It is early morning, and I am alone. I lay unmoving. The sound of my breath fills the sterile hospital room. It is a brief moment of respite, a rare opportunity when I have both time and energy. I weigh anchor and gently nudge my consciousness into the deep blue unknown.
Ankle deep sand cradles my feet in soft embrace. Shallow water drifts by with no hurry. Pale red rock curves up and over my head, a cavernous overhang a few million years in the making. The canyon twists and turns at the whim of the river. Here, at the apex of one such turn, I gaze out from the shadows. The paths reach out, coming and going, bathed in sunlight, wandering onward until lost beyond an inevitable corner. I know this place, but not this time. When last I was here, the canyon walls echoed with the sounds of life. Laughter was offered up with the passage of those who would take part in the beauty of the moment. In this moment, all is silent. The breeze brings no whispers. Rock and river hold their breath. I am on my hands and knees now. A single salty drop loosens its grip on me, falling through time and space. As it joins in union with the water below, the sound cuts a razor's path through the void. I slowly exhale and give offering to the beauty of the moment; the splashes reverberate to fill this place once more, with life.
In my hospital room, the silence is broken by a nurse opening the door. My eyes color captured pools in shades of blue; a story is told in half heard whispers. How can I convey the reality of my journey? I chose this pain. Peace is on the other side. The words unravel, and I am silent.
Another day, another moment of solitude, another journey... She is radiant, all in white, and I in black. I pause as if afraid to break the spell. She wonders aloud why I have stopped, and I cannot quite keep the mischief from crawling across my face. It is too late now anyway. She is a sack of potatoes over my shoulder, and I carry her across the threshold... The child squeals in delight with every flight. If she is the plane, then I must be the wind. She is getting bigger, and will have to settle for piggyback rides before too long. I try not to think too far into the future. With her mother's hair and my eyes, it won't be all that long before I am providing subtle threats to potential suitors. For now, she is my little girl, and that's all that matters... She walks through the door, bleary-eyed and dead on her feet. I ask her if she's had a long day, already knowing the answer. She kicks off her shoes and sits down on the couch. My hands find her shoulders and proceed to rub here and there, guided by years of doing just the same. Not that she has ever believed me, but it relaxes me too. She tilts her head back with eyes closed, and I plant a soft kiss on her lips. All too soon I am needed elsewhere and she must settle for resting her head, and listening as my voice drifts through the door. I continue to pluck the guitar strings long after the child next to me has drifted off to sleep... It is only seven, but the living room is already full of pint sized whirling dervishes. I loudly make it known that only those sitting at the table will get breakfast. The pancakes come off the griddle in all shapes and sizes. Just as my grandfather did for me, I make my grandchildren guess what each oddly shaped pancake is. We called it "funny pancakes." Somehow there always ended up being a lot of golf course shaped pancakes...
Many events can change the course of our lives in profound ways. I will not claim to have cornered the market in disaster, but I cannot suppress a shudder when I ask myself, "what could be worse?" I knew a thing or two about the world. Life contains an immense variety of possibility; sickness and health; free air and free thought; brutal oppression and terror; exhaustion, hunger, and cold; young bodies and young love; twilight. It is this last one, twilight, that has the most in common with my situation. In all of the others there is a central image of what we are, and how we might feel in that situation. I have tripped and fallen down the rabbit hole, and much of what I knew no longer applies, but even Alice knew what she was. She faced a new reality, but large or small she was a curious young girl who could reach out and touch the world. As we age we watch as our joints stiffen, our energy flees us, and our faculties fail us. Perhaps then, we are forced to consider who we are instead of what we are.
What we do is not who we are. When asked to describe ourselves we inevitably end up describing the things that we do. I am an engineer, but that is a profession and not who I am. I am a musician, but that is a passion and not who I am. I am a student, but that is what I am doing and not who I am. I love to read, to be outdoors, to be physical, to explore in body, and in mind. The things that we do are not who we are, but rather expressions of who we are. The analytical mind; the creative urge; the inquisitive spirit; even these don't quite strike the heart of who I am. Every time we try to describe ourselves the words fall short of the truth. Who we are is in there somewhere. It can be shaped, refined, and polished. Perhaps it cannot be fully described, but when the light shines on it, like a prism, we can see the results. When we find ourselves out in the world, in a particular place and in a particular moment, who we are expresses itself.
The accident put me in an unenviable position. I experienced in a heartbeat a process that normally takes a lifetime. I lost my strength, my independence, and the course my life was changed unalterably. All of the ways in which I live my life have come into question, and many of them are gone forever. I can say, without irony, that I am no longer what I was. The reality of it strikes me every day: the frailty of my existence; the utter dependence on other people for basic survival; the hours and hours burned every day for the sake of the few that are left over; lost opportunities; lost love and lost passion; lost windows, roads, and channels; lost wind and lost waves; lost touch. It is a lot to think about, and it must be faced, but if I carry the weight of the lost world it will crush me. If I cling to it as it sinks it will drown me. What I was and what I did means something, but I cannot drag what is past into the present. I can only be who I am in this moment, in this light.