Innocent Again

Sometimes in the morning when it's still dark, I run with a little headlamp in a big circle on the dirt trails through a black, pretty park. That time of night, it's that kind of prettiness that you can't see, the kind you sense with your nose and your skin and your guts. The night bugs are invisible and crazy, whirring and banging on the air. There are birds in the dirty black beside the trail, maybe owls, maybe tiny winged satans, I don't know because all I see are their round reflector eyes. Perfectly still as I pad closer, then the eyes silently rise on wings I can't see and swoop past me quiet as a little curse. And it's that they fly without bodies or even souls that makes them beautiful somehow, like the wonder is in all the things that I have to guess at, all the things I don't know for sure.

An old train dropped us on the outskirts of Damascus almost fifteen years ago. A bunch of bags and a baby on a curb in Syria, a handful of Arabic words in our throats, and the absolute unknown coming down all over us. The sky was blue forever. The blue of being a long way from home. I looked at Shannon, she was watching for a cab, the baby on her hip. And we didn't know a single thing, about Syria, about how big the sky is, about ourselves, about anything. Maybe I've never felt so powerful and small and stupid.

Sweet innocence. (Reston, VA; Oct 2005)

But the Syrian sky changed colors as the months went by, from that strange, unsettling blue to hometown blue, the blue that hung outside my bedroom window as a kid, the blue that has its arm around you when you're little and scared. Foreign to familiar. And isn't that how we go? Each day you just creep another bit into the big, black, beautiful darkness until another tiny circle around you brightens from darkness to light, and you see a little more, and you know a little more. And then it's time to move again -- literally or figuratively, it doesn't matter. You're back in the dark, and you have to stare so hard until it takes shape and starts to look like home. Then you go yet again, because if you don't you'll die from the light, from all the knowing.

Young know-nothings. (Basra, Syria; Oct 2003)

The Salvadoran mornings blaze with birdsong. They are vivid and alive. I opened my eyes and ears this morning in my bed at dawn and tried to hear it and see it like I did two years ago, when it was all new. But in a lot of ways, now I know too much. The uncertainty, the darkness, the wonder of it all, has settled down into light. Familiar, ho-hum light. Sometimes it gets too bright, and that's how you know you're on the edge of that big, black, beautiful darkness again, and it's time to step inside where you're blind, and small and stupid and overflowing with spirit. I guess there's rashness in that, but there's faith in the rashness, and curiosity in the faith, and hope in the curiosity, and hope is the bone and marrow of being alive.

I suppose I know less now than I used to, in the sense that I've lived too long to think I know too much. And maybe that's a virtue. Not that ignorance is a virtue, but innocence is. And the most ambitious among us are all trying to crawl our way back into innocence, or at least some imitation of it, which is all you can hope for once you've lost the real thing. An imitation where you've seen things, you know things, but you've seen enough and learned enough to know that you're small and stupid -- and thereby bordering on sage.

Boarding for first El Salvador flight. Back when we were in the dark. (Miami, FL; Apr 2015)

We fly permanently away from El Salvador in only another day or two. I ran my last big circle in the darkness through the black, pretty park the other day. I've run the big circle so many times, I can do it in the dark, so I flipped off my headlamp. That old dawn was way off in the east, picking at the edge of the sky, but the air was still heavy and velvet and black. The crazy night bugs clamored and my blind feet found all the spots between the rocks and the roots, sure as high noon, throwing their own light that I guess only they can see. And I thought, I know too much now, I could die from all this light here in the darkness. And I ran on through the night, ready to be blind again, small and stupid again, innocent again.