Devotional No. 1

(Photo credit: Me)

“I love the stillness of early summer evenings downtown, and especially the stillness made more still by contrast, on the streets that seethe with activity by day. …Walking on these streets, until the night falls, my life feels like the life they have. By day, they’re full of meaningless activity; by night, they’re full of a meaningless lack of it. By day I am nothing, and by night I am I.” p. 13, “The Book of Disquiet,” Fernando Pessoa, Penguin Classics 2002.

“To live according to nature we should pass a considerable time in cities for they are the glory of human nature, but they should never contain more than two hundred thousand inhabitants; it is our artificial enslavement to the large city, too sprawling to leave, too enormous for human dignity, which is responsible for half our sickness and misery. …No city should be too large for a man to walk out of in a morning.” Chapter 1, “The Unquiet Grave,” Cyrus Connelly, Hamish Hamilton 1957.

Out of the D.M.V. in record (probably?) time. And straight down Ninth Avenue. And feeling fantastic about it for no good reason that anyone outside my head would understand.

In the cold air and bright light, I bolt across streets and find the groove in sidewalks. And behind me comes a voice, alternating between angry and anguished and exultant.

I do do it, it says, I do. I do. I do it, every day. Yes. Yes. [Pause.] Yes. The Herschel Walker workout. Every day. I am telling you. Every day.

The voice told and told. And I walked on and on. Beams of bright light. Wells of purple shadow.

After a time, the voice acquired a calmer tone, though no less audible. Like that of an acolyte who perceives that the message has been received but is unwilling, for the moment, to give up proselytizing.

Yeah, it continued. Yeah. But, listen. That won’t do you no good when your jaw is broken. You hear me? That won’t do you no good when your jaw is broken.

My stride lengthened. I saw a puppy. I saw a crowded bake shop. An empty nail salon. And throngs of boisterous, determined schoolchildren, shopping for their lunch.

The throng was unexpectedly large, continuing in hot, piping bursts of sound around a corner that seemed to me like a refuge.

By the time, though, that I felt I could predict who was looking for a curb on which to sit and eat a homemade sandwich and who was plotting a course through dusty construction workers to a sushi place, it was over.

And I kept walking, for now only in shadows.