After four years, Michelangelo has reached the end, and now Jonah, whom he has reserved for last, dangles his bare feet over the Sistine’s void, sharing his precarious aerie with a dead fish, two cherubs and a vine. A marvel of foreshortening, he reclines on his arm and eyes God, still arguing petulantly that he is not the man to undertake such a harebrained job, lacking both talent and inclination. His fingers point in opposite directions, one to the threat of Nineveh and Rome, the other to the safety of Tarshish and Florence, regarding his own death as a small price to pay to make a point. Yet as the fresco dries to stone, he gazes beyond the gap between his intractable pique and God’s intractable grace, dumbfounded at the resplendent vault arching above a city at peace.
You will be blessed if you ever catch a glimpse of their plain feathers, the gray of slate shingles in the rain, and their bright black eyes shining with every good secret they will never tell. They preferred the thickest brush along our creek bed and what was overgrown around the abandoned shed. My grandfather as he lay dying recalled the hidden catbirds from his childhood, how they sang in the thicket of an empty house every morning as if their hearts would break, as if they knew the treasures of heaven lay in every clear note they tendered to the world.
The famous battle of Thermopylae, which took place in 480 BC between a massive Persian force led by the King Xerxes and a small band of Greeks headed by 300 Spartans and led by the popular King Leonidas is the subject of 300. Thermopylae (“Hot Gates”) was a narrow pass near a hot springs.
These Yorkshire fells and dales appear ever to be falling away, toppling from Emily’s wuthering heights into wide accommodating valleys carved by Derwent, Calder, Ribble and the rest then trimmed by flocks of patient sheep that crop the slopes and shoulders round toward that verdant jeweled Jerusalem folk hereby love to sing about.
Up here, along the tops, however, driving tight along the teetering edge, mad vertigo hangs you out there in the balances, suspended in that stomach-clutching space between this summit and the next, flung far into the spinning turn, the terrible excellence of things.
Might it be that way also at the end, nothing all that dark and dreadful, but a life-demanding climb, agonizing to be sure, all the gasping way along and up some looming harsh escarpment grasping toward the final summit where, at last, you stumble forward into emptiness to find everything . . . all at once?
One morning this summer I was basking in the sun With the brother closest to me in age. We had been Brought up almost as twins but then took disparate Roads, as twins do. He was sobbing and I was near Tears and the ocean was muttering. I heard a heron. We had been having the most naked open talk we’d Had in many years. I wanted to tell him how deeply I loved him but words are just so weak and shallow. So I talked about the forsythia bush we used to hide Under together. It was the safest place on the planet. The light was always amazing in there and it wasn’t Ever muddy somehow and you were draped in gold. It was a hut a huddle a tent a canopy a cave a refuge. Sometimes you have to use a thing to say something Else. We do this all the time. We talk sideways, yes? But sidelong is often the only road that gets to where You know you need to go. So much means lots more Than it seems like it could mean. Tears, for example.
John Coleman, who died recently, presided over Haverford College during the tumultuous Vietnam War era. He sympathized with students’ antiwar protests but also tried to channel the antiwar movement in constructive ways. When students considered burning the American flag, Coleman placed a washing machine at the center of the campus and encouraged students to wash the flag instead. He persuaded dozens of college presidents to sign an antiwar statement. On sabbaticals he took blue-collar jobs to explore the gap between academics and workers (Inside Higher Ed, September 12).