In the waves of waking this morning I was troubled by a thought about the earth. Not the melting and heating of it or the rising or sinking of it beneath the sea, or the mud slides and the dust clouds of it now, about which I worry and think about to the degree of obsession, and read and talk about— but the turning of it.
The turning of it. The simple rotation of it.
In the waves, sinking and rising, as I was, through the layers of sleep, the question of, ‘which way does the earth turn,’ became weighted and unsettling. Because I found, in half-sleep, that I could not answer it.
From the east to the west or from the west to the east? The simple answer was simply elusive. More than elusive: troubling in its inaccessibility. More than troubling: a gripping doubting of my own mental capacity: my ability to retrieve what is known. What I once surely had known.
My daughter is flying tomorrow from Boston to LA. East to west. Her first flight. It worries her. I feared flying when I was younger. Crashing. Dying. I was frozen by the thought of it. My mother gave me one of her valium pills. It helped. But upon landing in San Juan, in my Bermudas and sandals, I realized that I would need to remain there. I feared the return trip. I had not planned for the return flight— for the extra pill I would need. The return trip, the thinking of it, the worry about it, even on the beach—Luquillo Beach—stole the present from me. Stole the softness of the sand, the warmth of the sun, the breeze in my hair. How the future can steal the present. The fear of the future robbing the reality of the present.
But… to the turning of the earth. Like a clock. Or not like a clock.
The sun in the sky. Rising and setting. The orange-scarlet in the mornings and the pink and purple in the evenings. Rising over the water here and setting over the land.
This simple point— the direction of the turning— is something I should know. The turning which creates our days and nights. The transit of the stars. The days by which we measure the hours which fill the years of our lives.
I know that I know this. Long have known this. As I know left from right and up from down. Tall and short. Past and present. As I know who I am and the names of my children.
I don’t expect to remember the name of the actor, the tall one whose wife died, I think, in a ski accident, like Sonny Bono did. Hitting her head into a stanchion, I think. But the actor. The tall one with hair that likes to flop across his forehead. Endearing him. Softening him. And his voice, also soft. The heartfelt seriousness of it. It will come to me. And the singer. The the drummer of a band. British. The band was named for him or maybe not. I see them both in my mind. Their names elude me. They will come to me if I don’t think of them. Later, when I’m making toast or washing the dishes. Liam Neeson.
It doesn’t worry me much when the names don’t come. It‘s not as though they, the names, ever were so much a part of what I knew, needed to know, that I could not step around the emptiness of the erasure and go on with what I was doing, needing to do. I easily made do without the name. Phil Collins. But the name of my son. That name comes instantly to me with ease, as does may own name. But I think about the day I will not know his name. Or perhaps, my own.
The day I will know but not be able to find it among the other things I had securely settled in my brain because of the need to find them when I need them. To use them. More important than the house keys or my glasses. But the name I gave him and which he wears. I still know his name as I know the word ‘earth’ and what it means.
As I woke, I thought that knowing the way toward which the earth turns and causes the winds to blow and in which time seems to move, would never be hard to locate. I’d always be able say with confidence, ‘sure, I know that. How could I not know that? ‘
And I went into the kitchen to make the coffee and I stood by the window and saw the sun in the eastern sky and I knew from where it had risen, its arc, and where it would set later.
And I drew a rough picture of the earth and the sun on a scrap of paper and arrows to plot out the spin in my mind. To reason it out. The logic of it. The science of it.
The penciled lines were momentarily reassuring. But I know that I may not always know how to do that. That not only would the answer be irretrievable but I may lose the ability to restore it. And with that, loosening my assured grip on reality.
I worry about that. It is an essential, almost constant worry. It is the way that the future is stealing my present. Starting with an easily dismissed sense out-of-sync-ness, but progressing to an unsettling knowledge of out-of-touch-ness.
Perhaps, when that theft may happen, I won’t take notice of it… just float away on it.