I feel the muscles of my back broadening my shoulders. Parts of the whole expanding the parts of which the whole is comprised.
The fourth shelf is a collection of titles, each with a story of its own; not just the contents of the books themselves, but a wealth of history about how they came to be in my collection. World Religions, Metaphysic, The American Garden Book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, The Brain that Changes Itself. Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Eli Wiesel, the complete Griffin & Sabine volumes by Nick Bantock, Austin Beckstrom, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Emerson, Donne, Dickinson, Edith Wharton, George Bernard Shaw, and Robert Frost.
At this juncture I should mention that intelligent, headstrong, troubled students intimidate the hell out of professors. I say as much because this shelf reminds me of a particular individual, whose name I shall not divulge, who seemed to get himself beneath the skin of all the philosophy professors I know well. He still intrigues me, but I haven’t seen him in years. Trying to crack his social barriers to become closer was like trying to befriend a brick straight from the hottest coals. I know he appreciated my mind. I appreciated his. But ghosts get in the way of even friendship. He’s ridden the rails, read more than most bibliophiles, experienced loss and suffering that I haven’t heard put into words but have read in the frightened fire of his eyes. He is a Marxist. I’ve lost track of him, but he privately read thirty-six pages of my thoughts and ideas on the basics of ethics and philosophy seven years ago. I believe he’d read more. Sweet, troubled man. And so I had to go find him, which I did because I can. Which makes me a seeker. Which is not far from a stalker, although except for twitter I have no intent to follow.
The last two items on this shelf are a small ceramic statue of Jesus of Nazareth knelt at a rock in Gethsemane, and a corroded iron railway spike. I’ll start with the statue. My oldest step-sister is six months younger than I. We are both the eldest, but like Jacob she is good at making soup, and like Esau I am good at wilder things. I do not see her as usurper. She would not be displaced when my mother and her father married, and I had no place where with to begin. I dreamed about my step-brother last night. I dreamed many things. He kissed me and I kissed him back and we acknowledged the pain we experienced as teens, together and separately. In that kiss was completion, a wholeness and a healing. I did love my step-brother, although I hardly recognize him as the man he is now. I assume the same could be said for me. My step-sister and I have danced the two sides of our religion of origin for years, often at opposite ends of the spectrum at the same time. I did escort her through the LDS temple the first time she went, which is a pleasant memory. Her mother died a year before our parents married, and my mother was yet to be a mother-figure to her at that time. Things change. She is quite close to my mother now, and I am glad for that. My mother deserves a daughter who meets her expectations. When my sister offered to create this statue for me she asked how I wanted it painted. The craft of ceramic painting seems popular among many Mormon women. I could never get into it. I always had different artistic sensibilities than ran the mainstream of our culture. And so I do hope she wasn’t offended when I told he I wanted it all white. Opalescent white, with no detail aside from the mold itself. I wanted the Pieta, really. Someday I may even visit the Vatican. I also hope she understands the significance of a marblesque statue as opposed to something painted with colors to match something when I’m uncertain of its original hue. I cling to certain aspects of my Christian upbringing more than others. The Sermon on the Mount, Sermon on the Plain. The parables. At least some of them. Atonement has come to mean something quite different to me than it was taught in Sunday School. Rather than a singular salvation, I meditate on the universal nature of oneness. Sacrament joins body to body. We ingest this symbolic flesh to fuel acts of charity in the kingdom. And of course, the kingdom is all. We are not without one, and one is not without the other. I understand the need to focus on this statue to remember that my suffering is not solo. I am consumed in a cosmos of dukkha. My works will not alleviate this pain, but it is my charge to meet needs where I can to eliminate the suffering of desire. Whether my “faith” makes sense to others doesn’t matter to me. This little statue is my personal Jesus, a reminder that I must have compassion.
The iron spike is a treasure I brought home from the switch yard. I say ‘treasure’ only because it is precious to me, not because it is rare or valuable. The spikes come away from the ties with time. Like a splinter pushed by the body out of the flesh. I don’t know why I am so fascinated with trains and rail systems. I may be on the autism spectrum. I may have been born to a Union Pacific lineman. Trains, connectivity—they are in my blood. As is iron. As is in this spike that held secure a connection that allowed another upholding yet another. The circle is universal. The stories flow title to title because of what’s come before, because of what’s next. We are tied together. We are our own makers and destroyers. Stasis is but illusion. This book case. Its volumes and adornments. I used to tell myself that such was the nature of poverty. Things come, things go. But I believe the concept applies on every stage, for every creature, for all things we assume solid until they fall corrupt to corrosion, dust, and rust.