Friday, April 8, 2011

Frogs, ChooChoos and Other Southern Delicacies

It's friday night. I've been going back and forth between packing all week, doing taxes, being confused, being in the present moment, having moments of enlightenment, moments of sadness. I lost my wallet today, which was particularly annoying, given that I have to go back and forth from Atlanta all week. I could do without the extra work of standing in line at the dmv for a new drivers license and such. But it could be worse.

And tonight I had a wonderfully magical moment.

After a few hours of destroying my house in hopes of finding my wallet, I sat on my front steps and just kind of settled into the feelings I had been grappling with all day. It went like this: It's dark out and unusually warm. I'm in a sleeveless shirt and the breeze feels good on the hairs of my arms. I decide to stop sitting and start walking. I leave my house and walk up the block, one of my very favorite and frequent things to do. I walk up to Main street, then make a right at Market street. At this point, I can see the red lights up above of the ChooChoo sign.
For those of you who don't live in Chattanooga, the ChooChoo was once a central southeastern station for many trains. It was built in the time when we used good materials... brick, metal, the likes. The facade is a large, somewhat square shape with the worlds biggest free-standing brick arch as the entrance. It is my favorite building in Chattanooga. Once inside, it feels like you are walking into another time period (minus some rather awful 80's furnishings). The arches inside of the building are as spectacular as the one outside. They are made of metal that resembles the way the Eiffel Tower was constructed. In the corners of the building are fairly weird crests of some perhaps-imaginary donor. Today it is a thematic hotel. You can sleep in the train cars that are parked behind the station for a nominal fee of $150 per night.
So I walk through, taking in the slight mashed-potato smell of the kitchen. Behind the building is where the lines used to pull up. Here is where the infamous train cars live, now retired from their shift and made to be used as posh little hotel rooms. Between the rail lines are beautiful, manicured gardens, all done up like debutantes.

Tonight the ChooChoo gardens were particularly stunning. I don't know what event is passing through, but the hotel decided to light torches all along the paths. So you have these beautiful old metal train cars, then fire reflecting from every which way.... it was superb. The cherry blossoms are blooming here, and the trees have been decked out with little sparkling lights, so that you can still see the pink of the flowers at night. It was all very decadent.
In the middle of the garden is a little Coi pond. It has all sorts of strange stuff happening in it. There are lilly pads and irises growing, odd junk from the bottom coming up, and of course, plenty of orange, white, and black Coi fish bobbing their big mouths up at you.

But tonight there were frogs! As I walked up to the pond, I could barely hear myself think. They were so loud. As I tried to focus on the intricately leafy surface of the pond, I started to notice some of the plants moving. I sat on one of the benches, and just let my eyes relax at the water and mess of plants. One by one, I started seeing these little creatures, slimy skinned, bug-eyed, loud as can be. They were everywhere!! As I watched them, I could see they would take a big breath, then exhale into a flap of thin skin across their mouth and make a big bubble. The noise was somewhat annoying at first, but when I started to listen, I realized they were calling in groups. I'm pretty sure there was a certain amount of organization in their calling. Glossy bubbles everywhere, I started laughing out loud at the sight of it. Some of the frogs would jump on each others back (hmm..) and try to steal a ride into the water of their companion. They were so sloppy and funny to watch, and I have to admit, I saw a bit of myself in them. Sloppy at times, sometimes looking for shortcuts, calling out to the unknown in annoying ways, jumping out of the pond and getting lost. Unfortunately for yours truly, children don't seem to laugh at me the way they did these frogs.

I'm reading Annie Dillard right now. I'm reading her essay "Teaching a Stone to Talk". The essay starts off with her telling of a young man who is trying to teach a stone to talk.. She describes the stone as a wishing stone. She goes on to describe the lessons between the man and the stone. He is not trying to get it to say the secrets of the universe, but more to say "cup" or "uncle". She also says "I assume that like any other meaningful effort, the ritual involves sacrifice, the suppression of self-consciousness, and a certain precise tilt of the will, so that the will becomes transparent and hollow, a channel for the work".

My take on this is that art, life, love, or prayer could take the place of the word "stone".

She goes on to talk about nature's one remark as its silence. It is always saying and crying out to us "precisely nothing".
We, as humans, try our damnedest to make it speak. Our work, our love, our prayers, they are all to something that only speaks through silence. This is so hard for me to wrap my brain around, and yet I believe it is true. I have felt it when I look for answers. I am constantly finishing the sentences for the universe.

Tonight I listened to those awkward sounds of the frogs. I saw myself in them, and yet, they didn't give two hoots about me. They carried on whether I was there or not. And I liked this. I liked that I could watch the show unfold. I could be part of it, even if my only role was as observer.

About two years ago my friend Erica asked me what role I thought I played in the world. I was confused by the question. She told me that she thought of herself as a healer. It wasn't a role she picked, and yet it was obvious in her make-up. As she said this, I could see it in her, even though it was still unsaid. And the only word that came to my mouth was "mirror". I mirror the things around me sometimes, without speaking. The things around me are my mirror often. Both are obvious, both are intangible. I live to see and be seen with great precision and perfection, absolutely nothing. The pain comes when I expect an answer, usually.

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