock. He also decided Petra was female. Beppino told him a tortoise would like fresh lettuce. So, every morning Tonio would bring lettuce to Petra and lay it before her shell, wherein she always took refuge at his arrival. He would lie down nearby, watching and sometimes whispering to her until she cautiously peeked out and nibbled. She never seemed to look at him, but always knew he was there.

A few weeks after they had settled into a routine at the villa, Tonio saw the daily newspaper. The headline for June 26, 1950 announced that North Korea had invaded the south the day before. A few years after the last bombs and bullets had scarred Firenze, the world was being dragged into violence again. Born in Rome, and having survived the war there, Tonio wondered if this was the nature of life, if this was his future.

As summer progressed, adult relatives came, quietly discussed the Korean situation, and left. Even the staff seemed distracted, as if they expected the family to leave at any moment. One of the adults had brought Tonio and his brother a pair of model sailboats, sparking their first real adventure at the fountain. Unknown to them before, a pair of large eels owned that water. As they launched their boats the eels darted away, hesitated, and fell into line behind the boats. Waiting, watching for a careless crewman to fall from the deck. More weeks passed, more lettuce talks with Petra, and a rapidly growing ability in Italian.

Grandfather announced one morning he had to go into Firenze for the day, returning late that evening. The day went as usual. But, as time for the evening meal drew near, Tonio was suddenly overcome with a feeling of deep exhaustion; he needed to lie down and sleep. Elvira looked at him carefully, but no one else minded as he went to his bed and laid down.   

Immediately as he closed his eyes Tonio felt propelled into utter blackness. Feeling more awake and clear than he ever had, he looked back in the direction from which he felt he was traveling and saw what appeared to be Earth, receding in the distance. It was then he discovered he had no body.

What’s happening? Where am I?”, he thought.

Calm down. We’ve done this before. The voice in his mind was his, but somehow different. When you were two you got a virus that almost killed you. At 2 1/2 you got whooping cough and there was no effective medicine because of the war.

Who are you?”

I am you, the real you, the you that people call spirit, soul, essence, and other things.

But I, we, have no body.”

We don’t need one now. We are the real you. Nothing has been lost. Was that man at the market any less who he was for having no legs? Is Ugo not really or fully Ugo because he lost his hands?

Where are we going?”

Nowhere. There is no place to go. The vision you had of Earth, the sense of movement you had, were just symbols to help you understand the shedding of attachment to physical things, and what you think of as real.

At that moment Tonio sensed a presence, a person beside him. But this presence had no gender, no form, and no age. Still, he knew it was a human and he felt it was “dead” and “alive” at the same time, but the person was confused.

Who is that?”

That’s unimportant now. It is important that you be with this person.

Suddenly Tonio saw a ball of orange light in the blackness. He could not tell if it was a small light up close or a big light far away. As it grew in size, he could not tell if it was indeed growing or if they were moving closer.

 “What’s that? Is that God?”

There is God, there is no God. God is nothing, no thing is God. God is everywhere, God is no where. There is no thing you can point to and say it is God. Putting God in one place or person, with likes and dislikes, is taking God out of everywhere and everything else. Even thinking the word God limits God to the meaning you have put on that word. God is like the water to the eels. Do they know they are in water? People make Gods. Then they claim to know what the Gods like or dislike. The reason is simple: Those in charge of knowing God’s likes or dislikes are in charge of judging people’s behavior; it gives them power over other people.

So we aren’t going to heaven?”

No such place as heaven or hell. Think of those words as you just now thought of the word God. Those words are made up of what we like and what we don’t like. Your heaven could be someone else’s hell.

Why are we here? Why are we doing this?”

Because you and this person are inter-connected. We are all inter-connected, but you will sense this in only a few cases. We will do this many, many times throughout your physical life. Some of these people you will know, many you won’t. This person is shedding the attachments to the physical. You are one of those attachments. Being here allows that person understand the transition and accept it.

Do other people do this, like we are now?”

Some people are born asleep and stay asleep. Others are born awake and are put to sleep by society. Some are born asleep and awaken at some point, often suffering for it. A few are born awake and remain awake. Those few are almost never known, never understood.

Are we dying now?”

It is not our time.

As those last words were spoken, the unseen person next to Tonio seemed to pass on ahead, moving into the light. Immediately as he recognized this, Tonio awoke on his bed. Being early evening, it was still quite light out.

Tonio lay on his bed, completely recovered from the sudden tiredness which had brought him there, but so deep in thought that getting up or lying still was not yet an issue. But in less than an hour, outside his room he heard the telephone ring and a rush of voices soon thereafter.

Within minutes his mother opened his door and, seeing him awake, told him his grandfather had collapsed and died in a hotel lobby in the city. He looked at her, saying nothing.

After his mother had left for the hospital to which his grandfather had been taken, Tonio arose and quietly entered the kitchen for some of the dinner he had missed. The household staff were still there, but they were busy hovering near his grandmother and his brother.  He gathered up some left-overs into a basket and, suddenly thinking of something, included some lettuce.

With evening darkening, Tonio slipped out into the garden, skirted the fountain, and went quickly to Petra’s area by the enclosure wall. Choosing the cover of some bushes to reduce his visibility from the house, he sat and looked for Petra.

For the first time, he did not have to go to her. She came toward him with greater speed than he would have thought possible, craning her neck fully out of her shell and seeming to look straight at him. He put the lettuce before her, but she held her head erect, just looking at him.

As darkness fell Tonio quickly finished his food and went back into the house. Unnoticed by anyone, he went back to his room to think. What had happened to him? Why did Petra behave the way she did?

Over the next few days Tonio stayed out of the way as people came to negotiate the breaking of the lease, distant family and friends came to console the widow and her daughter, and a man came from the American Embassy in Rome to prepare the family for a problem on the return to the U.S.

The Embassy official – Tonio did not know his exact duties but he seemed to be an old family friend, explained that since Tonio’s grandfather had been such an immensely wealthy man the family would get extra scrutiny from Customs and the Internal Revenue Service would assign two agents to oversee any and all banking transactions conducted on the grandfather’s accounts.

Tonio had no idea what the Internal Revenue Service was, or did. But, he was pretty sure he would recognize the agents. Eels.

The evening before they were to leave, Elvira asked his mother how Tonio was handling the death. With Tonio standing nearby, his mother had simply dismissed the progress he had made in Italian and answered her that, “Tonio does not understand death.” Touching her finger to the side of her head, she said, “He is pretty slow here. But, he is strong, and when he is old enough the Army can take him and keep him.” Elvira looked at him, something in her eyes he had not seen before.

And so it was that, at that mid-September dawn, Tonio hurried into the garden to say Good-bye to his beloved Petra. She was there. She seemed to be waiting. And, Tonio could not tell if it was the dew, or if she had tears in her eyes.  

         Many moments later… and a young man in a camouflage fatigue uniform walked slowly along a trail between rows of ammunition bunkers.  He had volunteered for assignment to a secret army installation in Central Africa.  During the time when Sub-Saharan African nations were gaining independence dozens of factions roamed the countryside in power struggles for control of the emerging governments.  United Nations “peace keepers” were sent into the more troublesome areas.  One of these was the Belgian Congo.

          The main base was on the coast of North Africa, situated where the right hand of the Sahara touched the Mediterranean Sea.  A few miles to the east of Tripoli, it was a perfect setting for an old Burt Lancaster film.  Tripoli was an unofficially divided city.  Separated by a high wall, the original city wall, were the Old City and the New City.  The New City was built mainly during Italian and British occupation.  The blend of these cultures was reflected in the architecture and the racing traffic; the honking donkeys and Fiats.  In the Old City no streets were wide enough for cars.  Traffic was almost exclusively pedestrian, except for an occasional donkey or Moto Guzzi motorcycle.  Here the streets were named for the occupations of the shopkeepers who filled them with the din of their workmanship and the excitement of their bartering.  Although one had to be extremely careful to avert one’s eyes from occasional “Fatimas,” or Moslem women, one could always expect to be sincerely engaged in friendly greetings and small talk with shopkeepers who spent much of their time in the cool of the shaded streets.  In marked contrast to the New City, the people of the Old City dressed exclusively in the traditional robes.  An outsider was immediately obvious, even in the near total darkness, by the profile of his clothing.  The Old City was “off limits” to all American and British personnel after dark.  Too many G.I.’s mistakenly believed their dollars could buy them anything.  Their bodies floated mutely about the harbour in the early mornings. 

          The young man squatted to the side of the trail, eyes sweeping the horizon for silhouettes, ears straining for unusual noises, or unusual stillness.  While he waited in the blackness for the other three strike team members to catch up to him he thought of the many nights he had spent wandering the Old City alone.  He had no fear of being caught by the Town Patrol.  Being in Special Security was something of a stigma.  The rest of the base personnel knew who these men were by their camouflage uniforms and the distinctive hardware on their web belts.  The young man had noticed that people on base always gave him and the others more room on the sidewalk than they needed.  And it was hard to get more than a passing glance out of fellow pedestrians.  He often wanted to stop someone on the street and ask them why.

          He heard his team long before they saw them.  As usual, they were gossiping about all the other men in the unit.  Assignment to particular teams varied.  But one thing didn’t; each group cut hell of everyone not on it, all night long.  Although a team leader, Tonio’s strong dislike for the gossip drove him to take point alone rather than assign someone the dangerous job.  The others seemed to think he was just “gung-ho.”  He used to wonder what they said about him, but he long since ceased to care.  Whether in the jungle or on the desert he loved the chance to wander quietly and blend with the night environment.  But the trails were terrible risky.  On a moonlight night one could see, or be seen, clearly for several hundred yards.  The ammunition bunkers themselves made perfect ambush sites.  To lessen the risk of blowing themselves up and increase the chances of hitting their targets, the teams carried short barrel twelve gauge shotguns.  As team leader, the young man didn’t bother with one; he carried a .45 automatic and case knife instead.

          As the others drew closer, he let out his characteristic whistle before stepping out on the path.  They were only about 100 yards from a large ammo bunker which had been restocked earlier that week.  Stacked all about the place were empty Conex boxes; five foot steel cubes with hinged doors.  On rainy nights the teams would often sit it out in the boxes.  The attitude generally was that if anyone wanted the ammo badly enough to come for it in the rain, they could have it.  Unfortunately, the noise of a rainstorm on one of these boxes could get so extreme that every tribe in Africa could walk up at once without being heard.  If one were careful, he got soaked.

          The team moved slowly as they approached the bunker.  Conversation dropped to curt business commands as maliciousness gave way to caution.  Carelessly slung shotguns came up at the ready a few paces from the boxes as silent hand signals from the team leader dispersed the group into the bunker.  The sounds of feet, clothing, and breathing grew fainter as the shadows slipped among the stacks of ammunition.

          Suddenly, a shout and a shotgun blast triggered an insane symphony of roaring guns and voices.  In one movement Tonio dove on his face and pulled out his pistol.  But a smashing force landed flat atop him and began to scramble all over him.  In a convulsive jerk he spun over on his back only to feel a hammer-like object slam into his right forehead.  As if in a dream, he recalled prep school and Van Gogh.  He almost laughed as the urgency of the moment brought his now empty hands up to protect himself and to grab at anything that he could.  Crouched atop him, and poised for another blow, was a large torso.  In a single effort he pushed up with his hands and snapped up his knee.  As a groan and slight weakening of the torso encouraged him, he grabbed for its neck.  His fingers clamped on and his thumbs interlocked over cartilage.  Only then, when two steel hands clamped his wrists, did he realize his opponent was also unarmed.  He thought of his knife but it lay under him.  And now those hands were clawing his face, searching for his throat.  He pushed away and clamped tighter, his legs scrambling in the dirt like a giant lizard thrown on its back.  There was no time.  There were no sounds other than the gasping, grating, gurgling of two men locked in struggle.  The young man was adrift on a sea of green, in a field, some trees, the sky.  His hands, the sounds, the dripping and spitting saliva falling in his eyes, now falling from his mouth.  His gasping turned to sobbing, his arms and hands moved automatically as his thumbs crushed into a broken throat and his hands slammed a lifeless head against hard, parched ground.  His tears hid the torso he now sat astride.  He did not comprehend that its chest heaved only from the force he gave it.  And still he slammed the head with a dull thudding sound. 

          Arms closed around him.  Friendly hands took his hands and carefully unlocked them.  He fell against two chests and sobbed as a feeling of nausea grew stronger within him.  His whole body trembled violently as he felt his hands and arms grow filthy.  His tears became a screen upon which played images of a bloody boy lying face up on a gym floor.  And a clean, cool creek whose holy water would wash away his sins, his memories, the blood no one could see.  He cried, for there was no creek. 

          Many years later, by someone’s count, an old man walked slowly through a field.  There was no sign of human life in any direction.  He had left his car where a dirt road ended several miles away.  Behind him, through the years, he had left a trail of humanity:  a wife, a daughter, a son, their mates, two grandchildren.  To each he had felt a singular kind of closeness.  He was always amused by the cultural rules and plans for appropriate closeness in relationships.  During twenty-five years of teaching college students about humanity he often wondered why he spent time answering questions they would have never cared to ask.

          As he slowly wandered through the knee-high grass he remembered the night his daughter was born.  He remembered the bittersweet feeling of being, as the doctor told him he was the father of a little girl.  She lay peacefully in her hospital crib, unmistakably “his,” but not even dimly aware of how alone she was.

          Many nights he would slip into her room to watch her sleep, to listen to her precious breath.  As she grew older and came to know him he agonized over his intense desire to clutch her to him, to protect her; but he knew he must make her confident in her aloneness as well.  He sometimes wished he did not know so much about personality development; he was always figuring out what was best to do, and finding that things worked out anyway.

          Over the years his wife had come to understand and accept his strange ways; above all, his intense need to be alone.  At first she thought this was rejection of her.  Perhaps another woman.  But after a time she came to know, if not understand, that the “other woman” was a quest for wholeness, a holy grail, a journey which could only be traveled alone.  In fact, she saw him quickly develop the ability to be very appealing to crowds of students and colleagues, but close only to a handful.  Even in that closeness, he was to everyone, alone.  Not unkindly so.  Just alone.  Sometimes the fact that he saw this ultimate principle in everyone else was disturbing to people.  There are certain unpleasantries in life that go untalked about. 

          The bright spring sun warmed his sinewy muscles and joints.  Now that his wife had fully realized the quest there was no more demand in her.  She was happy when they were together, but not at all threatened when they were apart.  His children loved him in the same way.  He would be with them as long as they were alive.  The grandchildren were very young yet.  Like the new growth on the trees and the flowers venturing trust in the fidelity of the sun.  They too would stand on their own some day.

          The old man was glad for the sun.  He remembered nights when he was left alone in the house.  His wife and children would visit relatives while he stayed to work on lectures and papers.  On those nights, over the years, he had never been able to sleep completely until he saw the grey of dawn in the room.  He had never quite shaken a deep rooted, vague uneasiness in sleeping alone at night.  On a rational level he knew that having his wife and children in the house was of no help in an emergency.  But this dread had long since sunk beneath the clear water of reason.

          A little tired and sleepy from walking, he allowed himself to be drawn down a gentle slope in the land.  In a sudden moment of joy he realized he was just not surprised to find himself heading toward a gurgling creek.  Stopping at the bank, he sat down on ground still moist with spring rains.  He watched the industrious crayfish and impetuous minnows for a while until the afternoon sun caressed his face into a serenity it had not known for dozens of years.  He slowly lay back, using an exposed tree root as his pillow, and closed his eyes.  A gentle breeze sprinkled him with drops of shade from the tree as the blue sky glowed orange through his eyelids.  The creek whispered to him of many things, for now he knew.  And he never had to fear darkness again.

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8 Comments
  1. Dana permalink

    Marco, as you know this story is beloved to me. I’m so glad you included all of it here.

    You have me thinking about late Fall 2011 when I first read it. I was taking your Intro to Anthropology class, already completely fascinated by you. There was nothing left for me to Google; I think I broke the Internet searching for your essays. I was consumed and that hasn’t wavered for one moment since.

    Then a copy of your 1973 university textbook, “Death: An Anthropological Perspective” came available on Amazon. It was the only copy and it was $35. I would have given up food to read it and I probably did, as a broke college student and single parent. I still would today!

    What an incredible, welcome surprise to find a poem you had written and published in the book. And as I read further, I came upon Reflections. I read it in my living room in Alpharetta, completely transfixed by not only the content of the story, but also your eloquent, beautifully written words. You create such rich visual imagery in my mind.

    Then I came to little Tonio and his basketball in the gym. My heart was ripped out at the scene, imagining him so far from his home in Italy, away from everyone he knew. And I can certainly relate to that, although I was fourteen when I suddenly found myself alone in an extremely foreign set of circumstances. Arcadia, Lousiana might as well have been a foreign country for a girl from Saskatchewan. The tears poured for five year old Tonio. I still have much empathy for him.

    But like him, being sent away and not having any guidance from our “caregivers,” I was eventually free to break out and develop my own life. That included later enrolling in college in 2010, and eventually meeting you. That is an event so highly important to my life it seems destined.

    There is hardly a doubt little Tonio and Dana would have been the dearest of friends. I had very few in my early years outside of my favorite cousins and my sister. The friends I made all had a quirk or challenge for which they were bullied. And like Tonio I require a lot of quiet and and solitude, even as a child.

    I would love to visit Tonio’s creek near the old military academy, and choose some stones to bring home. That would be so meaningful. His story in Reflections also helped me to realize I’m not a freak for needing so much solitude. This has helped me a great deal since then – knowing that who I am and what I need is perfectly fine. When I read the passage below, I felt I could relate along feelings of relief.

    “Over the years his wife had come to understand and accept his strange ways; above all, his intense need to be alone. At first she thought this was rejection of her. Perhaps another woman. But after a time she came to know, if not understand, that the “other woman” was a quest for wholeness, a holy grail, a journey which could only be traveled alone. In fact, she saw him quickly develop the ability to be very appealing to crowds of students and colleagues, but close only to a handful. Even in that closeness, he was to everyone, alone. Not unkindly so. Just alone. Sometimes the fact that he saw this ultimate principle in everyone else was disturbing to people. There are certain unpleasantries in life that go untalked about.”

    I will probably comment on some favorite portions later on, but thank you for posting this treasure, Marco

    Dana

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  2. Thank you, Dana. Knowing what I do of your life gives me confidence in saying you are a true survivor Each of us has a life story, which is never really finished as it lives on in those who read it, and those who repeat it to others, and in the effects it brings in the unfolding of our world. Despite the sometimes flashy and amazing stories of some, no life story is more important or meaningful than any other. We just need to pause and understand. And you are a master at doing so.

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  3. I have been reading this in the early morning hours, looking for anything I might have missed the first time around. I hurt so much for that lonely little boy, so isolated and misunderstood, a lifelong victim of PTSD caused by the instability of his earliest life. Maybe I’m wrong here, but when everyone and everything you love (and more importantly, loves you) is taken away, how can it help but be hurtful on the deepest levels of existence. I followed Tonio as he accompanied his grandfather into the “what’s next”, and shed a few tears of my own when he had to say goodbye to his friend Petra.

    This story is not new to me, but it never fails to touch my heart. Rose

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  4. Thank you, Rose. You are quite right in knowing the lifelong effects of early and continuous losses. In some ways it illustrates the wisdom of the Buddhist understanding of non-attachment. But then there are attachments that simply cannot be broken, even beyond the grave. And there is the attachment to a child you do not yet have but know deep inside she is coming, and she does.

    Life among the living is like walking into a clock shop where dozens of clocks are all set to different times, and set to run down and stop at different times. That I can no longer hear the beat of a certain person’s heart does not mean that person is no longer with me. And so it is with every heart that has shared time in that shop with me.

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  5. Dana permalink

    Marco, this comment is from Tilly in Canada:

    “Thank you for posting this magical piece of writing Marco. As I move through the story, time and memories seem to come and go like wisps of smoke, never moving in a straight line. What stuck with me most in this second reading was Tonio’s ability to connect with other energies and life forms whether it be his ability to forge a bond with Petra, or the dreamscape in which he converses with a larger presence or energy. Is this opening or widening of consciousness what it truly means to be “awake”? Does this state come and go like a flower opening and closing? These are all things I wonder and think about as I read and enjoy your story.”

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    • Thank you, Tilly. Tonio’s experience with his grandfather was not a dream, but rather he accompanied his grandfather during his transition. This is a common phenomenon (in my library I have hundreds of well documented cases including from medical and science professionals) and Tonio went on to a life with many, many more of these experiences and others. These have NOTHING to do with whether there is or is not a “god”; that’s a non-rational issue.

      Our language has many misleading terms, “afterlife” being one. Existence is not a binary Now its this – then its that. Deep meditation or even spontaneous moments of clarity/oneness guide us toward seeing ourselves as whole. But the misleading terms cause us to set up false paradigms, such as:(I will use the term afterlife as that is the common parlance) 1. There is no god; there is no afterlife. or 2. There is a god; there is an afterlife. We are asked to choose between the two when in fact there are two more. 3. There is a god; there is no afterlife. 4. There is no god; there is an afterlife.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the story and I really look forward to more of your thoughts.

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  6. Dana permalink

    I’ve seen a few jaws drop at just some of the things I’ve survived. You probably know more of me than anyone else (probably more than you wanted to!). That is a testament to a level of trust I’m unable to give most others, and most of my life my middle name was “Avoidance.” But what a critical point you made – that no story is more meaningful or important than another.

    I woke with insomnia so I’m reading with a hot cup of tea. I want read this again simply to enjoy the words. You might have noticed over the years I also intensely admire you as a writer!

    A favorite quote: “He sat in classrooms in the main building; he learned atop the rounded boulders in and around the creek.” I don’t have words for this, but it needs none regardless.

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    • Thank you, Dana. Your life has so far had a meaningful impact on many others, most of whom you probably will never know.

      I enjoy writing. In this case I usually don’t know if Tonio’s life put my words in order or if my words put his life in order. They seem to be a flow that manifests both ways and is at the same time one.

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