As The Shades of Evening Draw On
The lights have been flickering on and off for the last half hour now. I decide it might be best to unplug the computer and TV, and just make an evening of it at my kitchen table, reading and writing in my journal. Nor’easters are always impressive, and this one so far has been putting on an incredible display of wind and rain since mid-afternoon. The trees bend in a frenzied dance, shedding leaves and small branches that scatter about in the yard and street. Bobbing like a bobble head toy, my cat puts on an amusing show of concern as it looks out the window.
The coffee maker makes its last gurgle just before the power goes out shortly. The power comes back on but it isn’t too long before the lights start to flicker again. I decide enough is enough. If I’m going to have flicker, than I’ll take it in the soft form of lit candles, rather than a harsh, sputtering light bulb. I get a couple of candles out and set them up on the table. Once lit, I cut the lights.
I sit down in the chair and marvel at the change of atmosphere I’ve created. The ambiance from the warm hue of the candles, along with the rain beating against the windows, makes me feel as if I’ve been transported back in time. Considering this is the week ending with Halloween, I decide what better night than this to become reacquainted with Edgar Allan Poe.
“The Fall of the House of Usher” has always been a particular favorite of mine. The opening lines especially have a sonorous, mystical quality:
During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.
To read Poe is to read the wrangling of the human soul when it is no longer capable of balancing its connection with the natural world with the spiritual, when it becomes mired in its physical existence, when it becomes relegated to the “unredeemed dreariness of thought.”
Holding to that sentiment I find myself drifting off into the push and pull of the wind against the building: the rain, heavy and certain. And then I wonder how it is that I sit here at this table laden with thoughts of the events that have transpired since 9/11. Something has happened to us since the collapse of the World Trade Center, something insidious and malignant has affected all of us, has changed us, whether we realize it or not, in ways that, though, may not be easily understood, is becoming more evident each day. Al Qaeda has turned our country into a “mansion of gloom.” Instead of a culture of hope and optimism, we have become a culture of fear. And as such, we have become clumsy and ineffective in our response to this war of terror that has been unleashed on us.
Out of fear, we give up our liberties, our freedoms, and our privacy so that we may be protected from those who wish to do us harm. But I don’t feel any safer. When I flew out to California last year, and was subjected to a full search not only of my belongings, but a pat-search as well, I did not feel like I was being protected from ruthless hijackers intent on using my flight as a bomb. As a TSA agent swept me with his wand, I couldn’t rationalize how this end justified any means. Instead, I thought it terribly reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984. Putting my shoes back on, I felt relieved that Big Brother determined I wasn’t a threat, but, nevertheless, as far as I was concerned, the unthinkable had become reality. Our behaviors in society today are being closely monitored, and as long as terrorists wage their psychological and explosive warfare against us, I imagine it won’t be very long before our very thoughts are being closely censored to protect us from Al-Qaeda’s mission of merciless insanity. I pick back up where I left off on my reading and find a passage that seems almost transpicuous of our present dilemma:
"I shall perish," said he, "I must perish in this deplorable folly. Thus, thus, and not otherwise, shall I be lost. I dread the events of the future, not in themselves, but in their results. I shudder at the thought of any, even the most trivial, incident, which may operate upon this intolerable agitation of soul. I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its absolute effect --in terror. In this unnerved-in this pitiable condition --I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR."
We do not have to live our lives in fear. We do not have to succumb to pernicious pessimisms that dictate the tempo of our lives. Though I may not be able to change the reality of our present political and economic situation, I can change how I respond to it and thus affect a change in my reality by choosing to live my life out of courage, hope and love. As the candles I have lit burn down, I reaffirm my belief in our humanity and God, and decide that I am not going to contribute to this “collective consciousness” of Osama Bin Laden butterflies. I like my freedom, thank you very much. And so with that I pinch off the flame of the candles. My cat, nestled against Poe’s collective works, watches me with what seems a curious intent. I scoop the cat up off the table and prop him up to my shoulder.
It is a cold wind that blows tonight, the howl deep and low, the voice of winter to come. Tomorrow morning the drive to work will be that of a more wintry scene, the leaves having been blown off most of the trees, the gray clouds crabbing across the sky like sailboats heading for Isleboro. I decide that to celebrate my newfound freedom, I’m going to get up an hour earlier and walk to Weaver’s Bakery in downtown Belfast. At 5:30 a.m., a tray of apple spice doughnuts will have been pulled from the fryer vat. I’ll order two doughnuts with a cup of coffee, and then go outside and sit on the bench near Main and High Street. When you bite into a hot doughnut like that on a thirty-degree morning, well, I think it’s about as close to heaven as you can possibly get.
By S. L. Cunningham