Sunday, August 16, 2015

The New Mexico Sky and Why You Can't Go Home Again

All the thunderstorms of summer stood back and paused as I went back to New Mexico for the first time in many years - the land where I was born and came of age. On my way to my 20th high school reunion, I was thinking about the people I needed so much to see and the way they had become a part of me, and I was thinking about the land - the way it had always left its mark on my soul - the mountains, the bright blue skies, the way the clouds would lay down their heavy shadows on the ground. 

These images that I captured on my camera from the window of the plane as we flew toward Albuquerque were so familiar.  As a child, I would fly across the Southwest by myself, and the shadows would cover the ground, and patches of light would come through, and I would feel these sparks from within even the deepest of my sorrow - these shards of light of infinite peace in the most center part of myself - in spite of all the problems that I had left on the ground - even if just for a couple of hours. 

Looking down on the ground was where I was nearer to the clouds, in between time zones, even outside of time, was where I could merge with God.  

I had a lot of unfinished business to take care of on this recent trip, messages that  I needed to say to convey, reconnecting that need to happen, places I needed to visit, things that needed closure.... There were people I needed to embrace, people I needed to say thank you to, things that had been left unsaid that needed to be said. 

The shadow of our plane moved across the desert ground on this land where I was born as our plane descended.  I thought about how our souls come into our bodies when we first come into this world - if we come from some outer stretch of the universe and descend, then our soul merges with our cells, our bones, and our DNA in the way a plane merges with the earth when it touches down on a runway.  I wondered if maybe this is how my soul first descended toward earth - over this desert landscape, with the dark blue of mountains on the horizon, and the light blue of the sky.   

This was that quintessential epic journey for me - the one where you go out in the world and become who you were meant to be in spite of your upbringing, or maybe because of it, and then you go and stand where you once stood and choose to make peace with everything you were ever at war with when you were young. 

This land is rich with Native American culture, it permeated our lives in a way that we didn't always realize - in a way that was often implicit.  It was in the rhythms that we could feel below our feet when we walked barefoot on the desert sand.  It was in the movement of the brown swelling water of the Rio Grande. In the early mornings and late afternoons of my youth, the all covering Father Sky would stretch over me every day I was alive like it was the only thing always willing to embrace me.  

In the distance is the mountain line that will always be a part of my memories of my youth.  That distinct line has become part of the landscape of my own soul.  

There is a life that some people create for themselves in this city - a life of sipping wine and spending hours on the golf course, and living in the right neighborhood.  Meanwhile, there are parts of this city where poverty means dirt floors and not enough to eat, and moments or even lifetimes of hopelessness. 

In making some kind of peace with this place, there were a few roads I needed to travel on, a few places I needed to stop by.  Heading up this road makes me think of a birthday party I had in elementary school at a house I lived in that was up this road - and how I keep a photo of that party tucked away, out of the light, in a photo box in the room in which I now sit and write, and how half the girls at that party are no longer alive on this earth. To the right of this road is a sidewalk though it's hidden almost entirely by the green plants that sprung up from the rains of July monsoon season - this is where I at one time walked with each of those girls who I have since lost, to go to the nearby park, or to go buy magazines with our allowance money at a nearby store... This road holds so much sorrow for me.  Clouds began to build in the distance with the promise of more rain, just like they always did.  Just like I remember. 

It's a city where too many people die too young, a city full of secrets that get kept for far too long, and a city with far too many addictions.  There is a darkness that falls on the ground each night in a way that is relentless, in a way that makes you wonder if the light will even come again in the morning. Darkness fell on the city just like I remember

Pink and lavender light bounces off the clouds in the foreground, while yellow and orange light covers the sky in the distance. Captured in this shot in the light of dusk, are hospitals, and churches, and a vintage motels, and it's hard to say which of these buildings have held the most weight from the stories of the human situation.    

I don't know what it is about this city, but its edges spill over with dichotomy, with juxtaposition.  It holds within it a light-drenched hope on the horizon and an enormous overbearing sorrow in it's dark alleys. 

I took these sunset photos from a posh roof-top hotel bar as I sat next to a table of movie stars and crew working on a local film.  Even in the cool breezes of the evening and the flicker of city lights slowly emerging, it was hard to stop thinking about how this renovated building was originally a mental hospital and how I remember going in it to visit a distant relative when I was a child.  

Even if you spend the whole second half of your life trying to take care of unfinished business, it seems there will always be something left undone, something that cannot be repaired in this lifetime, and for those situations that I may never be able to fix, I can only hope for grace.  

More fluorescent pink bounces off the lavender clouds and a pale blue sky.  If you look close enough, you can see the shape of a flying dove in the middle of the sky in pink.  Maybe it was a fleeting image of the grace that hangs over this city.  When I was a child I would pretend that the ground was the ocean and the lights, as they began to come on, were the boats floating on the water.  In spite of wishing I was someplace far from the desert as I grew up, I also knew that a profound beauty existed all around me, and that this was only the beginning - that there were many more places I belonged, and that I would soon enough no longer belong here.

"Child, child, have patience and belief, for life is many days, and each present hour will pass away. Son, son, you have been...furious and wild, filled with hatred and despair, and all the dark confusions of the soul - but so have we...You have stumbled on in darkness, you have been pulled in opposite directions, you have faltered, you have missed the way, but, child, this is the chronicle of the earth. And will grow desperate again before you come to evening, we who have stormed the ramparts of the furious earth and been hurled back, we who have been maddened by the unknowable and bitter mystery of love, we who have hungered after fame and savored all of life, the tumult, pain, and frenzy, and now sit quietly by our windows watching all that henceforth never more shall touch us..."

-Thomas Wolfe You Can't Go Home Again

(c) 2015 Writing and photography by Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved 

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