Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Into our room the two of them enter, the young one and the old one both babbling away, our past and our future united as one. At first one blames the room's poor acoustics for what little is heard -- low, muffled, indistinct tones, like notes on a piano that's slowly being tuned. Gradually comes a strange sort of relief when it is clear that neither the room nor, more importantly, oneself are at fault for this lack of comprehension. The others themselves are speaking much nonsense. (Oh, how good it feels to blame someone else!)

The boy is not more than two, if even that, and his words are a motley mixture of the real and the fantastical, one syllable guffaws giving way to extended monologues only he seems to get. (And how he so clearly enjoys revelling in his own private realm. His laughs and his giggles splitting his own tiny words into two, three, even four separate parts, so that what finally emerges is a nonsensical stream of spittle and sounds.

His much elder comrade in nonsense fares not so much better. The child's high-pitched patter is substituted by the elderly man's guttural grunts, but the pitch is the same, and the pace is as quick. It is as if the old man is eager to get it all out, clarity be damned. He, too, has bubbles of spit playing games on his mouth. There is a melancholy undertone to this sloppy style. Surely he must know that what he says is not being heard; his eyes' vacant gaze suggests a deep inner wound. A long life of dialogue replaced by a monologue -- is that wound enough?

The boy doesn't mind. Something within his young sensitive mind unconsciously goads him to keep spouting forth blab, for good or for ill, at that age who cares? Eventually, all will laugh at his witty few words. Months and years of conversation await, and soon all will know what you say and you mean.

From my privileged vantage point at the side of the room, looking at the old man, I glimpse no similar voice whispering in his tired mind. While the boy is thinking thoughts that have yet to take root, the man's firm foundations of belief and intent have already been uprooted. (Time will do that, no?) He is scrambling for words that have long passed away. What's left are mere fragments that can't mesh as one. While the boy is continually adding, something, everything, is being subtracted from the man's aging soul. He would think this a tragedy if he were aware of its indifferent intent, but his mind is a mold of the sea and the plain. Raging waters are replaced by the quietest, widest flatland, like the prairies he once drove through while heading out west. Words can't help but drown in that water and get lost in those fields.

Still. In this spare room, amidst such unlikely companions, can another, larger force be detected? For words are but hints of what hearts truly want. Perhaps this underlying desire desire for communion can tell us what sloppy speech obscures.

Let me out! the boy shouts.

Let me in! the old man pleads.

A primal, potent need to be heard by both that must come from somewhere near.

Let us leave this room quietly, while they're still chatting freely. I'm sure they will part, and only one will remain. (I won't dare say who, but I'm sure you can guess.) We'll shut the door softly, and tiptoe away. Soon that young boy will start to make sense, and most of that innocent infant charm will be gone. Before long that old man will stop speaking for good. The words will have faded forever.

Perhaps some cosmic exchange is at work. The young feed the old with their knowledge and letters. In return, what is given so freely must now pay its price. A psychic system of bartering that makes humans flow. Energy exchanged never dies; it merely changes form. One withers while the other grows tall.

If we walk down the hall at a slow steady pace, we might just hear an electric undercurrent beneath their strange words, the strike of a spark that spreads a fire both will set.