Last night, I started re-reading The Little Princess. I had finished The Wind in the Willows and My Antonia, and have a stack of library books, but was just falling asleep and wanted something softer. As in A Secret Garden, Hodgson Burnett’s young heroine is returning to her parents’ England after an early childhood in India. The narrator captured some of what I’m feeling as she mused, in her eight-year-old brain:
“Principally, she was thinking of what a queer thing it was that one time one was in India in the blazing sun, and then in the middle of the ocean, and then driving in a strange vehicle through strange streets where the day was as dark as the night.”
In cool Ontario, I read, swim, drink wine, and generally partake of the luxuries of a green, lush, well-tended and underpopulated world. Already it is hard to remember what was so daily and striking only last week.
I am tired of talking about the Burning Place. When people want to know, I now want to say, “Here is something I wrote about it once.” I don’t want to try and describe it, I don’t want to hear the “Gross,” or “Real bodies?” or “That’s so unreal.” I don’t want to try and use up the memories to help others understand; I fear that the more words I try to use to describe, the more actual pieces of the memory will disappear. The experience becomes what I say; I don’t want to forget the heat, the dry ashes as they fell, the torn garland in the water, the gravity of all around.
You know how if you talk about a memory, repeatedly, the memory itself becomes what you have said about it, and not what you actually experienced.
If you think about your high school prom, for example, you will remember the things you’ve talked about while talking about it all these years. The smaller things—the pollen from the stamen of your lilies falling onto the dusty velour of the car seat between you and your date, the awkwardness of seeing your gym teacher’s bra strap in her dress-up dress, the strangeness of driving to school as the sun sets, and parking in a familiar place, but in utterly unfamiliar clothes…
If I keep trying to talk about the Burning Place, I will lose the actual impressions. Like wet tissue paper pages—once color-saturated, they will dry up and leave me with rasping slips of brittle blank paper.
I kind of like being sunburned. Not on the tender parts, like my shoulder and that soft doughy bit between my swimsuit strap and my torso—that’s too much pain. But my legs, my feet. I like feeling the discomfort, the constant reminder, as I move my feet inside the sheets. It’s like: I can still be reached by the sun, even all this way away.
I still find myself working to keep water out of my mouth when I swim or wash my face. I keep forgetting that the water here—all of the water, every drop of it—is safe and will not make me sick. This is incredible.
I went to church last Sunday, an Anglican parish in small town Canada. It was an outside, casual service, the kind I hate. Lawn chairs, a jocular sermon, kids wearing baseball caps. No processions.
And even still, I needed it and loved it. The great thing about the BCP is that even in a lackluster service, you hear these prayers and phrases that gild the whole thing. It’s like seeing a red thread that you’ve previously only seen against green velvet, and here it is against denim: look how red and strong it is. Feel how inspiring and comforting the words. And so once again, I received the Body and Blood, and tried to use the tiny sliver of silence during the Prayers of the People—I have so many prayers. Of thanksgiving, of names of all those I wish to remember, to be thankful for, to send God’s Grace and Presence and Care to, for forgiveness (for privileges known and unknown, privileges seen and unseen.)
Bells from all over town are background for the readings. I keep my hands open, as if to receive, as I did so many times in India, and pray that I might keep my posture of openness just a little bit longer.