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AFTERWORD Meditation on a Vacant Lot BY ELROY BODE As I STOOD at the wire fence and the three o’clock sun played across the brown landscape of Central Texas, I entered, once again, the sun-lit now and its strange depths. I had parked my car on a side street in Comfort and walked over to a vacant lot green with rain-soaked winter grass. I stood beside the fence, listening to the stillness. Everything in the lot and on the streets beside it the weathered garage, the tool shed, the cistern was sharply defined: luminous beyond description, beyond words. I had been here before, of course not this place, but this moment. I had seen this sun, pale in a winter sky; smelled the cedar, the river, the hill country air; listened to the silence that was just another voice for some greater reality. It was as though I had been born to stand beside fences: It was my primal moment, my opportunity my privilege to experience the secret nature of things. So I stood and listened. The lot was like a stage where quiet dramas were unfolded. Each blade of grass, each slant of sun was part of the drama, and it seemed that if I could remain still enough long enough I could see past the familiar outlines of rocks and posts and boards into the heart of creation itself. I waited trying to see as the afternoon saw ….Those long-stretching shadows: why, they were not shadows at all; they were prodigal sons of the land who had finally returned at midday and were now lying passively beneath the pecan trees. At nightfall, at a signal, they would blend together and reenter their rightful home, the earth. And those rusted barrels, those scattered piles of leaves: they But a car cruised by, and another, their radios blaring. Then a jogger worked her fierce way down the street, looking neither right nor left, locked into her determined stride and the hidden rhythms of her Walkman. The silence returned, and I thought of the Bible: “Be still and know that I am God.” Yes: that was the kind of stillness I was trying to hear at the fence: the unattainable silence that Elroy Bode is a teacher and writer living in El Paso. He has been contributing, off and on, to the Observer for almost 30 years. This article is reprinted from the May 8 issue; the earlier version was riddled with typographical errors. We hope we caught them all this time. allows, finally, a burning bush to speak, a mountain to move; the silence that a human keeps straining to hear. I got into my car and left Comfort. As I joined the lines of cars on I-10, the intimacy of the vacant lot disappeared. Trees along the roadside seemed blank, withdrawn like family servants decorously resuming their unnoticed their traditional poses. I drove along the Interstate with my speeding humankind: enclosed, insulated, focused on our human concerns. We looked straight ahead, paying no mind to the Otherness that lay around us. Church Words. I remember sitting in a back row of the Methodist church in Kerrville. I was 17. The preacher was going on again about Jesus, the Trinity, the Holy Ghost -all the familiar, sing-song words I had listened to for years. But I had a problem actually two problems. One was that I didn’t believe in sin the whole long-faced, bugaboo concept of it. Sin just didn’t jibe with what I knew of trees, of camping out along the Guadalupe River, of my grandparents’ ranch, of the hill country….Sin? Where? To me it was an unreal, holy-Joe scare-word that I heard each Sunday and forgot about during the rest of the week. _Also, I couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for “Jesus” -the idea of Him. He was strictly a secondary figure, vaguely out of focus a picture on a Sunday school wall and nothing more…. “Son of God”? That just didn’t seem right: a God wouldn’t need to have “sons.” Or “daughters,” for that matter. As a high school senior I didn’t have the concept of anthropomorphism down pat, but nonetheless my gut feeling was that the whole business of Mary and Joseph and the Virgin Birth was a hocuspocus cooked up in order to soften the hard mysteries of life and make them more palatable to churchgoers. Now God: that was a different matter. God the word, the idea was serious stuff. I definitely felt the need to find out all I could about God. I was drawn like an arrow to its mark to the puzzle of First Causes, the world and its meaning, its origin….Thus Creator had a strong ring to it, as did words like Cosmos and Infinity. Those were great, grand words challenging words as I sat in the back row of the First Methodist Church. They belonged rightfully to the awesomeness of the Universe. Jesus? He seemed too earth-bound, humansized, parochial, of lesser import. He belonged to preachers and Holy Rollers, not the stars. Release. In the lone, random days and nights of my 20s I roamed about hungry for Experience. One Saturday night in Fort Worth I went to a huge western-style dance hall, bought a Pearl, sat at a table against the wall. Once again I needed to touch a woman, to put my arms around her waist, to feel our bodies press together. I needed woman-flesh. I would get up from the table and prowl about until I found an acceptable dancing partner. We would dance one dance, I would then walk her back to her table, and I would prowl some more. Then, as it sometimes happened, I found a woman whose touch seemed right: whose skin seemed attuned to the chemistry of my blood. She was thin, rather wide-eyed, quietacting: a woman in her 30s with brown, closecut hair. We danced one song, then two feeling the pleasure of one another, feeling through the sweat and body heat the growing sexual need. When the band finished a number we.barely moved apart; we kept our arms around each other’s waists, squeezing hands, looking together toward the band to ease the awkwardness of the time of waiting. We did not speak. At the beginning of the next tune we came together and moved in our tight embrace through the other dancers. Afterwards, in the dusty parking lot, I found myself with sudden tears in my eyes, and smiling, saying to myself, over and over, in mild astonishment, “I’ll be dammed,” not knowing what I meant, exactly, except I was pleased, full of genuine reverence, a happy awe. It was as though a strange beauty was inside of me, melting something that had nothing to do with sex but was also everything that sex and contentment and release ever meant to anyone. Hildegarde’s Dream. Everyone has a lost girl, beautiful in memory, fixed like a hidden valley in the plains of youth. Mine is Hildegarde Kimmel of Cologne, Germany lovely to look upon, painful to remember. When we met she was caught up in a dream of love that did not allow entry of mere mortals. White-gloved, white-hatted, adroit Hildegarde: at 23 she was half-woman, half-child, moving through her well-ordered world of wealth, culture and travel. Hildegarde: translator at the U.N., speaking in her low, quiet voice, ripping r-r-r-r’s off her throat like Someone gargling. Hildegarde: of the pointed meditative shoe on the hot New York sidewalk walking so slowly, so gracefully, partly because of her aristocratic bearing, partly 22 JUNE 19, 1992