In the stillness of world
December 06, 2020
I toured Ireland for two weeks in May of 1999. No, that's not right. I ran behind my latest husband as he galloped at high speed from one carefully selected destination to another. For a guy who spent his childhood summers in Listowel, he sure did seem attached to that guidebook. It was one of those small print, thumbnail photographs, one inch thick guidebooks; not what you'd find in the hands of an ordinary tourist.
The man who was nineteen months from becoming Elizabeth's dad was on a mission. He obtained a bound listing of every sacred site, ruin, historical point of interest, and oddly enough, pubs in the country. By way of explanation, the man is a book savant. If he knows a person well enough he can reach into the ether and arbitrarily pull a book out of thin air. It's not really arbitrary, but the universe appears that way if you're not paying attention.
Upon arrival we crashed at a castle disguised as a rather large inn; the sort that turns the heat off during the day in order to remain solvent. Castles are drafty.
In the morning, from just west of Shannon, we launched ourselves north.
These places are everywhere and nowhere. I watched him consult the holy grail of all things sacred, and run his finger down a page until he found the next check mark. Sometimes he'd say, but more often we just drove until a road ended and then got out and walked. His face mostly in the book, he'd look up periodically as if to check the location of the sun. We spent a great deal of time in farmer's fields which nearly caused heart failure until I accepted the fact that I was well outside of the U.S.
The thing that hammered me into the ground was a passage tomb from the bronze age. Not the sort that's been excavated and restored; the sort you'd miss entirely if you didn't know to look. You might trip over a bit of stone and keep walking without seeing the shape of a thing buried by time.
This was not New Grange; we didn't go to New Grange. In my experience, anything that requires tickets weeks in advance is no longer truly itself. This thing was truly itself. He positioned me at what would have been the foot of the entry. The entire thing was nearly flat except for the indentation of the circle, which would have started out as a mound. I wasn't thinking about the mechanics of the thing because I didn't know what it was yet.
I stepped onto the path with the reverence reserved for a labyrinth; head down and empty, feet moving slowly, body loose, heart open.
It was a short walk to the circle and I didn't want to go in. It made me think about the first fairy ring I made in the forest; a powerful ring of dry autumn leaves. I was seven. It was in the time before God, religion, or constructs of spirituality. I did have the truth of the unknown vastness, discovered while flat on my back in the tall summer grass, looking up at the wide blue sky. It wasn't a thing I could explain any more than I could explain why I couldn't walk into the circle.
Jefferies, he asked (yes, that's still what he calls me). Jefferies, he asked, do you know where you are?
You know perfectly well I have no idea where I am.
You're in some farmer's field. I can look it up if you'd like.
OK. Jefferies, can you walk into that circle?
Can you turn around and come back out?
Can you just step off the path?
Do you want me to come in and get you? (he was twelve feet behind me)
Do you want me to tell you where you are, aside from a farmer's field?
Um. Not directly, no.
Do you want a hint?
Maybe. A small one.
What was this field five thousand years ago?
And that's when I started crying.
It's a cemetery, isn't it?
Not the kind you're thinking of today, but yes, there are people here.
OK. Now you can tell me why I can't go forward and won't go backwards?
Jefferies, periodically I have a vague idea of why you do some of the things you do, but this is not one of them.
I can't go forward because I don't know who they are and I don't know what happened here. And I don't know what's probably still happening here.
Jefferies, you walk over bodies in cemeteries all the time.
I apologize first!
So apologize and go in.
I asked permission instead, and after a while I crossed the boundary and stood in the middle of the circle. I looked around at the bits of stone and thought if I started digging I might find boulders, or at least very large rocks.
He started talking. He spoke in the voice reserved for the things he holds most sacred and true. I think the voice was for me because I'm pretty sure he doesn't feel what I felt standing in the middle of what had to be the top of this thing. He does understand me. He outlined the history of the time and place and gave me a broad stroke explanation of a passage tomb. Then he asked if I was listening.
Yes, I'm hearing. It's not a single voice, but it is a single voice. That doesn't sound right.
Do you want to come out now?
Yes. I think I should.
I wept all the way to Giants Causeway.
post script - I wanted to write something in response to a comment I read the other day. A man asked, why all this focus on the corona virus? Yes, he acknowledged, or course he wore his mask and followed social distancing guidelines, but what about heart disease? What about cancer? I know he didn't mean it, because COVID doesn't have a hashtag to fit the conversation. He didn't mean it, but he was doing it anyway.
Black Lives Matter. Why? Why don't All Lives Matter? What about Blue Lives? That's what I heard. When people appropriate the BLM movement, it's because they can't see it, not really. Yep, lots of racism and classism wrapped up in those questions, but push come to shove, if they actually SAW it, they'd stop asking the question. Well, they might ask, but the pretense of not being in denial would be gone.
I wanted to talk about where COVID deaths fall in the top 10 leading causes of death in the US. The most recent set of statistics from the CDC is for 2018. It takes a while to compile that much data. I'm OK with 2018 because I don't think a whole lot changed, percentage wise, in 2019. I think the numbers would be close enough.
Based on the numbers, logically, I understand why he was asking. After all, in 2018, Heart Disease was the number one killer in the US. It's followed closely by Cancer. What he doesn't know is where COVID sits on that list. What he's not thinking is how much higher those top two numbers are likely to be this year because, for one COVID related reason or another, people didn't get the help they needed or didn't get it in time.
If I hadn't been willing to perform minor surgery on myself back in April, it's possible I'd have died of a staff infection gone septic. That shit can happen really fast. I surely was not going anywhere near the plague factories.
But this isn't what I wrote about, even if it is in the post script. I started to write the things I was thinking when I looked at the photographs and read about the overflowing hospitals and morgues and refrigerated trucks which we don't much talk about this time around. This time around, we've all got our eyes closed.
When I thought those things, I found myself back in the passage tomb in some farmer's field in the almost North of Ireland. I don't have the words to explain that anymore than I had the words to explain infinity in the great blue sky, and I don't need to.
If you close your eyes and take a breath; if you're honest with yourself, you'll know why. With or without words. So just have that? OK? It might make your heart hurt, but that's part of being present in the world.
Being present in the world might be very helpful right about now.
Warning: there are statistics below.