Crossing the river into town this wet August provides glimpses of the brown river and of banks luxuriant with trees. I’ll take the flood over drought anytime. When I see weather reports coming out of the burning west or the smoldering mid-west, some primeval part of me comes to the fore, maybe the same feeling that caused our ancestors to awaken abruptly and look out beyond the fire into a darkness suddenly teeming, unknown and alive. Something is not right. In one of those kinds of weird oracular moments I flash-see the brown river become a ditch where dust devils circulate, the greenery withered, my car alone drifting slowly above it, no one else in sight.
For months now I’ve had this feeling of something apocalyptic prowling just over the horizon. I don’t think I am alone in this unfocused sense of dread. A fragment of a Bible verse comes to me … And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; the entire outer world, foreign and domestic, seems poised on a grim threshold.
But as quickly as it had arrived, I shake it away and regard it as just all a hyper ventilating muddle. I have the dentist to see, or my eyes to be checked, a haircut, or a breakfast with a friend, a home repair part to buy.
I don’t imagine the face in the window though.
I have seen him at least a dozen times over the last year. On the second story of a red brick building, he sits at a window looking onto the street. His beard is white and hangs straight down in a starburst pattern. He props his head on his chin. His eyes are wide and have a famished, anxious stare, seeming to comb the passing cars and the sidewalks.
I don’t know his name. I don’t know anything about him except what I have seen, but I can close my eyes and see his stark face framed by that strange beard.
Why would a person sit at a window day after day, his waking hours taken with surveying the movement below? Any of us can imagine the most likely reason.
In a recent column Roger Cohen wrote, “… we are lonely. That is the problem with modernity.” It is so easy to separate from others. It is now so easy to let texts and e-mail detach us from a human presence, to lose ourselves in looking at screens of every type rather than the complexity of faces. It is so easy to treat others as commodities to be measured and judged by their use to us. It is so easy now to be more fearful as all those screens pour out their howls and images. It is so easy now to be the face in the upstairs window, the door locked below.
A few days ago I spent a ½ hour searching for insects with a grand-niece and nephew. We walked from shrub to flower to tree, looking closely at webs and ants, big grasshoppers, sunflower seeds and spit bugs. I lifted them up to look more closely, let them pull me by the hand, whooped with them when we found something new. My sisters and I laughed together with my mother. She sat smiling and singing songs to herself.
I don’t know what’s coming any more than anyone else. I do know that we cannot let ourselves be alone.