I had planned to come on here tonight and talk about memento mori and my love of skulls, seeing as how we just had Halloween and El Dia de los Muertos, but that's going to have to wait, because I had A Moment on the way home from work tonight.
Maybe it's those premenopausal hormones, but as I was driving home from work just at dusk, I looked up for a moment and the moon took my breath away. It made me gasp aloud. It was so huge and bright and creamy there in the almost-night sky, it took me by surprise as if I had never seen it before. Listening to Richard Thompson on the iPod, singing one of the myriad "cruel mother" ballads of yore, I thought, here I am listening to a 400-year-old song, looking at the same moon those people looked at 400 years ago. And it was like I was hearing the song and seeing the moon for the first time ever.
It's not the first time I've had that thought, but tonight for some reason it seemed especially poignant. Maybe it was the hormones, maybe it was sweet sadness of the murder ballad; I don't know. For a moment, I was aware of being part of a much greater whole - part of the unbroken thread of history. Of course, all of us are part of that thread, but it's something most of us don't contemplate on a daily basis, if at all. We're usually too busy to notice what's been there all along.
Several years back, I was confined to the sofa with a case of bursitis in my knee, thanks to an overzealous attempt at learning Irish step dancing. Since we've never had cable tee-vee, we were tuned in to PBS for some intellectual enlightenment. The show was NOVA, and the episode was about 3000-year-old Caucasian mummies that had been unearthed in the Chinese desert. Who were they? Where had they come from? Why did they settle in China? Excavations revealed woven fabrics that looked suspiciously like woolen plaid, along with some stone spindle whorls. (See http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/transcripts/2502chinamum.html to read a transcript of the episode.)
When I saw those 3000-year-old spindle whorls, I nearly lept off the couch, bursitis be damned. At that moment, I felt myself connected to those European mummies in the Chinese desert, because I also use a drop spindle, 3000 years later. I don't remember if I cried, but I do remember getting really choked up. This is a hard thing to explain to people who aren't into history, but it's sort of like the Beatles: "I am, he is, you are, he is, you are me and we are all together." For a moment, I was one of those desert immigrants.
And tonight, looking at the moon and listening to "Bonnie St. Johnstone," I found myself thinking how I could make that centuries-old song my own, spinning off Richard Thompson's version, which was spun off from other versions, and so on and so on. It's the folk process at work, and it's still alive and well. I know many of us bemoan the idea that the old ways are vanishing, but maybe that's not necessarily true. The old ways are still there; we just use them differently in our ever-changing world, adapting as we must, often flying by the seat of our pants. And why not? That's the best way to see what you might not otherwise have seen.
Till next time --- keep spinning that thread.