Why Do We Not Sing These Things as Miracles?

I say flip-flops, and you think …

Olga Bystritskaya/Flickr
Olga Bystritskaya/Flickr


You will say to me that time passeth, that What Was is now only memory, that we cannot reclaim or resurrect that which is inarguably past, but I am going to quibble about this, and quiz and question you hard and close, for I don’t even have to shut my eyes and it is six in the morning, long ago and right now, far away and right here, and it is snowing heavily, and there is a silvery shiver to the world, and the house is silent except for how it sighs sometimes when it remembers the forest it used to be, and I am huddled deep under four blankets, and I know without even opening my eyes that everyone else in the house is asleep, for when you are a child you have the most extraordinary senses, and can tell the color of a bird by its song, and the day of the week by the thrum of the rain, and how amused or annoyed your dad is by the tilt of his hat. Why do we not sing these things as miracles?

I don’t even have to know you to be able to say that of course you remember the frigid summer lake, and the mud of the playing field, and the sharp medicinal scent of the motel pool, and the drowse of a long ride in the back seat of the car the truck the van the bus, the murmur of the older people in the front, the wheedle of the radio, the interstellar hiss of static. You do, don’t you? You can smell the fermenting grass stain on your shirt, once I remind you of it. You are still wearing those delicious slippers, those battered moccasins, those summershot sandals, as soon as you hear me say those words. I say flip-flops and you are 17 and walking along the beach and holding hands and you will break up in two weeks and it will be the worst thing that ever happened to you until far worse things happened to you. I say lavender, and there is your grandmother, or bracelet, and there is your best friend in sixth grade, or punch, and there you are in the alley with your fist cocked and rage in your eye and you are terrified and thrilled and praying that this will be over one way or another quickly because your heart is beating so fast that in 20 seconds blood will pour from your nose one way or another.

You remember the first coffin you saw, and the hush and glower of the funeral home. You remember particular milkshakes and where you sipped them. You remember the lurch and stagger of the car as you ground its gears in the empty parking lot. You remember being carried on someone’s back and wrapping your arms around his or her neck. You remember being very worried about your breath when you kissed. You hear a certain song, and you are instantly in another year and another body. Why do we not sing this constantly humbly amazedly?

I whisper the word classroom to you, and there you are fourth row fifth seat, near the coatrack where you and your friends hid from the substitute teacher that time. I say aunt, and there is one particular aunt for reasons only you know. I say float, and there you are leaping or diving or whirling in the gleaming river, and the cottonwood trees along the way are flittering their leaves all at once as if they are amused or applauding or pointing the way. I say memory, and you say, with dawning surprise, everything, and I say imagination, and you say, so very quietly that I almost don’t hear it, that imagination is remembering that which has not yet happened, but will.

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Brian Doyle, an essayist and novelist, died on May 27, 2017. To read Epiphanies, his longtime blog for the Scholar, please go here.


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