As she sat next to him on the airplane, the old man spoke.
“When I concentrate I can still hear the clicking on of the basement walk-in cooler. A singular sound, familiar and startling at the same time. I was young, ready for adventure. It was a summer job, nothing more. A chance to work away from the relative safety of my home in a city I’d never been to in a restaurant at which I’d not eaten. I never thought to encounter such strangeness, but there I was, confronted by something I believed could not exist.
There are no ghosts. I repeated the phrase in my head four times. Even said it aloud once more for effect. Everyone had gone home but me. I was tired, the last five hours spent washing pan after greasy pan. My ears had played tricks on me before, and maybe the radio had been on all evening, was always playing that sad song and I had finally noticed. It was conceivable that the candle had also been left lit by a careless waitress, accidentally overlooked in my earlier dining room cleaning routine. Regardless,when I finally heard the music, I walked towards its source. The radio was on, the candle on table sixteen was lit and I felt the presence of someone unseen. ‘Is anyone here?’ I asked into the dinning hall. Silence was the only response.
I felt my heart stop. A crash filled the air as somewhere just outside the large panel window, gravity or a small animal capsized a garbage container, sending refuse spilling loudly into the street. Terror griped me and I sprinted for the back entrance.”
She closed her eyes.
“In times past, back before there were so many electronic devices, you grandfather and I would sit at night around candles or oil lamps to talk about everything and nothing. He wasn’t my husband yet, and certainly the furthest thing from his mind was ever being called grandfather, but he had a warm heart and soft eyes. I can remember the way they looked when he leaned across the flame to give me a first kiss. We had been dating for almost a year by then. Not everyone took their relationships as slowly as us, but we wanted to be sure of ourselves, savor each moment together. Holding hands was bliss, and I was a content woman, but that first kiss changed me. The sky was suddenly a darker blue. When I looked at the mountains, I felt I understood them. Even the smell of baking cookies had a different aroma, sweet and penetrating. Nothing that potent can hold its flavor, and I have tried for decades to recapture that sensation. Maybe it was all in my head. I’ve made up many interesting things during my life. Maybe I just want to my past to be infinitely important. Something to validate my missing it so very much.”
Attractive blonde female, 35, seeks attention from attractive male, 30-45. Looking for companionship, late night conversations, walks in the city, someone to rub my shoulders after a long night of love making. Please call 555-0909, ask for Juliet. He read the rest of the paper with less interest, pondering what attractive meant to her, whether she was tall, or if her eyes were blue or gray. He wrote the number down in red ink on a paper napkin. He made all sorts of promises to call.
In her dark room, developing pictures from the Bermuda trip, she sat facing a tray of prints, waiting in the red light for them to slowly emerge. It had been three days since she had placed the ad in the personals. It ran in the Missed Moments column of the local paper, where young adults often wrote in, hoping to reconnect with someone they had met at the club Friday night, whose name they’d forgotten to ask, but days later could not get out of their heads. Some had forgotten phone numbers, or had been too afraid to say an initial hello, and in a final desperate plea reached out, hoping that their lost connection would be searching for them, read, know, and act.
She was not sure if it was love she was after, or what she would do if someone did respond. She was not an intrepid soul, and she wondered if she would dare to go out at all. Even a meeting at a crowded cafe’ or coffee shop held danger. Still, It was lonely for her in this new city. Moving from the east coast had accomplished the goal and separated her from her former life. She was not longer constantly bothered by overzealous family or friends, yet she found herself despising the silence, annoyed at the hum of the furnace in the hallway closet. Even looking at the pictures of her trip did not bring relief. She had gone alone, flown from San Diego to New Orleans, then to Bermuda. The man on the plane told her about his experience in the restaurant, she dreamed of her grandmother, she walked the beaches alone and carried her shoes on her shoulders like in the movies. Looking at the photos she realized that she was not in a single one.
He never responded to the ad. Something always was more pressing, required more of his attention. The distractions always won out. After a month the paper stopped running the personal.
She waited while the water lapped up against broken stone and sand, until the night turned red with the morning sun. The new year had come. Nothing blew up, or broke apart. God did not come, though she almost wished he had. “If he’d decided to show his face for the first time in a millennium, it should have been last night. It would have served them all right,” she thought.
Then, while she counted the passing seconds of the first day of a new year, she thought again of how nice it had been to be downtown, watching all the people walking about, hugging, holding hands, laughing and loving. The man with the Irish accent, fake though it was, had kissed her hand as he passed, wished her a happy new year, a fruitful life. She smiled and asked his name, but he was moving on, sharing spirits with other revelers. Things could certainly be worse. She felt lucky for the first time in months. In this new state of mind, she might eventually forgive them all for not seeing her, making her seem invisible, especially to herself. She stood to go home.
Over the last 20 years (maybe longer), I have had a strained relationship with organized religion. For me, it does not fill a need, a void.
This does not mean I have abandoned the concepts of spirituality, though I do struggle understanding what most mean when they call themselves “a spiritual person”.
I understand the concept of sacred, even if what I call sacred others might find trite. Like many of the most important parts of our lives, the things we care about most are completely subjectively understood. We love strange and disturbed people, find fulfillment in places and things that some find odd. It is too easy to invalidate, belittle and dismiss what we don’t agree with, what doesn’t stimulate us.
This is my church, and these are my holy relics. I spend most of my day sitting in this room, listening to music of all sorts. I find a pathway to the divine through the notes, tones, the voices. I feel a connection with the musicians, the artists who lay bare a portion of their secrets for me. What a frightening and vulnerable position, sharing blindly with so many, the things that matter most, the often very intimate.
I write here, surrounded by other artists. They inspire me, frighten me, intimidate and welcome me. They have influenced me in ways I find hard to describe. They are loyal, always ready, always giving.
Combined with these written relics, the words of so many novelists, poets, I cannot help but be buoyed up. Novels expand my universe, take me to locations I have only ever barely imagined. I am consumed by language, Immersed in words and sentences.
These places, these things are sacred to me. They are my companions, and I am grateful for them.
What is sacred to and for you?