I woke up this morning dreaming about the sinking of the SS El Faro in the Bermuda Triangle. The ship shifting around on the sandy bottom at 15,000 feet. No light, freezing temperature, the crush of the sea, and the drifting, vanishing forms of 33 people.
They were against the eyewall of a hurricane.
There are waves inside my body and I float in the dark. I used to swim naked in the sea at night, and if you have ever done this, then you know it is one of the loneliest things a person can do: only you, the sea, and the darkness.
The response from “Am I Still Living” has been overwhelming. Five people wrote me and asked if the story is true? That’s a record for me. The Convert Blog left a comment and asked me how I do what I do? Well, I’d like to tell you about how I extend my hand and lightly run my fingers over the skin of the woman in bed with me. She rolls over and puts her arm across my chest and I can feel her weight against my breathing and it’s like she pushes into the eyewall of my spirit and then I fall back to sleep.
Also, there is emptiness, loneliness of everything that has come before.
People grow weary of my sad tales. Many have stopped reading what I write. They don’t want to feel bad since the world is fucked up enough, so why add to the mess? That is a very good question. Why, indeed.
I know a beautiful woman with a daughter who was very depressed. The mother was a loving person, as most mothers are, and she couldn’t sleep at night because of the child. She worried that something bad was waiting for her family just down the path and she kept imagining what she must do to avoid disaster. She wrote me a letter and asked for advice. Like a fool, I answered with this story.
There once was an 18-year old girl who the Nazis arrested in Poland. They took her to the Palace Hotel and tortured her and then gave her a mock trial and condemned her to death. WWII was like that and children might as well have been shovels for the troops or dropped like bombs from airplanes.
On the day of her execution, the Gestapo firing squad was taking their time and so the girl had a few minutes to turn and face the wall. She had something sharp in her hand, because in those last few moments she scratched a message into the concrete wall. It read: “Oh mama do not cry, Immaculate Queen of Heaven support me always.”
Then they shot her and a few others and the bodies went limp and collapsed at the base of the wall, beneath the cloudy sky, on that day in 1944.
About 30 years later a music composer by the name of Henryk Gorecki visited the prison. As he walked in the courtyard, he approached the wall and spotted the message left by the girl so long ago. He was struck by the fact the girl had thought only of her real and religious mothers at the end of her life. For the next few years he contemplated the meaning of the bond between mother and daughter and thought it represented something far more than he had every guessed. From his musings, he wrote “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”.
I listen to this particular piece of music often when I write. I was listening to it when I wrote the story about Tommy dying of cancer in the little concrete house along the Dolores Hidalgo highway. The English translation of “dolores” is usually shown as pain, grief, and sorrow. The first naming of the area where Tommy died came in 1570 when a Spanish Viceroy decided to found a Catholic parish. He named the hoped-for nunnery and church, “The Congregation of Our Lady of Sorrows”.
Tommy’s light went out in the dark. As I wrote his story, I thought about what he might have been thinking when he died in the land of sorrows. The little storeroom must have felt like a box or a coffin and the four walls were close.
Is today my final day? Maybe, but I do know this…
I will not be shot by the Gestapo. I will not sink to the bottom of the sea as automobiles slide around me. I will not be the child killed by a sniper in Sarajevo. I will not be the bloated body of the man in a ditch where I walked to work. I will not be killed by the rocket in Zenica. I will not be the woman infected by cholera who beckoned me to stop, yet I kept walking. I will not die like the babies covered with flies on the bank of the Sobat. I will not be one of the 10,000 dead upon the lava fields of Goma: goodnight I muttered. I will not sleep with the 500,000 dead of Baidoa: how peaceful they looked from the airplane.
My fate is unknown and my words are like a mirror without reflection. I am just like you…in my house, on the street, buying fruit, talking; feeling the bones in my body.
Finally, the woman who worried about her daughter never wrote me again, even after I sent her an apology message. I am an ignorant man. I let my emotions get the better of me, but I know that is untrue. Emotions are all I have and they mix with sad music and bleak memory and what else am I to do upon this earth?
What else am I to do? It’s a trick question as I write and listen and stare at the walls of my study; the walls that echo my ticking time.