Renunciation

U.S. National Archives

He just chucked it all and went away. Could there be more beautiful words in the English language? I cannot think of any, at least. To be light like that, to leave everything behind.

To get on a plane, or better yet, an old-timey train, and go somewhere, go anywhere. To St. John’s, Newfoundland. To Teotihuacan, Mexico. To Bucharest, Romania. To anywhere. And yes, in my heart of hearts, I understand that a train cannot cross the sea to Romania. But if it could. If it could. A train to cross the sea! What a shining thing that would be, laying down its tracks over the sea,  its tracks rolling down and picking up again. …But what am I thinking, what am I saying?

Sometimes I feel as though my family and friends have given me a necklace made of stone. Not little polished discrete ones, but large, heavy ones. Fist-sized versions of the boulders that Wile E. Coyote pushed around in the Roadrunner cartoons. It is heavy. My neck and shoulders ache. I want to take it off.

“I want to take this off,” I tell them.

“But we made it for you,” they say. Their eyes are stony too, withholding against my request.

“But it’s heavy,” I say.

“But it’s this thing that you need to wear,” they say. This time their eyes are blue and imploring — but this time I do not totally trust their eyes, but the necklace is so heavy that I can barely see them; my head hanging down, burdened by the weight, looking at the floor. I can only manage the strength to jerk my head up for half a second at a time, and then, barely, I can see their eyes.

I will take the necklace off. Won’t I?

I will go, by train, by plane, by boat. I will leave behind the things that I didn’t want. What joy! Like cleaning your room but times a thousand, to throw away these ugly shoes, this ugly hat, this ugly coat. I will not need them where I am going. The moths can have the coat. The attic can have the shoes and the hat.

Go too far in every direction, writes my favorite writer, in a book. Cross every firebreak, and then cross that one. Pile extremity upon extremity, and then more extremity, and then more. Yes. This time I — we — will go, will go all the way, to Ultima Thule. This will be the time we went, and when we leave, we will know that we will tell this later on as a story of our young lives.

Leaving, we will see ourselves in the distance, since we are standing outside ourselves now, since we can see ourselves more clearly now. We will see ourselves in the distance — like a sail suddenly popping up at sea, a sail suddenly popping up at the horizon-line, where blue meets blue. And this will make us happy, seeing ourselves in the distance like that.

And when we leave, we will leave other things behind. Other people, other things. We were wrong about these people. They are not like a necklace made of stone. They are like dogs. Truly, what an awful thing to say. But they are like dogs — beautiful dogs, maybe, if you like, if that makes it better; golden retrievers, their coats gleaming in the sun. They are bounded by a yard with a fence, and as we leave, they run alongside the picket fence. We can see them appearing intermittently through the slats. As they run alongside the picket fence, they call to us — loyal, beseeching– saying, Wait, wait. Take me, take me! But we cannot, and unburdened now, we shake our heads. It is time to go.  TC mark

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