Autumnal universes

Stephen Vicchio

November 08, 1991|By Stephen Vicchio

THIS MORNING, in the world we most often refer to as the real one, I heard that a very important Iranian ayatollah has pronounced a death sentence on Arabs and Israelis alike who are participating in the Mideast peace talks. It seems to the ayatollah that the best way to bring peace to the troubled region is to kill any Jews or Arabs who might sit down to talk about it. I thought that the Red Queen probably is not even out of bed yet, but it will be a day she surely will find to her liking.

When I begin to have thoughts like these, I usually find my way to the back of our property, through old trees I know well but whose names I have never learned. And so this morning I passed through the gate on my way to some alternative universes.

On the path, just past the first clump of trees, I found the blue bones of a rabbit, picked clean by a swarm of ants. A few moments later, I could feel the warmth of the sun working its way into my hair. But in another instant, a cloud covered the sun, and a bitter little wind found me among the hollies. Archibald Alison, a little-known but very wise Scottish divine, once began an essay on November with this query: "Who at this season does not feel impressed with a sentiment of melancholy?"

The woods are, of course, a mostly simple place. At this time of year much of the life there is doing its dying. On even the most cursory of walks in the autumnal quiet, something takes form, something Keats came to understand by looking at an urn. Unmistakably, perhaps irretrievably, we are all partly made of leaves and vegetable mold.

Reveries, as well as universes, begin and end very quickly in the woods. A spider travels like a thief up an invisible thread. I follow the tiny creature's progress until I come to the glistening web. I touch it gently with a twig. The slight motion instantly sends signals to a tiny spider brain. His (or her) world is a tightly circumscribed one, but it holds real danger.

In still another universe, a few paces away, drops from an evening shower have made tiny pools on leaves that will drop by nightfall.

Back in my world, the one I keep within, I think about how often I yearn for those things that are clearly finite: I try to remember the voice of a grandfather dead 35 years. I try to recall the smells, the sounds that made him real, but they are mostly lost.

A moment later, I think about heading into winter. I think about how we all must find something tough and reliable, something that will outlast the darkness.

In winter, love must learn to roll itself into a ball, small and tight. It must stick close to the bone. It must be very patient, until it hTC hears once again the murmurings of the earth. If resurrection is possible, it will only come after a long winter's night. The most difficult part of faith, I have come to learn, is trying to believe that even that longest of winters is not permanent.

Back on the path, on the way out of the woods, I remember a Hindu tale of the god Krishna's mother. One day, while wiping the baby god's mouth, she inadvertently peered inside and beheld the universe.

I have walked in the woods enough now to ask which one.

Stephen Vicchio teaches philosophy at the College of Notre ; Dame. He is the author of "Ordinary Mysteries," a collection of essays, many of which have appeared on this page.

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