When I was a boy, I used to go fishing with my grandfather almost daily during the summer months. He would row the pale-blue, flat-bottomed, sharp-prowed wooden boat with long, slow, metronomic strokes of the oars, and we’d troll for walleyes—or whatever would come to the worm-weighted spinners. (We kept the nightcrawlers we caught by flashlight on rainy nights in a zinc tub in the basement of my grandparents’ immobilized mobile home. My grandfather mixed spent coffee grounds in with the soil, believing the residual caffeine made the worms livelier on the hook. In a corner behind the tub were stacked crates of Carling’s Black Label Beer, untouched for over a decade, since the day, that is, my grandfather gave up drinking for good.) Three inflexible rules governed my conduct out there in the boat on the lake. Sit still. Be quiet. Pay attention.
Patience, patience, Patience, patience, Patience dans l’azur! Patience in the sky’s blue blue! Chaque atome de silence In each atom of silence Est la chance d’un fruit mûr! Is the chance of a ripened fruit! Viendra l’heureuse surprise: There will come the blessed surprise: Une colombe, la brise, A dove, the breeze, L’ébranlement le plus doux, The softest shock, Une femme qui s’appuie, A woman who leans against you, Feront tomber cette pluie Letting fall this rain Où l’on se jette à genoux! That throws you to your knees!Paul Valéry, “Palm”
About twenty years ago, I stopped on the island of Santorini, all that remains above the sea of the ancient, volcanic Thíra: a crescent, two arms embracing an abyss. A beach of black stones and sand sloped down to the water. I took a few steps away from the shore, feeling the bottom falling steeply down and away beneath me. Then swam out. Not far. Maybe twenty yards. And then I dove, pulling myself downward as far as my held breath [End Page 34] would allow me to go. Nothing. Nothing at all but the radically vertiginous sensation of unfathomable depths—an exalting and horrifying awe.
“Holy God!” I thought, surfacing and gasping in the sun-stricken air.
The other night I was fishing that stretch of the Platte River above the bridge on Pioneer. I caught and released any number of small rainbows—and one perfect brown. Also small, but, as I say, perfect: its back already that rare, deep shade of green unlike any other green and arrayed with a constellation of alarmingly vivid red dots, like the irises of a hundred alien eyes, its belly that warm, honey-butter yellow.
I fished until dark. A small gray fox jogged along in front of my headlights on the sandy two-track away from the river, then slipped into the brush.
When I got home, three barred owls were perched on low branches of trees in the yard of a vacant cottage across the dirt road. I walked over to them, among them. They didn’t seem to mind, though I stood little more than an arm’s length away from each in turn. Eventually, they drifted off, one by one by one, to the roof ridge of the cottage, and I walked back to my own place.
The present state of the world and the whole of life are diseased. If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I should reply: Create silence! Bring men to silence. The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today. And even if it blazoned forth with all the panoply of noise so that it could be heard in the midst of all the other noise, then it would no longer be the Word of God. Therefore create silence.Søren Kierkegaard
Over the past several months, my parents’ illnesses—my mother’s cancer, my father’s often and massively “insulted” heart—have worsened. Regardless of how much longer they have to live, they will never, in any meaningful sense, recover. They’re dying now. They know this.
“We’ll make it,” my mother says.
When I visit them...