I learned today that the part of our inner ear that is concerned with hearing is thought to have evolved from the lateral-line organ in fish, a series of canals that run along each side of the fish, opening to the surface at intervals. These canals contain hair celss, which are sensitive to low-frequency vibrations in the water, including vibrations made from other fish surrounding them (hence why fish swim so well in schools, dancing together in perfect formations—a painting in motion). To think, this organ in a fish functions so similarly to our inner ear and its tiny hairs (which are called stereocelia, by the way). This balancing act within a small part of our intricate bodies determine so much of how we perceive our world, tell our tales, sing our love.
There’s this thread that reaches out and touches each one of us, connects us to something larger than ourselves. And most of us wake up and pass through the day without taking note of the tiniest signs holding us together, to each other and to the smallest and grandest portions of earth. We go on, worrying about the letters posted the day before, the emails sent seconds ago, whisking their way across fibers and into another’s server. We wonder: how will they respond as they lean forward, sipping morning coffee, open the link that will grant them access to our words, our inner wolrd. These tiny threads, connect each one of us and yet we go on, thinking not of how we hold each other close, but how distances grow in our hearts and minds, isolating, or seeming to, our lives from one day to the next.
There stands a desert between us, not because nature constructed ergs and rocks to push up between us out of the soil, but because we chose to splinter our perceptions into definable surfaces. We hold our hands to sky, asking for another to guide us, refusing to look at our own feet– how capable we are of walking in and out of each others lives not only with sandals, but with words, gestures, movements, longing.
There stands a desert, but it stretches out before us not as an obstacle but as an offering. I can’t tell you how many times I have missed another and found comfort simply by recalling them into memory, or how I’ve thought of someone only to receive a message or phone call, or even a dream, where they walked in and out of my life once again.
It is not just in the body that we enjoy one another, just as it is not necessary for touch in order to feel someone close by. Think of those fish, swimming together in harmony and yet not even conscious of the fact that they are among friends, companions. Indeed, they must have no idea that they are swimming together, learning to dance as one, but rather acting on how their lateral-line organs act upon their senses. So, too, I feel as though I “feel” some one above me, asking that I pay attention and walk closer toward them. Perhaps they are long gone, or perhaps I have yet to meet them, have never known them, but I must know, deep in some hidden bone, that their “spirit” somehow is acting upon mine. This “hearing” is inherent in all of us, as though all of life is one school swimming through some strange sea, knowing not where we are going or even of who surrounds us. But there are threads pulling us in patterns too advanced to grasp, too intricate and sophisticated to call us by our name…and yet, we move.
A loved one reaches out, touches our forearm, and suddenly a memory brings us closer to some part of ourselves, long forgotten. The lover comments on our distance and in one millisecond we are pulled back to the moment and to their arms, saying “I drifted off” and not yet knowing where we went, the day piles back on and we are set climbing once again, thinking of practical matters—bills, holidays, bank statements, dinner preparations, birthday gifts, and where to buy groceries. But something haunts us, doesn’t it? As though something is always just out of reach. I don’t think it’s out of reach, only that we are scared to take a moment and investigate the impulse to drift. Because life demands focus. But there we are, focused not on the Sahara between us, but the tiny rock in our eye, the daily distractions and love affairs with forgetting, numb automatics.
Recently, I have noticed it takes quite a bit of practice, patience, and discipline, but when I find myself weighted with such small worries, anxieties, daily-anchors, I try and reformat my thought process. I take myself out of the small neighborhood of everyday and place myself in the desert between us, between me and you, me and the rest of life. And in this expanse, all threads become a little more visible; things become new and novel; lovers rise up from the rocks and I am not alone—though all around there are bodies and warmth, the isolation marries comforting presence and all I do is swim with them, with both isolation and companionship. We join each other but remain singular—as the fish swim as one and yet, never touch, their extra senses allowing them all along to caress each other in movement without awareness. And in such moments, my mind, I think, drifts almost to the edge and I see myself as not myself but as the earth intended me to be—pure matter. Like the tiniest cell inside the inner ear that allows me to hear and move, I am the smallest part of a very large mechanism that cannot be escaped, but must be embraced.
And so, when I am alone and missing you, I think these thoughts. I recall from that Sahara a mind like my own, but separate. I rethink the daily worries into small, workable objects until you appear, glancing over your shoulder to signal me to follow. And out from the body, I rise up into something large and sweeping, as the desert sweeps its skin of dirt across its own body when the wind comes howling. You see, though we each are dust particles, our greatest movement is a collective one. But these threads, we pass through them like pesky spider-webs…we never notice the lovely pattern, just the obstacles around it. Still, we have the ability to perceive the connections, the landscape that is both the individual body and the very skin of earth.