When we left off, I had just become a lake, so to speak, even if I wasn’t actually aware of it at the time. The salt of my fear had been diluted, and Sarah chose that moment to read a poem that painted a lovely picture of this non-dualistic notion:
Monet Refuses the Operation
By Lisel Mueller
Doctor, you say there are no halos
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.
French Impressionist painter Claude Monet was indeed diagnosed with cataracts at the age of 72, but he’d been experiencing the effects of the cataracts since he was 65, and there is good evidence to suggest that the changes in how he perceived light, color and detail influenced his work, or at the very least reinforced ideas he had been exploring before his eyesight had become impaired. While he initially did refuse doctor-recommended surgery in fear that he could lose his sight altogether, eventually Monet relented, but he would not be happy with the results and died just three years later of lung cancer.
Death don’t have no mercy.
Now, Sarah had no way of knowing that Monet was the first artist who caught my attention when I discovered the great painters in my late teens, that the first exhibition I ever saw was of Monet’s work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, that after viewing the exhibit I purchased my first print by any artist, titled Antibes Seen from the Salis Gardens, that I spent more than I could afford at a frame shop, where I was given guidance on choosing the colors of matte and frame that would bring out a particular color in the painting, that that framed print subsequently graced a wall in every house or apartment I lived in, from New Brunswick, New Jersey to Los Angeles to Bellingham, Washington, eventually finding its way to my wife’s counseling office, where I like to think its soft pallete and its suggestion that, as Lisel Mueller put it, “…heaven pulls earth into its arms and how infinitely the heart expands to claim this world…,” might have been soothing comfort to those distressed souls seeking help.
All these beautiful awarenesses rushed into my mind and heart most powerfully, overwhelming me with beauty and love once again. Once again tears gushed. And as if I could even imagine anything more joyous, after a few minutes of simply holding my hand, Sarah put on another piece of music that I had mentioned to her in one of our prep sessions, though in the moment I did not recall having done so, and so it took me by surprise and stunned me.
Attics of my Life, music by the Grateful Dead, lyrics by Robert Hunter, a gorgeous hymn about spirit and grace that I’d listened to many times, and yet I heard it that day as never before, because never before had I been under attack by a terminal illness that was slowly robbing me of my faculties. That I was also a musician, specifically a guitar player, the guitar being a stringed instrument, that I’d had a guitar tattooed onto my forearm, that I was wearing short sleeves and looked at the tattoo throughout the song, that I clearly had some kind of spirit connection with owls and was holding an owl’s wing feather, that I was in need of grace, for someone to sing to me, to play guitar for me, to dream of me, and to fly to me, and that I had somehow found Sarah, who embodied that very grace, all contributed to my hearing it anew.
In the attics of my life
Full of cloudy dreams unreal
Full of tastes no tongue can know
And lights no eye can see
When there was no ear to hear
You sang to me
I have spent my life
Seeking all that’s still unsung
Bent my ear to hear the tune
And closed my eyes to see
When there were no strings to play
You played to me
In the book of love’s own dream
Where all the print is blood
Where all the pages are my days
And all my lights grow old
When I had no wings to fly
You flew to me
You flew to me
In the secret space of dreams
Where I dreaming lay amazed
When the secrets all are told
And the petals all unfold
When there was no dream of mine
You dreamed of me