Sunday, August 28, 2011

On We Shall All Be Healed

A time traveller, or a memory athlete, or an omniscient narrator with brain damage can move from scene to scene without shock; but he doesn't get it right, he learns his lessons but doesn't retain them. He knows what's going to happen, but he lets it happen anyway. He's seen it all, but it surprises and hurts him still. It's more beautiful that way, and more devastating.

He moves among others like him. They laugh with shared elation at common discoveries, and study familiar trivialities for what more they may reveal. They tear through shades-of-grey civilian settings, upsetting the extras. We accelerate to white-hot incandescence and leave a trail of ash and bone for baffled coroners and weeping survivors. No looking back.

I move among others different from me, stand-up guys who read the papers and have never seen the breadth and length and depth and height. I sit vigil at gravesides, in hospitals and cells. We were discharged. We live where we used to rip. It's dark here, not like before, just bleak and rough. I catch your eye, you saw it too, you've walked down that alley too. We’re alone with the time traveller. We are left, but we haven't left them behind; he’s gone, but he keeps calling us back.

A corner turns, and something blinks, and the roar of a surging wave of shearing force passes through us. Nothing has been lost — we're all still alive, and God, what a life! With this stuff, we can outrun angels; we can go faster still, I can take you faster. Push ahead, push ahead through the fire that lingers in our muscles, through the ache that sears every nerve, through the muddy hung-over hazy hunger for more, faster. Is that how it was, or am I just making it up to fill a blank left in my recollections? If I went back, I might know, but it’s not there any more. I can’t get any more. I can't return.

This place is a pit. How can anyone live here, ankle-deep in pizza boxes, cans, bottles, scrips, each one a fingerprint, each a phone number, each a snapshot of someone we loved or hated. It’s where we belong. It’s where they all will always belong, even the ones like him who paid the full price to belong somewhere else. They can smile and puke here, and most of the time someone will hold their hand. He has been here before; he’ll be back. With Olympian grace he pulls apart the swinging doors and displays a horizon we never crossed. He draws us toward it, delicately gesturing toward each safety pin, acknowledging every rumpled empty bedsheet on every sagging couch. I say that’s a rueful half-smile; you tell me it’s grief struggling to claim every muscle in his face. It’s nine-thirty, but the sun’s not up yet. We’re not sure it’s going to rise.

He remembers you all. He would do it again.

By A.K.M. Adam. A.K.M. Adam is a Lecturer in New Testament at the University of Glasgow's Department of Theology and Religious Studies. His blog is available here. His writing and editing credits include What is Postmodern Biblical Criticism? (1995), Making Sense of New Testament Theology (1995), A Grammar of New Testament Greek (1999), A Handbook of Postmodern Biblical Interpretation and Postmodern Interpretations of the Bible: A Reader (2000); and "What These Cryptic Symbols Mean: Quotation, Allusion and John Darnielle's Biblical Interpretation," Biblical Interpretation, A Journal of Contemporary Approaches, ed. H. Pyper, v. 19, no. 2, pp. 109-128 (2011).

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