My small black heart

blackheartI know the goal of meditation is to find oneself suspended–if briefly–in puffs of nothingness. No words, no skittering chains of thoughts, no human entanglements. As a newcomer to regular meditation (for me, that means actually sitting 2-3 times a week when I absolutely can’t avoid myself any longer), those moments of “being” are few.

Mostly, I am waking to myself over and over to remember the tail-end of a thought stream very much like a dream. Then I focus on my breath … one, two, three …. only to wake moments later from another tangent. Many of these waking dreams include Sean. I know this because my centering breaths occur in a chest that is tight with longing and I have the sense of him having been near.

Yesterday, my meditation yielded something quite unexpected. As I settled into the gently muscled layers of consciousness, I suddenly found myself entering a small, gray chamber. It was like a tomb, with squared, windowless walls and I had the feeling of entering into a charcoal drawing–like Mary Poppins jumping into a sidewalk painting. Only this was not a jolly holiday. This was a sad room, maybe the saddest space I had ever entered.

On the ground in the center was a blackened, encausted lump that was pulsating slowly. And at the moment I saw it I had the thought: “Oh, that is my heart!” A wave of incredible sorrow and tenderness and compassion engulfed me. I suddenly understood that I had entered the very center of my human life. The reality of now.

And I cried for myself.

Later, as I mulled over this experience and its power, I realized something. Yes, I really had transcended my daily existence. I had stopped running long enough to stand with my broken heart. But there was more to it. There was an I and a Thou. The life in ruins, and the loving observer of that life.

I am both. And somewhere, in Sean’s shattered life, his soul is standing beside him too.

On Hearing Voices

0920OPEDnegley-popupMadman or shaman? It’s a long lived debate whether those who hear voices are tuned to another realm or just plain nuts. Where my son is concerned, I have always erred on the side of shaman. It’s been more than mere error–I have long taken pride in his sensitivity and otherworldly interests.

Since he was quite young–five even–Sean has been fascinated by what is felt and conjured and intoned. I remember a little seance he once held in my bedroom, his sweet face so earnest in the candle light as he cast his spells. One of his favorite books was a picture book on shamanism; it was dog-eared by the time he was 10. And once Harry Potter hit the scene, we were utterly lost.

I saw we because I was his companion in these yearnings. When his study of  Wicca became very serious, around 11, I took him to a celebration of Imbolc at a friend’s coven–a jolly gathering of large women who embraced him warmly. He had me as his “flock” for his own ceremony in the woods near our house–I can’t remember which Wiccan celebration it was, but a little green snake hung on a bush nearby and we both thought it a good omen.

I didn’t especially truck with any of the stuff myself, but I could see it was important to him. It was his spiritual life and it was a place of much learning and empowerment to him. He really was impressive: He taught himself fluent Pictish–the written alphabet of the ancient Celts–and wrote pages and pages in a little notebook. He acquired all kinds of knowledge of herbs and plants, of history, of anthropology. As he got older, he became fascinated with psycholinguistics (whatever that is) and philosophy–and poetry.

But when–several months before he left for California to lead a life on the streets–he told me he was hearing voices, I began to feel uneasy. At first I wrote it off as his flare for the dramatic. Then I started to wonder if there might be some truth in it–that he really did have some psychic abilities that allowed him to tune into vibrations from “beyond.” It was possible. And such viewpoints are part of my DNA: I come from a New Agey kind of family where psychics are regularly consulted, energy healings can take place over the phone, and where we were encouraged to guzzle great quantities of green algae to preserve life and limb.

The fact is, I wanted to believe that Sean was psychic. It explained a lot of things in his childhood, which was unduly fraught with anxiety attacks, social otherness, and a pervading sense of being “unsafe” in the world. I envisioned him harnessing these powers to help himself and others, to heal and bring hope. His psychic powers would bring him a much-deserved sense of identity and belonging. He might even connect with other psychics, strengthen his skill through psychic mentors who would help him grow into the shining man I know he’s capable of becoming.

But that is not what happened.

Sean’s voices didn’t offer pearls of wisdom from beyond the grave. They chuckled and growled. They argued with each other. From what he told me (back in the day when he still spoke to me), it was a motley chorus of spirits that inhabited houses and rooms, department stores, and even natural places. At that point, I don’t think they were telling him to do anything, but sometimes their aggressiveness scared him. He reported several times that he was held down by spirits as he tried to sleep. They haunted many of the abandoned houses where he squatted in Maine, and later San Francisco, forcing him to flee.

A couple of times I casually asked him, “Do you think it might be a sign of schizophrenia?”

“I thought of that. But no.” He was definitive. Even when I pressed tenderly on the idea that it might be more than coincidence that the voices appeared just at the time he stopped taking his long-time antidepressants.

The voices began to be a casual part of conversation between us. I’d ask him as if mentioning an acquaintance of long past, “How are the voices doing?” “Oh, they’re still talking,” he’d say with a tinge of sarcasm. I asked if he had ways of controlling them, or turning them off, or protecting himself. He mumbled something I can’t remember.

In any case, I felt it was important to accept them even if I didn’t believe in or understand them, because, in a sense, we were both his companions: I have always been the one person Sean can talk to. I am the person he calls for the pep talks, the long-distance money wires and plane trips home, I am the person who will laugh with him about his bungling, swashbuckling attempts at independence. I believe I have been, most imperfectly, the voice in his head.

You can make the case that it was high time he cast me out to find his own voice. As we all do–or think we can when we are young (before we realize we are haunted forever by those we have loved). But by the time I found him sleeping in the gutter, I believe they had overcome him. His own voice didn’t have a chance.

I still send my voice out to him every night. I keep hoping it will drift through the tangle of chucklers and demons who have encausted his reason, perhaps reaching him as he sleeps. Like a whisp of smoke, so light it can enter undetected. It says to him: I’m with you Sean. Hear me, trust me, follow me. You are not alone.

I found him in the gutter

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My beautiful boy.

I know I shouldn’t be surprised by my growing aversion to write about my experiences searching the streets of Berkeley for my sweet, homeless son. Because this was the thick of it. The day I found him, literally, sleeping in the gutter–looking just as the very first street person I had encountered described him (“There’s a nice schizophrenic kid who sleeps under a blue blanket by People’s Park.”) And how I set up vigil across the street in that park, watching as a man emerged from his townhouse to stab the sidewalk around my son with a trash picking pole. And how I placed a paper bag of food by his covered head: all his favorites. Plain buttered bagels. Orangina. Smoked almonds. Even with jackhammers working the street, he did not rouse until the noontime sun had blazed the dew off the grass.

I watched him hungrily, trying to go unnoticed but unwilling to let him slip out of my sight as he had the day before. He quickly spotted me. He glowered a menacing, terrible look at me and I looked down, submissive as a dog. Furtive glances thereafter–from my knitting to him–as he slowly, mechanically ate the almonds and drank the water. He rose. He stuffed a blue blanket, his only possession, into a red plastic bag and slung it over he shoulder. Shooting me one last, forbidding look, he ambled barefoot down the sidewalk toward Telegraph Ave.

I kept space between us but I dogged him. At first I stayed on the sidewalk behind him half a block. But after he turned and blazed hostilely a few times, I began hiding behind things. I was ridiculous, like a Road Runner cartoon: I drew myself up skinny behind telephone poles. I slunk between car bumpers and slipped into door wells. He wasn’t fooled by any of it–not even my brilliant strategy of ducking into a bus stop with smoked-glass windows to view him unseen. That same thing that had told me where to find him — across 3,000 miles — let him know exactly where I was.

Sean picked cigarette butts off the sidewalk and smoked them. Once he sat for a long while on a wall and ate his bagel. I used that time to jump into a suitcase store on Shattuck Ave and hurriedly buy him a backpack. When he crossed the street, I did so too, and dipped into Walgreens to buy him some Marlboros. I don’t remember how I got the courage to approach him … or if I just got lucky and he started walking toward my bus stop “duck blind,” but I suddenly found myself beside him.

“I got you a backpack honey,” I said, handing it out to him. He stared into the street as if I weren’t there. “And some cigarettes,” I said hopefully. “I don’t want them,” he said, “and if you continue to harass me I’m calling the police.” There was a woman waiting for the bus who was standing between us and I could feel her unease.

“But it’s a backpack honey,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“I don’t know who you are,” he said, “but if you don’t stop harassing me I’m calling the police.”

“I’m your mother, Sean. I love you sweetheart,” I said. “Please. Please.”

He turned to the lady at the bus stop and said very politely: “Excuse me miss, do you think I could borrow your phone to call the police. This lady is bothering me.”

She mumbled something and moved away quickly.

“You can use my phone,” I said almost cheerfully. I held it out to him. He turned again to the street, with that stony, stoic look. He was against the wall, I knew, and didn’t know how to save face. Eventually, he just walked away.

During all of this–even before he woke up–I had been on the phone trying desperately to make contact with the Berkeley Mobile Crisis Unit and Berkeley Police for backup. I had learned the previous day that this mobile unit was designed for just these kinds of situations and had mental health workers who could evaluate him, and if needed, connect him to treatment and services. They kept promising me a unit would be there, but as the morning wore into afternoon they didn’t show up and I became more hysterical.

I began to realize the difficulty of coordinating this capture of my beloved quarry. It would require Sean to stay put for a while, which he eventually did. There’s an afternoon “feeding” in People’s Park every day by a homeless support group and Sean made his way there. I found a really fat tree to hide behind and started making another round of calls. “He’s here! He’s in People’s Park. This is what he looks like. Please please please come help me.”

First the Mobile Crisis lady showed up. She and I talked behind the tree and I pointed out Sean, describing his dazed and hostile condition, his destitution, how unrecognizable he was from the son I had left not three months earlier. Then the cops showed up. I stood in a tight knot behind the tree–the crisis lady had instructed me to stay as invisible as possible–terrified that Sean would spot the fuzz and make a run for it.

They converged on him and led him to a bench to talk. It all looked so civilized. I became terrified that they would be fooled by his politesse and do nothing. Please take him. Please take him. Please take him. My face was on the tree bark; I rocked my forehead back and forth as I cried and prayed.

The longer they were at it the more I feared the outcome. So I inched my way out to join the conversation if I could. I walked sideways in a crablike, unctuous manner–as if that would somehow make me less obtrusive. I pressed my hands together in actual prayer and mouthed the words please please to his interrogators. The mobile crisis lady stopped me as she saw me coming and motioned me to return to my tree.

A while later she came to me and reported that Sean seemed to be paranoid and delusional. She also said he claimed I was a child abuser. At that point, I only cared about one thing: Are you going to take him?

“Yes,”she said. “We’ll transport him to John George Psychiatric Pavilion and they will do a psychiatric assessment. I have to tell you, though,” she added. “You shouldn’t expect too much. He’s a sweet kid but I’ve seen a lot of this. He may have to cycle in and out for a long time. Even years. But he may come out of it okay eventually.”

What kind of fucking help was that supposed to be?

And so I hid behind my tree watching as my son, in handcuffs, climbed into an ambulance and sped away.

Angels in the strangest places

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My angel, Alejandro. (P.S. Dalai Lama says: No Refunds)

I’m not the first person to discover how close angels hover when we’re in trouble. If I knew any scripture I’d toss something angelic out, but, being brought up Unitarian, I can usually only muster a round of “We Shall Overcome” when things get bad.

I considered J. to be an angel. Even Mumbles. Strangers who saw my vulnerability and were moved by it–and tried in their ways to help me. You can’t ask for much more than that. This is where the street becomes a very clear teacher, where it’s easy to be humbled quickly–in beautiful ways as well as pained ones.

I can’t remember the rest of the day after I saw Sean. I think I must have gone back to my rooms and made some desperate calls. I seem to recall phoning my ex-husband–the good one, not my son’s father–and crying to him. I eventually made my way back on the street, heading down to Shattuck. I figured Sean had given me the big slip and maybe headed up into the Berkeley Hills.

I don’t know why I decided to stop in the Tibetan shop, maybe the smell of incense. Inside, a man was drumming on a glass counter as tabla drum music played on the stereo. He  asked me if I needed any help. I gave him a weak smile and said, “What I need help with you can’t give me.”

He shot me a big smile and said, “Everything will be all right.” He was Hispanic and had a big mustache and merry eyes. He stopped his drumming and began picking up items to present to me. “A bracelet?” he asked. “No, no, really, I’m just looking,” I said.

“Do you like incense?” he waved his hand across a large table with dozens of boxes. “Well, yes,” I ventured. “Try this,” he said, thrusting a box of Frankincense at me. It did smell good and I had a sudden flash of Sean and me driving in the car with nag champa burning in the ash tray and Portishead on the stereo. I picked up a few cheap boxes and headed for the back of the store, where I spotted some luscious Tibetan blankets made out of lama wool.

They were cheap–$25–so I found a soft soft brown and cream plaid and added that to my cache. Then the storekeeper lured me toward a bowl of smoothed stones. “Pick one,” he said. That overwhelmed me somehow, the concept of choice. “You pick one for me,” I countered. He reached in and found a soft rose quartz. “This is good for you,” he said. “It is healing, has good energy, right?”

I held it in my palm, rubbing a dubious thumb over it. This guy was so sweet, I was starting to worry about disappointing him. He took it out of my hand. “We need to clear the energy though,” he said. “When people touch some of their energy stays in the stone.”

I looked a little confused and he handed it back to me, reaching across the counter to pull out a Tibetan singing bowl. “I’ll clear the energy. I show you. Put the stone in the bowl then put your hands underneath.” He pantomimed hands cupping hands. I did as he said, and he rested the bowl on my hands, holding my hands underneath with one of his own. With the other he began thrumming the outer edge of the bowl with a wooden pestle.

“Close your eyes. Relax,” he commanded. (By now I was going to have to go along with the gag whether I liked it or not.)

I closed my eyes as he stirred the bowl. It hummed and vibrated in my hands, traveling all the way up my arms to my skull. My brain hummed. My nose itched but I didn’t dare scratch. Slowly though, I softened a bit. The humming got louder and deeper; I felt its waves. And the space it made between me and my sorrow.

Once I peeked and he was looking around the store and nodded to a customer entering. Still, he kept his humming. And I couldn’t help smiling–half embarrassed, half something else. Something sweet and unexpected. He bonged the edges of the bowl like a bell. Once, twice, three times.

I opened my eyes. He was smiling at me. “Yes?” he said. “Relaxed?” He put the bowl down.

“Yeah, that was really sweet of you.” I was embarrassed now to find my hands still in his. I took them back and fumbled with my wallet.

“You want the bowl?” he said.

“No, no no,” I said. “But thank you.”

“Okay. Come back anytime. The bowl is here.”

And I did. Every damn day I was in that wretched place, I stopped by the Tibetan store and my angel–Alejandro–put my hands in his and sang the bowl.

 

The texture of pain

cement wallDespite the jumble of contradictory Sean sightings by the redwood encampment in People’s Park, I felt sure he had been there last night. I thought about how I had slept just blocks from him, my radar already casting its beams as I slumbered. And how he rested unknowingly nearby.

I wandered a few blocks down to Telegraph Ave., where an assortment of young street people were forming a gauntlet at sidewalk’s edge. Many had dogs sporting bandanas. A few had cloths spread on the sidewalk with odd wares: small rock and minerals samples, glass pipes, trinkets. I looked for Sean among them, hopeful in a way that he was part of this anarchist collective and not the crackheads in the park.

I stopped in front of a sweet-looking bearded man who was selling rock samples to show him my pictures of Sean. He recognized him immediately and said he passed this way daily, usually in the afternoon. And that he usually wore a straw hat, a kind of cowboy affair. I tried to imagine Sean in such a getup–he always hated hats, and cowboys for that matter. “If you just hang around here you’ll probably see him,” he said.

I pounded him with questions: How did he seem? Did he have friends? Was he okay? The young man–whose name I later learned was J.–was thoughtful in responding. “He’s a bit of a loner,” he said. “He seems a little spaced out. Sometimes he talks to himself.” My heart sank.

I was too buzzed to linger, so set off to see if I could find Sean in the streets. I stopped a vendor who was hawking a homeless newspaper. I bought one and showed him a photo of Sean. “Yeah, I just saw him at McDonald’s. He was with a girl. I think they do a bit of weed.” I asked for directions and sped off, my eyes combing the sidewalks and park benches hungrily.

As I walked past the university, I thought of my parents–who went to school there and actually met and started dating shortly after the war. Surely they had walked this sidewalk together in the ’40s, although I can’t imagine it was then full of castaways, mutterers in flip-flops, drunks sleeping it off on the sidewalk. Never in a lifetime could they have imagined their first grandchild would be among them.

I looked in vain at McDonalds, cruised Shattuck Ave.–the major commercial drag that connects Berkeley and Oakland. He was nowhere. So I circled back to Telegraph and delivered a couple of slices of banana bread I had bought for J. I chatted him up about his life on the streets and looked at some of his rocks, when he suddenly pointed and said, “Look, here he comes.”

I scanned the crowd in search of Sean and saw no one I recognized. And then I noticed him: Tall, bearded, ambling in a daze at the far end of the sidewalk. It was Sean. We looked at each other and I could feel his surprise registering slowly, grainily.

I gave him a smile, raising my hand like a TV Indian saying “How.” I walked slowly to meet him. “Hey, hi, it’s me,” I said. “You’re probably surprised to see me.” He said nothing. He looked at me coldly and his eyes were very red. “I hadn’t heard from you in a while and I missed you,” I said gently.

“Get away from me. I don’t want to talk to you,” he said and brushed past me.

Not time even to register effrontery. I caught up behind him, walking one step behind like an old-time Japanese wife. I said nothing for a moment, then began again: “I know this must be surprising, honey,” I said. “I just wanted to see you. I love you, sweetheart.” He ignored me completely, though I could feel his alertness.

He suddenly stopped short and looked me directly in the eyes. “You are harassing me,” he said evenly, “and if you don’t stop I will call the police.” He turned a corner and was gone.

This stopped me dead in my tracks. I heard a sound I’d heard before, a kind of animal noise, a howling. And then I remembered: It was a sound I’d heard during my long labor with Sean, like a wolf somewhere. It was me. Only I was so submerged in pain that I wasn’t connected to self anymore.

I howled and turned my body into the building I stood before. I could feel my forehead and fingers scratching against the roughness of the concrete. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

J. came up and touched my shoulder. “Oh man,” he said, “that’s so rough.”

“Go after him,” I pleaded.

J. took off around the corner and I covered my face with my hands and cried some more, leaning against the building for support. These were tears you had to stop for and I remember wondering what people passing by were thinking, and if this were maybe commonplace amid such misery.

He jogged back around the corner and said, “I’m sorry. He gave me the same. I tried to talk to him but he was very hostile.” I fell into J. and he wrapped his arms around me while I cried. “Oh God oh God oh God.”

A second start, retrospectively

Sophocles wisely wrote of introspection in Oedipus Rex: “I have no desire to suffer twice, in reality and then in retrospect.” That very feeling  often has prevented me from writing about the deepest material of my life. But this time I choose to override those fears and get the story down, even though, I warn you in advance, there is much suffering in it.

Before I left for California, I attended a small dinner party. There was a man there who learned of my upcoming quest to find my missing son and he made a galling remark that sent me popping up from table and wishing my hosts a goodnight. After a lull in the wine-soaked conversation he looked at me and said, “And what exactly do you hope to accomplish by going to California?” “Find my son,” I said cooly, and left.

Several men expressed this dubiousness about my purpose and the suggestion that what I would find could not end well. Women merely told me I was brave. Certainly, I preferred to take the feminine principle with me into the battle for my son, but in the fairness of retrospect I cede that both viewpoints were true.

I found an Airbnb spot just off Telegraph Ave., which I knew from police reports–and even my son’s earlier phone calls–was now a sort of panhandler’s alley. I started off with my photos of Sean and a blank notebook for writing down clues. I wasn’t sure of my directions, and as I passed a small park I looked around for someone to ask. There was only a scruffy bum on a park bench and, habitually, I passed him by in search of someone more presentable. And then I stopped myself. This is exactly who you speak with. I was aware in that moment of a shift of consciousness. Street people were now my allies, advisors, keepers of precious information. My eyes on the street.

I approached the man and showed him the pictures of my son. He looked at them carefully: one taken in Washington, D.C., several years ago, my son’s beautiful blue eyes and chiseled face against the distant confection of the Capitol. “No, no, I don’t know him,” he said. And then he took a closer look at a more recent photo–one of Sean and I in the Castro taken earlier this summer. “Well, it could be,” he said. “Looks like a schizophrenic guy who sleeps under a blue blanket in People’s Park.”

I knew this couldn’t be Sean, but I at least wanted to follow any lead. “Where’s People’s Park?” I asked (this was another of the Stations of the Cross for Berkeley homeless, and was the chief feeding zone for free lunchtime meals). He pointed me just a few blocks away and I set off.

IMG_0855Considering its large renown through the ’60s, People’s Park is actually quite small. There is a small stand of redwoods on one end, a large open green in the middle, then cluster of scraggly bushes and trees at another end. I came at it from the redwood edge, where I found an enclave of homeless people camped out in sleeping bags and perched on tree trunks. My first impression was that there was an abundance of matted hair. And men. One fellow sat on a sleeping bag with long blonde dreadlocks and tilted his head to the sky. His eyes were rolling back in his head and he was talking to himself. I entered this gathering with a soft, but firm step and crouched to speak to man closest to me, a nearly toothless fellow who looked to have just awoken.

I could feel a quiet alert go up among the men as I approached, but it also was jaded, almost disinterestedly reflexive.

I told my name and that I was looking for my son. I pulled out my photos of Sean and he took them in his dirty hands. “Yeah, I seen this guy,” he said. “He was here last night. He sat right there.” He indicated the very spot on the log where I now perched beside him. “What did you talk about?” I asked, and before waiting for an answer said, “He’s great to talk to isn’t he? Very smart and interesting guy.”

He called out to some of his buddies to ask if they’d seen someone named Sean. No one paid him attention. I pressed him for details, but his line of connection suddenly faded, and he said, “Actually, I think I saw this guy in San Francisco.” Another homeless guy with a long, shaggy black beard ambled up. “This is Hate [sp?], he’s kind of the ringleader here,” said the first homeless guy by way of introduction. A couple of people chuckled. Hate took a look at the photos and said, “I think I see him around here sometimes,” and handed them back.

As I made my way through the enclave, everyone, it seemed, had a different story and I had the thought that it could go on like this endlessly. When I got back to the first homeless guy, he stuck out his hand and introduced himself, smiling through browning teeth: “They call me Mumbles,” he said. “Mumbler?” “No, Mum-bles,” he said laughing roughly. “I guess it’s ’cause I mumble.”

Mumbles asked me if I had a place where Sean could find me in case he ran into him. I gave him my business card and wrote across the top of it, Sean’s Mom. I’m in town. Please call. “I sure wish I had a mom who would come look for me,” said Mumbles. People were, by now, listening. “Yeah, man,” someone else called. “You’re a good mom.” At this I burst into tears.

Can’t beat the Dickens

photo-11Yesterday I went to the library to pick out a book to take with me to California. I knew exactly what I would bring, David Copperfield. This was the very first Dickens I devoured; I had it with me during my first trip overseas, a tour of Scotland with my parents when I was 13.

Aside from generally shunning the old farts, and grunting taciturnly during roadside Highland picnics (an unfortunate encounter with haggas, compelled me to eat nothing but canned Heinz potato salad thereafter), I kept my nose glued to that book as views of lochs and mountains, meadows and sheep rolled gorgeously past. This was a book to get lost in.

I loved books exceptionally until my son was born. Then a strange thing happened. I found that I could no longer endure even the slightest hint of human pain written down on the page. I didn’t know this until I launched into Anna Karenina during my first weeks of mothering. I was perfectly content in the beginning, but as the story progressed and Anna’s agony increased, so did my anxiety. I simply couldn’t bear the “oncoming train” of sorrows, and the idea of having her motherhood ripped from her sent me over the edge.

And so I read Anna Karenina by skipping the Anna passages entirely. I happily read about that great character of agrarian reform and family bond, Konstantin Dmitrievich Levin, who lives at the edge of her tale. All good stories have their shadowy parts, so naturally my reading selections became quite limited—romances, short stories (shorter pain), magazines. This applied to films as well: no child violence, beaten or imprisoned women, horror, even suspense movies “done me in.” Fortunately, I had read most of the canon of English lit before I went wimp, else I would be a total illiterate.

To avert undue pain, before I started it I skimmed through Copperfield to reassure myself that all ends well (Oh Agnes, oh my soul, so may thy face be by me when I close my life indeed …). Properly convinced, I am again happily entrenched. This time, however, I read this work with greatest wonder.

Every page is wrought with astonishing detail, humor, poetry—and loving foreboding. I know Little Emily comes to a great, sad end but because of the majesty of his vision and the tenderness with which he wraps the good, I am willing to take the walk with him.

His effortless metaphor makes me think about the world differently, that experience is drenched in allegories we are too blind to notice. This: A passage in which he strolls the Yarmouth sands with Little Emily and reflects how, had he known the fate that would befall her, he might not have leapt out to catch her when she seemed about to plunge from a weir into the water. He then writes in the next paragraph about a starfish:

We strolled a long way, and loaded ourselves with things we thought curious, and put some stranded star-fish carefully back into the water–I hardly know enough of the race to be quite certain whether they had reason to feel obliged to us for doing so, or the reverse …

And a delicious footnote from the editor there, that the passage is reminiscent of the poet Crabbe(!):  ‘Here dull and lifeless he’d lie down and trace/How sidelong crabs had scrawled their crooked race.’

Journeys. Stories. Words. I feel glad to be alive.