Sometimes the Day Does Not End When the Sun Goes Down
January 28th, 2006
At a rest-stop on Highway 5
Dying is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
Sylvia Plath, "Lady Lazarus"
You are not supposed to travel the River Styx in the other direction. It is a one-way street if there ever was one. But my life until then did not follow rules. I was not supposed to do a lot of things, but I did them anyway. And now I was paying the price.
Cars rushed by on the asphalt river that carves up California down the middle. We must have been fifty miles south of Colinga. There was a carnival atmosphere to it all. Mexicans tend to flock to places that have grass. Between Spanish syllables of adults, children played among the trees. Young men in Stetson hats smoked cigarettes and looked toward the falling sun. Yes, the sun is falling. And I am free. I did it. I am going home. Out of the carrion of my life, something was rising again….
Oh, I exaggerate! Besides, you only live in those moments when you have everything before you and everything is possible. Everything was collapsing, and it was being rebuilt.
A flock of birds flew by, a black blemish against the red and orange canvass…
“O Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us, O Lord, cleanse us from our sins…”
A lump was welling up in my throat. I had to claw my way out of this monastic habit. But now it was weighing on me. My exarasson felt like it was made of lead, and it was burning me. Only now was I beginning to feel sorrow over my decision. But it was all over with. Alea jacta est. Who was I before God at that point? A soul in limbo, in formation, about to be born, dying….
Quae est ista quae progreditur quasi aurora consurgens….
She walked by me and recognized me instantly. I saw her for the first time, no not really, but it was as if it were the first time: hair the color of leaves in autumn, face delicate like the light of morning, voice…. Oh, you don’t need to hear all of this…..
Standing on a golf course: it must have been around eleven o’clock at night. (Where the heck was I, anyway?) They rambled on while I watched the distant spring storm popping out the sky like old light bulbs about five miles away:
“Argentina really does not exist…”
What the hell are they talking about? Something about decrying the lack of roots in Argentine society. I love these people, but they think every problem is resolved by making “a few lefties disappear”…
Think about something more pleasant… oh yeah… Earlier today, we went to the most surreal of places. It was an amusement park on top of a mountain. For some reason, I felt really giddy, more than normal. I ran all the way to the edge of the park. (You could imagine the look on the faces of the people watching: some fat priest running by them with a strange smile on his face.) When I got to the very edge, it was as if I had been assumed into heaven: I could see the valley right there at my feet, spreading itself out. green and brown, for miles around…..
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us….
This would be the last time I would stand at that kliros. All of those years, all of those sacrifices, all of the hurt, the separation, all of it came down to this day. And it was a dead end….
Glory be to you, Christ God, our hope, glory be to you.
Glory be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, both now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen. Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy. Father give the blessing.
I felt nothing now. It was all over with. I have to not look back anymore. God, it feels like my soul is being ripped out of me.
…..Amen. Through the prayers of our holy father, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.
I have to go shave this beard off. There is still a lot of packing to do.
The store was empty. On the radio, another non-offensive, uninteresting song played on the station where good songs go to die, and bad songs go to decay. The manager was doing paper work, and I was left alone mopping the floor. I was free. I was poor. I was a complete loser. The day had not been too busy, and I had not made too many mistakes on the register. But now, it was eight o’clock, and I had two hours to go in my shift. I swayed gently to the muzzak as I mopped the floor. It is all opened up now. I am exposed to it all, and I have no excuses. I am happy. Happier than I have been in years.
Pulchra ut luna…
No, she wouldn’t like those. They look too much like weeds. So anyway, this is the plan. Give her the poems, at first there were ten, but I reduced them down to eight since I thought two of them sucked. But in the poems, I would put petals of wildflowers in them. So here I am, on the side of the road, a cool breeze blowing in from the ocean, picking wildflowers. It sounds crazy but that never stopped me before….
The same road, the next night. I turn off the 156 to go home on Buena Vista Rd. Good thing I am not being tailgated. I hate being tailgated, since I tend to drive like a law- abiding citizen. There’s a full moon tonight. God, I love this time of day. I am finally going home after being all afternoon on my feet. There is no radio in the car, so I hum to myself. Usually Gregorian chant, but sometimes some non-offensive, uninteresting song was carved into my head from eight hours of audio-torture. Oh well, sing it at the top of your lungs! No one is listening anyway…
Another flock of blackbirds flies by. It had been a good trip home so far. I wonder what my grandparents are going to say. I mean, I am at their mercy once again. How am I going to explain it to them? I walk around the January grass, still green, and thank God that I am out of the desert. It is so good to see vegetation on the ground again…
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above you heavenly hosts,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
At Point Lobos: I followed the trail as it snaked through a grove of cypresses. It emerged in the sunlight before a canyon, volcanic and assaulted by ocean waves.
Dear God, have mercy on me. I felt like nothing, nothing before Him.
The vigil of Theophany, 2003, the Mojave Desert: It was immense, darkness, immense. It filled me with a certainty, a peace, a holy terror. I am nothing before God. Lift me up and strike me, here, on this plain…
Twelve rings summoned us to Vespers….
Dong, dong, dong….
My eyes opened. It was not too humid that morning. I threw off the covers and went to splash water on my face. After that, I quickly made the bed, and began to vest.
Dominus pars haereditatis meae, et calicis meae… The cassock seemed like a tunnel going under a mountain. I remember when I first put it on; I nearly got lost inside of it…
The sash, “Precinge me, Domine, cingulo puritatis…”
The collar… what was that prayer again?…
Down the stairs and through the cloister. The birds had already begun their high pitched shrieking. God, I wish they would shut up.
Looks like Santiago beat me again. He was already at his place. I was second. Slowly, the other clerics began to file in. I read from my book, the Conferences of Cassian, while all of the commotion, rustling, and coughing went on about me. Finally, things began to resolve themselves into a lull. On last set of footprints could be heard in the back of the choir. Finally….
Deus in adjutorium meum intende.
Dong. Dong. Dong.
I really am getting too old for this. Time to get up. I like to go to the gym at six in the morning. Since people in Berkeley tend to think that eight o’clock in the morning is early, I can use my country boy tendencies to have the gym all to myself at six. Today I am going to do chest and arms, with a little bit of other things mixed in to vary it up…
Electa ut sol….
Leaving Rovella’s Gym in Hollister: It is about five-thirty. When I have to work the day shift at the Chevron, I have to get my workout in early. I got up at four in the morning today, and I feel exhausted. But it is all for a good cause.
As I walk towards my car, I see the warm glow emerging from Santa Ana Peak. The birds in the canopy also sense it. A golden line vanishing the purple of dawn. I have made it through the night. I am tired, but when the workday is over at two, I can go home and go to bed.
She stands before me, actually interested in what I am saying. She is not being seen. She is being venerated. She is glowing. Why, why didn’t I really see her like this before? But now I am leaving. Again, I am leaving…..
Terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata?
Why is it that you
Do not appear,
Meshed into the glow
Of fallow fields?
Twisting of erased colors-
The uncaught phrase
Dodging valley air
And bleeding soft haze.
A physician you are
Or maybe the disease-
Inflicted with rusty metal,
Pesticidal like scars.
Abandoned between mountains,
Only you are the answer:
Collapse of the dayspring
Spilling off into fog.
Twenty manners of silence
Briskly founding the light-
One sundown advancing-
A space tired and bent.
There are only faint eyes
That wander the land.
Fluorescent wheels slumber
And fail to ignite.
Why is it that you
Do not appear,
Valley song muffled
In the shadow of hills?
Where your absence abides
There is fear of your coming-
Fall of a city,
No longer awake.
Laudate Dominum in sanctis eius…
“Mr. Vasquez and Ms. M. are it….”
I looked at her, and she looked at me. That meant that we had to go chase down our students in a game of freeze tag. She was no longer teaching there, but all of the kids were ecstatic to see her. I was also very happy, but I tried not to reveal it too much.
I remember how we once all went to the beach at sundown. She and V. ran before us in their long skirts and frolicked on the beach, the sand parting at the soft oppression of their feet. I watched this innocence and youthful beauty emerging before my eyes. It was all supposed to be dead to me. But it was like listening to a dead friend sing a song through an old phonograph. You can’t help but listen. And I couldn’t help but watch. Part of me still wanted to live. I just didn’t want to listen to it anymore.
Laudate eum in firmamento virtutis eius…
I looked down at the small crucifix I had just received with the taking of the cassock. Tears welled-up in my eyes. I am all yours, Lord. Today, I have given myself to you….
Laudate eum in virtutibus eius…
A wall of pine trees surrounded us on every side. The glow of the fire camp in the Mendocino National Forest made them seem like the pillars of a great cathedral. We went to the middle of nowhere, and then drove a hundred miles outside of that. I was driving the truck on a garbage-run throughout the camp. (We had to do this often so that the bears didn’t get to the garbage.)
At the end of the long shift, we went back to our tents and turned the lights out. When everyone else had turned in, I quietly emerged from my tent in the pitch darkness. I looked up at the stars, so bright and close that I could almost touch them. I faced east, and began:
O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth….
Laudate eum secundum multitudinem magnitudinis eius…
Summer thunderstorm on the desert: immense serpents of electricity slithering over clouds. Seduction of night, flaring up…Dry air ignited….
Laudate eum in sono tubae; laudate eum in psalterio et cithara….
The quiet lapping of water on a man-made lake. The ducks slowly swim by, quietly quacking to themselves. They seem oblivious to the pile of black cloth staring at them from the shore. He is praying his chotki, fingers moving quite vigorously, so contented to be next to that lake on a brisk May afternoon. Fingers of white fog glide in on the water from the west. It is going to be a bit nippy tonight.
Laudate eum in tympano et choro; laudate eum in chordis et organo….
He opened the door to the iconostasis and made three prostrations to the altar. Quickly, he lighted the charcoal and waited. At the single, he put on the charcoal three grains of incense, and the handed the thurible to the hegumen. The curtain opened, the plume of sweet smoke was visible in the soft darkness disturbed by the light of a few lamps.
Father give the blessing.
Blessed is our God, unto the ages of ages. Amen….
Laudate eum in cymbalis benesonantibus; laudate eum in cymbalis iubilationis…
I look towards the Campanile once again. No one is up yet, but the sun has risen. I quickly walk up the steep paths leading to my first morning class. If you want peace in Berkeley, you have to get up early to find it. Am I farther away from God now? A song pops into my head, one of the only ones that I cherish from my Catholic charismatic childhood:
Estaba feliz cuando me dijeron, vamos a la casa del Señor…
Laetatus sum in his quae dicta sunt mihi…
And our feet were standing in your courts, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem. Beata pacis visio.
Omnis spiritus, laudet Dominum.
Today one year ago was my last day as a monk. My mother and little sister came to the monastery to pick me up. I had a few possessions that I took with me, but left many behind. Now, thanks be to God, all has gone according to plan.
Mane nobiscum, Domine, quoniam advesperascit…
He looked at the sky one more time before getting back in the car. The sun was indeed going down and there were still two hours to go in their journey. The sky was giving up its red and orange hues and putting on the mantle of dark purple, gray, and black. For him, though, the morning was emerging in the west. There was no turning back. Here was his life, delicate like a newborn, in his hands once again. God is merciful, and He will continue to be. All praise be unto Him, unto the ages of ages.