I sat up half the night trying to picture the resurrection of the body. Would it look like the Christ in Raphael's monumental painting of the Transfiguration? Powerful and radiant, white and gold? What of those who die after a long illness, their bodies ravaged, eaten out, hollow? How would they look? Does the eternal soul -- if there is such a thing -- reanimate the temporal flesh? As the clock turned on the New Year, I pondered the brevity of life. It seems too short, doesn't it? And yet, look how much of mine I'd already forgotten. Put away for good.
I'm too old, too rational, and far too much the contemporary man, to believe in ghosts or angels, but my mind refuses to consider the complete extinction of the body, its return to soil, conquered by worms, feeding another generation of organisms. And the soul? I thought to myself, it's true -- the mind is an empty theater. No one has yet measured a soul.
There's a lighting booth at the back of the theater, a cramped space filled with obsolete equipment and a massive control board. Somebody from my past -- a humane priest, perhaps, who used to be an advertising copy-writer, someone who came to Christ late in life -- lurks in there, playing with the switches. Lights go on and off. I see a patch of stage: suspended dust, chalk marks, masking tape on smooth planking. A boy appears. Then the light flickers and goes out, and he disappears along with it. Another light. A woman appears, larger than life, wearing a bright blue dress and matching scarf. I take her to be the personification of wisdom. Athena. Sophia. I have always regarded women as wise, the cause of much of my undoing. Didn't Leda put on Zeus's knowledge before he let her drop? Perhaps this one knows too much. Why else the pained expression? Maybe she knows what she will lose.
For a few breathless moments she dances with herself -- a simple mystery of anima and bodily motion. A choirboy's notion of a goddess gone to seed. Heedless of the deep shadows that surround and threaten to envelope her, she sways from side to side within the slow circles her arms inscribe, the only sound a soft scuffing of slippers against the wooden stage. Then the light goes out again. It's outrageous, really, how unreliable, how scattershot, the light can be.
Performance art -- what does it mean to sashay around the stage for a spell wearing a frown? Big ideas reduced to small representations. Serious intent, banal content. I should've gone over to the Met and seen Tosca instead. Full-throated melodic trash. Sad to say, life is melodrama -- the pieces of it that we remember. Big tremulous scenes. Whereas wisdom and equanimity -- especially wisdom -- is a bore. Performance art -- you can take it or leave it. The theater empties. A woman brushes past you as she exits. Not the dancer. Your mind conjures more metaphors. A dance floor illuminated by strobe lights, a cornfield during a lightning storm. The second movement of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Serkin playing against Bernstein's New York Philharmonic. A hard-earned victory for hammered melody.
I remember her when she was a blue-eyed girl bent above a coloring book, drawing circles within squares, yellow, green, purple, black. Deep in concentration, humming to herself. Tell me, who wants a hereafter if the body isn't resurrected? I can just make out the tune. Gone away, don't you want to go? My wise one, it's already 2012. It won't be long now.