“. . . the old fable-makers searched hard for a word . . .”

This morning the weather was –for an old man like, at any rate—brutal. 21 degrees when I arrived at my office. It warmed up to 33 or something like that by the end of the day. But the

Ice only by the driver's door of my car. With photographer's finger.

Ice only by the driver’s door of my car. With photographer’s finger.

weather is by any reckoning strange for Dallas.

And for everywhere else in this country, I think.

I had students one after the other in my office today for conferences on the next essay they have to write. Their assigned topic is the 1956 (that is, the real) Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Everyone knows the little speech by Dr. Miles Bennell,

In my practice, I’ve seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away. Only it happened slowly instead of all at once. They didn’t seem to mind… All of us – a little bit – we harden our hearts, grow callous. Only when we have to fight to stay human do we realize how precious it is to us, how dear.

Only when we have to fight to stay human.

I had several student conferences that were quite enjoyable. Fortunately the best of the day was the last.

When I left, I went to my car and found that all of the ice in the parking lot had melted and evaporated during the day—except, of course, for the little patch by the driver’s side door of my car. I thought it was pretty funny so I took a picture (with the tip of my finger in it).

On the radio immediately when I turned it on driving home was news of the Ukraine. I have written in some detail about it, but I’m not going to copy any of that here. But I am bemused, saddened, grieving over the situation. Once again might is attempting to make itself to be the right.

But in the midst of all of this news, I had a private moment of grief. A good friend and former colleague was of Ukrainian heritage. In fact, he had relatives in Kiev and went every couple of years to visit them. This was about the time (1991) when the Soviet Union was collapsing, and my friend was ecstatic.

When I moved to Texas, I tried to keep in touch with him, but after the first exchange of emails, he simply stopped answering my messages (this was 1994 when academics were just beginning to use email habitually—compulsively—and the general public wasn’t yet online to any significant degree).

I have had moments of grief over the evaporation of my friendship with Phil. Somehow the situation in the Ukraine today has brought that grief to the surface of my memory and consciousness.

When I arrived home this afternoon, thinking about Phil and wondering where he is and if there is any way to contact him or anything to be gained by it, I remembered I needed to pay my rent. So I wrote a check and took it to the apartment offices. The assistant manager was not in her office, and a guy I had never seen before was in the manager’s office at his desk. I asked if Sharon (the assistant manager) was gone for the day, and the guy replied, “Sharon has retired.”

The last time I saw her was about a week ago when she brought me (to my door—not a usual service of the complex) a package of some books I had ordered that were published in Palestine and were shipped through Cyprus (don’t ask me). She said nothing about retiring. She and I had talked about my retiring several times. I knew nothing of her plans. I have sat in her office for hours on end, the two of us yakking like a couple of old farts. At least a couple of old friends.

And she has simply disappeared. The only way I know to reach her is at a desk which is no longer hers.

"Cascade" by Robert DiGiovanni, mutual friends with Phil and me.

“Cascade” by Robert DiGiovanni, mutual friends with Phil and me.

My cat Groucho hid from me when I came back to the apartment from delivering my rent check to someone I don’t know. Groucho hid because he has become frightened of me. You would be, too, I suppose, if I came at you with a syringe twice a day to give you an insulin shot. Especially if you had no idea—could have no idea—that it was keeping you alive.

Today. Phil. Sharon. Groucho. I’m sensing loss so keenly I can scarcely imagine it, much less let myself feel it. More and more these days.

Growing old—I’m not old yet, but I’m headed there—means learning to say goodbye daily. We learn that  “what is gone is gone forever and never found. . .”

If that is good or if that is bad, I don’t know yet. If I find out before it’s too late, I’ll let you know. In the meantime the Irish poet Eavan Boland (*) says something akin to what I want to say. She won’t mind if I quote her, I’m sure. She is, by the way, one year older than I.

“Atlantis—A Lost Sonnet,”  by Eavan Boland      

How on earth did it happen, I used to wonder
that a whole city—arches, pillars, colonnades,
not to mention vehicles and animals—had all
one fine day gone under?

I mean, I said to myself, the world was small then.
Surely a great city must have been missed?
I miss our old city —

white pepper, white pudding, you and I meeting
under fanlights and low skies to go home in it. Maybe
what really happened is

this: the old fable-makers searched hard for a word
to convey that what is gone is gone forever and
never found it. And so, in the best traditions of

where we come from, they gave their sorrow a name
and drowned it.
__________
(*) Eavan Boland was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1944.
She has taught at Trinity College, University College, Bowdoin College, and she was a member of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. She is also a regular reviewer for the Irish Times. Boland is professor of English at Stanford University where she directs the creative writing program.

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