Better Than Flowers
by Bill Vernon
Winter, the first skim of ice on my driveway where the tar puckered up to hold for a while the gift of the heavens. "Watch your step," I tell the kids. "Hard surface." Because it can throw you. It can make your innocent feet slip out from under your weight so you land on your backside or worse. In a parking lot at work, a friend lay for half an hour unconscious below the keys dangling in his car door. Nearly frozen when he woke up and drove himself home, the heater on high, the fan too, blowing warmth directly on his face and chest. Not about to stiffen into rigor mortis yet.
Similar thing, the face on a lover, friend, stranger, the contours and wrinkles, the crinkles at the eyes, unmoving, hard surface, the stare as if paralyzed or molded. Seeing this condition, you hesitate before speaking, before stepping closer, knowing that upon contact your unsuspecting feet could fly out beneath you and your heavy mass falling could crack your head, break an elbow, could injure your coccyx, could stimulate the growth of a pilonidal cyst or if you already have one aggravate it so the pain is unreal, so it drains, so you have to see a doctor, have an operation, pray to recover. Enough. The point is if you have any sense you proceed carefully before intervening. You ask what's wrong and try to help, hope to help, but with reserve, holding full commitment back, not plunging in.
You've learned. You have your own hard surfaces. Not just one, many. You have low spots in your psyche and they gather water. Sometimes they reflect the sun or the surroundings, and that can be beautiful. But even those containing paintings by the greatest master artist, your own imagination, can suddenly communicate pain, nostalgia, sadness, anger, fear. We can slip on their surfaces, bang up our egos, change our tunes, and lie there staring inward, unconscious of the real world. We know where the slippery spots are and avoid them most of the time, but they attract us too, enough to venture nearer. In innocent, relaxed moments, our minds step on them unwittingly, and so we slip again.
However, hard surfaces are good. They set limits. They stop us, curtail our freedom and possible excesses. Hard surfaces hold us up. All of them offer themselves unchanging unless we chisel off pieces. Make window sills and kitchen counters out of granite. Getting a hard surface under control more or less, less meaning occasional pieces of china or glass or something else brittle might fall against them and shatter. So even here in these everyday things you have to be careful.
Still, a hard surface can be an opportunity, letting us carve it into a smooth and crystal clear likeness, like two hands or a face emerging from stone or ice. This beauty proves that we can be in charge to some extent. Our soft realities, our thoughts and efforts, can make something good out of something solid and rough. These creations are sometimes better than flowers.
This piece first appeared in Indiana Voice