Saturday, July 4, 2009

La Solitude Absolue

The French call it "la terreur du silence."

The Romantic writer, Francois René de Chateaubriand, describes an evening when, standing at the head of his house's stairs holding a candelabara and looking down into the darkness below, he realized with deafening finality that what he once had claimed as mere solitude had become, without warning, "la solitude absolue; le spectacle de la nature, me plongèrent bientôt dans un état presque impossible à décrire. Sans parents, sans amis, pour ainsi dire seul sur la terre, n’ayant point encore aimé, j’étais accablé d’une surabondance de vie. Quelquefois je rougissais subitement, et je sentais couler dans mon cœur, comme des ruisseaux d’une lave ardente ; quelquefois je poussais des cris involontaires, et la nuit était également troublée de mes songes et de mes veilles. Il me manquait quelque chose pour remplir l’abîme de mon existence : je descendais dans la vallée, je m’élevais sur la montagne, appelant de toute la force de mes désirs l’idéal objet d’une flamme future ; je l’embrassais dans les vents ; je croyais l’entendre dans les gémissements du fleuve ; tout était ce fantôme imaginaire, et les astres dans les cieux, et le principe même de vie dans l’univers."

I'll translate. But first, let me say that Chateaubriand has always been one of my favorite authors. He realized early on that "the greatest part of genius is composed of memories." He was an anachronism even by the strange standards of the times when love was accepted as an often fatal disease that struck men and women alike, and it was not uncommon to "inhabit, with a full heart, an empty world." He was to inspire both Lord Byron and Victor Hugo, and yes, the cut of meat is indeed named after him.

OK, now the translation. "Absolute solitude, this frightening display of nature, put me in a state I find almost impossible to describe. Without parents, without friends, almost alone on earth and having yet to succeed at love, I was weighed down by an overabundance of life. Sometimes I was breathless, other times I cried, and night offered no relief to my thoughts and fears. I lacked something to fill the abyss of my existence. I strode the valleys and climbed the mountains, calling with all the might of my desires to find an ideal, a light I could rely upon. I embraced this ideal as it rode the winds, thought I heard it in the rivers’ moans, but all I found were the imaginary ghosts of the planets and skies, of the very principles of life in the universe."

Well hell, I couldn't have put this better myself. There are indeed times when the light does not shine far enough to relieve the fears, when the solitude becomes a blanketing loneliness that makes one question the darkness, fully knowing that answers seldom come from the cellar of the mind. We've often filled our lives with what we believe will hold loneliness at bay only to find it seeping from above or below.


Here's installment 105 of Wasted Miracles.

The forklift came toward them at an idle, its driver perched high in the cage. He wore a hardhat, sun glasses, orange overalls and workgloves. One arm was in a sling but he nevertheless managed to work the controls of the vehicle. As he passed the limo, he swung the forklift sharply to the right and accelerated. Mamadou heard the roar of the engine, caught the movement out of the corner of his eyes. The two women stood staring with their mouths in big oval “ohs.” Then Clare Drake screamed, grabbed Jennifer’s arm, yanked her so hard her shoes were left behind. Mamadou dove, his shoulder caught Colin in the chest. The forklift hit the limo broadside and the windshield and passenger windows exploded, showering them both with glass.

The forklift backed up, the driver slamming it into reverse. Mamadou rolled, rose to a crouch, a gun in his hand. He fired once, twice, three times. The driver’s sunglasses shattered. He jerked, threw his arms into the air. His movement threw the cage door open and he collapsed to the side, then slowly began sliding headfirst out of the cage. His shoes—they weren’t workboots but almost new Gucci loafers—somehow got wedged in the forklift pedals and he hung upside down, his head bobbing just above a giant tire. There was the sound of tearing metal as the forklift hit the limo again, lurched, its huge wheels spinning. Then it stalled.

Colin got to his feet, shook shards of glass from his hair. “Jesus!”

Mamadou shook his head. “No. The Zulu.”


After the crowds drifted away and both Mamadou and Colin had answered questions from the police, the port authority, the company representative of the firm that owned the forklift, the customs people and the Coast Guard, Colin said, “I thought he was gone.”

Mamadou shrugged. “I guess he wasn’t. It was dark in the house...”

There didn’t seem to be too much to say.

The two women had been questioned as well then released and opted to take the first available flight out of Baltimore-Washington airport directly to Florida. Colin drove Mamadou back to his garage in Southeast D.C.. There wasn’t much to say during the ride either.


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