Tuesday, February 07, 2012

There was

Richard Wright's classic 1945 memoir Black Boy recounts his childhood in the racially charged South of the 1920s. It is a heartbreaking tale of poverty, hunger, prejudice -- and triumph against all odds.

Several times in the book, Wright breaks the traditional narrative to list, litany-like, remembered epiphanies:
There was the delight I caught in seeing long straight rows of red and green vegetables stretching away in the sun to the bright horizon.

There was the faint, cool kiss of sensuality when dew came on to my cheeks and shins as I ran down the wet green garden paths in the early morning.

There was the tantalizing melancholy in the tingling scent of burning hickory wood.

There was the languor I felt when I heard the green leaves rustling with a rainlike sound.
I am selecting at random.
There was the thirst I had when watched clear, sweet juice trickle from sugar cane being crushed.

There was the saliva that formed in my mouth whenever I smelt clay dust potted with fresh rain.

There was the breathlessly anxious fun of chasing and catching flitting fireflies on drowsy summer nights.

There was the feeling of impersonal plenty when I saw a boll of cotton whose cup had split over and straggled its white fleece toward the earth.

There was the relish of eating my first fried fish sandwich, nibbling at it slowly and hoping that I would never eat it up.
And so on, for several pages at a time, these apparently slight but memorable impressions, what Virginia Woolf called "moments of being."

I have reached that age -- seventy-five -- when Wright's litanies seem altogether appropriate and meaningful, when the traditional narrative of one's life begins to seem less important than the accumulated "moments of being." Wealth doesn't matter. Fame and acclaim are hollow. Possessions are just so much stuff. Instead, one lives from day to day waiting for the light to break through the grey cotton-wool of everyday life (Woolf again), and reveling in those remembered moments from one's early childhood forward that glitter in retrospect as the real amassed treasure of a life.

There was…

There was…

There was…