Warm snot oozes from my right nostril and pools in my grooved philtrum before I rub it out with my sleeve. I look at the stain it leaves on the fabric. I turn my attention back to the yellow fruits before me, inhale the sharp, fresh scent of citrus. I kneel to pick lemons in our front yard. Overwhelmed, I cried as I processed, for the first time, not only the vastness of the external world and of my internal consciousness, but the astonishing depth of my father’s insights and wisdoms.
Together we walked along the tamed paved cement blocks of a quaint neighborhood in December; outside it was crisp but unharsh, the clouds, thin and whispy, wafted overhead.
Frederic walks beside me. He is tall with a wide chest and shoulders, walking with his big hands tucked into the pockets of dark blue jeans; he occupies his space, swaying slightly with each deeply rooted step forward. When he speaks he looks forward pensively. At other times he glances up to acknowledge a tree’s branches set against bare sky; thick black eyebrows raise, pushing the skin on his forehead into folds that have been long etched by past concerns, emotions and expressions. Brittle leaves ricochet on the sidewalks around us, making skidding noises that carry with the wind.
We walk this way for some time.
Frederic speaks of art, because he knows I like to talk about these things. He sways gently in the pendulum tempo I have always known. He sways as he says art transcends the soul, or self, and that it is itself an act or process of transcending the soul.
In this case ‘art’ it is to be understood in broad, inclusive terms. Art is fundamentally lodged in moments, experiences. Moments that you notice beauty in your surroundings, others, yourself, or that you feel an acute awareness of a holy moment. Or else, it can be an experience that pierces through fortified layers of denial or reasoning and touches in you something you didn’t know was there, or knew had been there for a long time. When we transcend like this, in the moment, the feelings such experiences elicit produce the kind of effect that artists wish to capture, and sometimes reinterpret. Taken in this sense, Frederic says we are all artists in the moments that we notice this effect on us.
As I listen to the leaves, my breath, and his voice, I think about my father’s masterful explanations of things, about how he is an artist to me in this moment.
I had followed a philosophy course on radical skepticism that left me with more questions than answers, the doubt chipped away at my clarity of mind. I began to question everything. Like a child, I learned anew, deconstructed entities to look inside, just to feel the security of the certainty in a truth. I second-guessed the origins of my knowledge, all the while scrambling like eggs to situate my position in relation to the external world (what am I doing here? what do I have to offer?), and, in relation to the seemingly infinite abundance of life on earth, of all objects within it. The universe in its vastness dwarfs me, a small phenomenon in the scope of time-space continuum.
Churning, stuck, distressed, I let my father’s words pour over me, where they lodge in the crevices of a heart pulled taut. I ease a little, let my heart become flexible.
Art is a holy thing. Expression is old as time. Why do choirs sing at church services? Or rather, why do any religious actions place such emphasis on chants, song and music? It is a strife for connection to something heavenly, beyond. It is a human utterance of divine expression, in the best way we know how. Some continuous shared sensibility among the human race has produced similar tendencies to create. Create pleasing sounds, images, stories, objects. Creation, all senses of the form, itself has been continuous from the conception of human life.
Near the end of our walk, I notice the lemon tree in our front yard imploding with fruit. At home, I take off my shoes and walk to the kitchen for a large white bowl. Cool tiles press up through the soles of my feet. Before I go outside, my father warns me the bush has thorns. He indicates the thorns’ size by an open pinch of empty space between his thumb and forefinger. That big. I register and nod.
Here we were, having just emerged from a conversation about the possible meaninglessness of life, and how humans cope with the question. Meanwhile Frederic insists, with genuine force, on the treachery of thorns no larger than thumbtacks. I head for our front yard, choking on my confused emotion.
The absurd sweetness of his concern mingles with the sting of the conceptual immensities I grapple with. Hot salt droplets leap from my eyes and roll down to the corners of my mouth, I taste them. Sour. By the time I reach the tree, I am consuming my own tears, suddenly very conscious of my body, of its outward physical response to an emotion fabricated entirely by an internal phenomenon. Connection between body and mind, I reflect, is almost other-worldly.
I step outside of myself, see the girl’s cropped brown hair and sharp eyes, and beside her, the tree’s gnarled brown stump and sharp thorns. Ochre orbs bulge from thick beds of luscious foliage. Some, having grown large, bent branches under their weight so that graceful stems suspended small suns in space just millimeters above the emerald lawn.
She racks her brain to recall the knowledge she possesses, and clutches to the gravity of those truths. She blinks to think of the knowledge she does not possess, may never possess. Staccato spurts of wind rustle the lemon leaves, they twist and flicker. She shakily musters to fathom the planet’s sheer immensity, what to make of it. She looks at the lemon tree in the front yard and she looks back at her childhood home where her height is etched on an upstairs doorway, alongside her sisters’. It is an early December afternoon; the soil is lukewarm and spongy under her knees as she picks lemons.
Warm snot oozes from her right nostril. Amid the silence of the world and the sound of her breaths, she confronts the world at large.