Private memories

He lifted his chin into an intimate smile he kept for himself and his memories. “Ah, but spook bread is the very best kind.” He turned and walked on.

I lingered a bit, then followed.

Nature burbled and rustled all around us. My friend kicked rocks along his own inner streams as he wandered the world of his very private smile, shaking his head sometimes and chuckling. He wore an old woven blanket someone had made into a vest. As he stepped with great care among shadows, trying not to disturb, not to snap a branch or rouse a settled creature, he petted that vest and found that someone.

Mushrooms poked through everywhere, breaking down matter that had outlived its time, seeding spores of brightness through the lost and decaying. They drew in around us and reached off in all directions. Gaudy, gay or dull; dappled or solid, they gathered together and scattered; exquisite vistas of life growing from death, and death nurturing life. Lichen clawed out from vibrant trees and rotting stumps.

“Ahhh … Bread. Fresh-baking. How wonderful.” Waters stepped over a fallen trunk of slick green velvet, his walking stick poking a thorny vine up out of his face. “We made some marvelous breads together, Sanchee and I, according to the old ways. Bread you could cut your teeth on. Now there was bread! My wife worked wonders at our old stone hearth.”

“I’m so jealous,” I told him, making no move to catch up as he stood, studying his own chapter of Nature. “All that love, the sharing. The little home chores…”

Bonding together through the intimate drudgery of life, having problems and working them out, irritations that become seeds of growth and new understanding. But then I guess that great feast of long-lasting union would have been lost on someone like me. I wouldn’t even have paused at the table. “Just passing through,” I’d say, “Sorry; can’t stay.”

But here was a man who had dug into love. He’d labored in the field with it, shared sickness and health, spoken and lived it. Now he had joys to look back on while I could only sit on a rock and take notes. I wanted so badly to ask him more, search out details, share my friend’s greatest triumphs, joys, and deepest sorrows, all the little stuff, too; but I’m not one to pry. And Waters was a very guarded soul.

I couldn’t respect the man without honoring that.

– From “The Mourning After”

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