Pearls

seaA stick, a stone. A gesture, a heartbeat.

Connections to the natural world, an ephemeral feeling of something larger and interconnected, flowing through, at one with. Experienced in the wind, the water, the ocean, a sunset, a sunrise, color, a moment. The same feeling on the top of a very high mountain, the top of a very high building, a city street, with cars, bicycles, people, lights, sound, moving together as if choreographed, building up to a sustained crescendo. The same feeling sitting in front of an orchestra, transcending the building, the people in it, the musicians, the instruments, the score. Frightening in its luminescence. Frightening, perhaps, to live a moment that may not be surpassed. To glimpse something beautiful, and perhaps (only later) learn that it was the most beautiful thing that one will ever see.

A string of moments. Pearls on a string — perhaps a string strung so tightly that it twists back on itself in a helix, with little or no space, little or no delay between one pearl and the next. Time full to bursting. If one is lucky.

Or the long stretches in between, more likely. The days that blend together in their sheer ordinariness. The days that give one time to wonder where those pearls came from, where they might have gone to, and whether there are more.

I am going pearl hunting. I am sure they won’t come to me here on dry land, above the waves, out of sight even of the water. Up here where I can breathe, where I can see, or at least where what presses upon my eyes is mistaken for vision. The air in my lungs feels safe. It feels cautious, and wise. It feels sensible, compared to previous follies.

The thread of time, on which one might choose to string pearls — picking up one here, one there, incautiously. The thread should be of a sufficient weight. Made of a material not easily strained to breaking. One worries sometimes about these things. One worries, most likely, entirely too much.

A storm comes over the horizon. The sky turns to gray, and then to yellow. You turn for shore, or sail into the squall, knowing that most have survived such things and worse. Most — but not all.

The connections. The garden, the mulch, the warm earth in a turning spade. The yellow sun, the blue sky. The feeling of lying on the earth, eyes closed, brightness searing through the eyelids so that the retinas are saturated, knowing that both are there — the yellow sun, the blue sky.

The connections. More than the intricacies of how one molecule fits into another, lock and key, to make a reaction, to make a strand of hair, a feeling, the clenching fist of a newborn baby, the failing lungs, heart, brains of an elderly grandparent. More than that, because those molecules can be taken out of these other things and studied — which is good — but where they came from can be forgotten. Not deliberately. Not completely. Not in motive, or in intent. How to describe the feeling? Reductive. So very small, and necessarily disconnected. I am describing my feeling, which should not be ascribed wantonly to others. That would be an error. I am describing my need for connection.

Meanwhile, millions die for the lack of connectedness and connections. The whole should be more than the parts, but as they say, everything breaks at scale. We can’t get the discoveries we already have to the people who need them and can use them. Looking in a microscope increases my sense of awe. That is indisputable. And yet. And yet. I want to look up at the stars too, and at the sunrise, and the sunset, and the people around me, and the people far off from me. Do I see more by seeing less, or do I just see more of less.

Practitioners. Artists, musicians, writers. Scientists. None of these practical on the face of things. All require patronage, long years of training. There is a caché to the tortured image of the starving artist. Less so, to the starving scientist. The stories from John G., passed down from Edward Weston, Ansel Adams (the photorealists) and so many others, of making portraits of horrid people for the money to buy film, paint, canvases. These remind me that maybe it’s all part of it.

The day begins.

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