A beam of sunlight filters in through an open window of a room bathed in shadow. The air is still. In the ray of light, dust particles bounce off of one another, illuminated. The fine concentration of light is filled with tiny, radiant specs that are suspended in space, and yet, in motion: floating, shimmering, tumbling together, touching, separating, touching once more.
The physics of it does not matter. The dust-air interaction does not matter. Brownian motion does not matter. Lucretius’ remarkable vision poem of atoms randomly moving in an infinite universe does not matter. Nor does Einstein’s explanation of it. Here’s what matters: You can see it. It is the dust of the world, dazzling in the light.
This is your whole life, right here, right now, contained and elevated, in the ephemeral ray of light pouring in. And you tell yourself: this is the dust of me, the dust around me, what I breathe in, what I breathe out. The dust is filled with thoughts, memories. Mine, yours. Dust from old books. Dust of letters I’ve opened, of papers torn. Dust from my son’s drawings. Dust from cars as their tires leave behind bits of journeys that float through my window, into the beam. Dust of a tissue from my mother’s purse. Dust of my cats, here, and then not here, alive in an eternal way, I suppose, luminous in this narrow beam. Tears evaporate and find their way into the shining zig zag motion. Cherish what you have, and what you have lost. Look for it all, shimmering and tumbling, as dust particles in a shaft of light.
Brooklyn, New York, in the late 1950s/early 1960s.
My childhood was not without its rough edges, though I will save those stories for another time. It had its smooth edges, too. A considerable softness came in the form of my older sister and her friends. My most vivid memory of them is when they were teenagers. There were several years between us, enough to make them magical beings, light years ahead of me in the spectral arc of discovery. They were ever moving through this incredible cosmic realm, swirling somewhere between being a girl and being a woman.
Their bedrooms held a menagerie of stuffed animals, yet the air was scented with hairspray and noxzema, and filled with music. It was the radio, or records, and laughter, always laughter, as the backdrop, as they practiced the newest American Bandstand dances, learned the latest lyrics. It was rock and roll. Growing up. Freedom.
I remember their crazy hair curlers, their bumps and curves. We had sodas at Woolworths and sometimes saw a Saturday matinee. I listened to them talk about clothes, and school, and boys. Their essence was within reach, not only in my being intrigued by who they were, but envisioning the near horizon of who I would become. They seemed to know everything about everything, and I was afforded a glimpse into the mystery of their circle.
One of the girls was Marion. She had dark hair, and dark eyes, like most of the neighborhood Italian girls. What set her apart was that she was funny and warm; quick to laugh, and even quicker at getting everyone else to laugh. She was also the one whose eyes would fill with tears when she heard a sad story. If you were hurting, she’d cry with you. I remember her compassionate heart, as beautiful and deep as her soulful brown eyes.
My sister later parted ways with the family. It was a staggering loss. But, it was Marion who would fill that gap for me, keeping the bridge to that wonderful past alive. My mother’s relationship with Marion’s brother brought us all together as family. Marion was married and had her own sweet little girl. I grew up having many Sunday dinners with all of them at Marion’s parents place, and many gatherings at her home, or mine. Great meals, good times.
We spent time together through the years. She remained ever that person who made those funny faces, laughed with you, cried with you. I am grateful that I got to tell Marion that my memory of her was always the teenage version of her, my magical vision of her, and that she was always a big sister to me.
Marion passed recently, suddenly. I hadn’t seen her in a long time. Her husband, daughter, grandchildren, brothers, niece, relatives, and friends, will grieve the staggering loss; love her, miss her, remember her. My mind and heart will always hold her in that ephemeral moment of her teenage youth. Lord have mercy. It was glorious.