The roly-poly snowman with kitchen gloves for hands and a candy cane striped tie sits on the shelf covered with dust. No one remembers that his gloves are butter knife handles, perfect for spreading guava preserves. He is just another forgotten object, along with the curved Alaskan chopping knife resting in its wooden stand, and the Lenox candy dish, a wedding gift from so many years ago. The snowman was traded for an Andrea Bocelli Christmas CD I picked from a grab bag at a work holiday party. I winced when I took off the wrapping and gladly traded it for the snowman. I had the pick of the lot from the five gushing women vying for my CD. No wonder I can’t work in an office for long. The lumpy belly of the snowman is so different from the little delft cow salt and peppershakers sitting next to it. Can everyone see the difference? I am not that fond of figurines, but I like the cows. They are delicate, while the snowman, which I actually like too, mostly for the butter knives I never use, screams made in China on sale at Tuesday Mornings, under five dollars for the Christmas grab bag. A family heirloom, candidate for a garage sale, or maybe the garbage bin? A reminder of the north and another time? There it sits, mitten hands at its side, oblivious to the indifference that surrounds it.
One in seven billion or one of seven billion? What is the difference? Lost and found or really found and lost. Finding that one soul, the one person in this world who will make all the difference. That may be impossible. Why should one person be so important? And the rest?
One of seven billion can be anyone and any one of us. One stands out and the others recede. One is the dream, the goal, or the disappointment. And the other? Oh, the other is the perspective of who we are, a reflection of our importance in the world, to ourself, to each other. When we are found we feel immense. When we are lost, the vastness immerses us in the great void, the ultimate nothingness.
How important can we be with seven billion inhabitants on the planet and a gazillion stars in the sky?
One of seven billion or one in seven billion, the difference between wanting and knowing, being sold short, and merging with the all. Which is which? They become confused and oscillate like the image when seen one way looks like a profile, and another, a vase. A change in focus changes the universe. But in which way?
Octavio Paz said the world changes when two people see and recognize each other. How about, the world changes when one person melts into the all encompassing unity. The world changes when we blink our eyes and the scene changes. Or we look through a kaleidoscope and turn the wheel to rearrange the pieces. Is it that simple? Sometimes, but not until it is.
One in seven billion or one of seven billion. Which are we? How de we know? Either on any given day, or both everyday. And the number is growing and we get smaller and smaller every moment or larger and larger until we are everything.
It is a history lesson, biology, anthropology, or physics, a study of the human condition or the annihilation of the planet.
One in seven billion or one of seven billion, you are, my dear, and so are you, and you, and I am and so are we and so on. If only we could touch all of them, or just one of them, maybe seven billion would not seem like such a big number, or one so lonely.
Come, we’ll eat the plums
fresh from the corner fruit vender.
We’ll talk of unions and reunions.
From my balcony we’ll watch the dark horizon
and see how the full moon is reborn.
A buzzing sound, like a big insect, precedes a rapid decent, as the hummingbird dives at the fire bush that stands about two feet off the ground. Hovering, its beak enters the fluted depths of the tiny red flowers that cover the spindly branches. Now we can see the red throat and green body as its wings beat rapid figure eights. A new world bird, found throughout the Western hemisphere, its greatest migration is from mid-July or early August through September. It flies backward, forward, up and down, from side to side, ever seeking out nectar to satiate its need to keep flying, its energetic quest to sustain itself.
The humming bird is a bird, not an insect. Its tiny feet, too small for walking, perch on the edge of the smallest branch. Its tremendous will to live belies its delicate frame. Why do we think we are so unlike animals and that our lives have a purpose beyond survival? That our every movement is not just sustaining life, for no other reason than sustaining life? Are our accomplishments or non-accomplishing anything more than that? Why do we delude ourselves by thinking that they have any more meaning than that of the hummingbird that beats its wings furiously, intensely using up the energy it has to work so hard to maintain. We interpret its tiny body, bright colors, attraction to flowers, ability to hover as meaningful, joyful, life affirming, light. But it only persists because it has to, it has no choice, and neither do we.
All architecture is what you do to it when you look upon it,
(Did you think it was in the white or gray stones?
or the lines of the arches and cornices?)
All music is what awakes from you when you are reminded
by the instruments,
It is not the violins and the cornets, it is not the oboe nor the beating
drums, nor the score of the baritone singer singing his sweet
romanza, nor that of the men’s chorus, nor that of the women’s chorus.
It is nearer and farther than they.
From “A Song for Occupations” Walt Whitman
… si el tiempo real y el de los sueños coincidieran, cabría la posibilidad de que se encontrara conmigo un poco más allá, antes de llegar a las últimas rocas, se detendría, me preguntaría que por qué estaba dibujando una casa, un cuarto y una cama y yo le diría «si quieres que te lo diga, siéntate, porque es largo de contar» y al contarlas en voz alta, salvaría del olvido todas las cosas que he estado recordando y sabe Dios cuántas más, es incalculable lo que puede ramificarse un relato cuando se descubre una luz de atención en otros ojos…
El cuarto de atrás, Carmen Martín Gaite