Monday, June 24, 2013

God's blind spot

I have never covered another artist's work and have no immediate intentions to, yet when I periodically become absorbed with the notion of doing so, I imagine my approach would consist of clutching the tiny fragments of a song that I adore—an unusual rhyme, a fragile melody turned on its head, the dizzying harmony between two oddly paired instruments, a finger-cramping guitar solo—squeezing them tightly, pressing them up against my bare skin, and assuring myself that while not created by me, these fragments were unquestionably written about me, for me, to me. You can never own an artist's song entire; but you can make these tiny fragments yours.

For me, one such fragment is a rather innocuous line from "Madame George" (then again, this being Astral Weeks, an innocuous word really doesn't exist on the album; like a novelist, Van Morrison makes every word count): "Throwing pennies at the bridges down below." It's a song engrossed with the nostalgic specters that haunt the length and breadth of a particular space—and it awakens my own nostalgic specters.

It was a quarter-of-a-mile jaunt from my Catholic grammar school to my church. I walked this route, back and forth, innumerable times: for mandatory First Friday Devotions; following Lenten morning liturgies; to serve at funerals, my cassock and surplice on a wire hanger slung over my shoulder, walking extra slow to prolong the return to the classroom; for Masses honoring the Virgin Mary, my classmates and I sternly instructed to continually recite the Hail Mary prayer during the short trek; even for secular purposes, as a friend and I were selected in junior high to run daily messages between school faculty and the parish rectory (this was the days before email; a fax machine was presumably outside the school's budget).

The walk—no matter what the reason it was undertaken—was a meager, yet heavily anticipated part of the school day. It became a sanctuary of sorts, albeit a temporary and oftentimes—depending on the elements—slushy and frigid one. Free from the forced idolatry of the altar and the compulsory conformity of the classroom, we were in God's blind spot. He couldn't see our tomfoolery, which was delivered via Wet Willy and with shameful impunity. This included tossing coins (or if you were one of the cretins, depositing saliva) on the freight trains that would pass underneath the bridge along the quarter-of-a-mile route. Because we couldn't escape to the exotic destinations these trains were ambling toward, something we once held warm in our hand or pinched tight between our fingers or kept close in our pocket had to suffice. We imagined faraway children with our same gapped smiles and bright eyes finding our pennies. A vision, I suppose, that only those truly tightly bound to a particular spot can fancy.

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