September 26, 2016

ON MY MIND | International Leaf-Toucher’s Anthem

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Photo Courtesy of Film Europe


From my previous two pieces, you might think I only write gritty, hard-hitting journalism. But let me let you in on a little secret that might convince you otherwise. Come closer, dear.

Actually, I whisper into your ear, I don’t.

I’m not a topical journalist at all. All of this – *gestures at articles floating in empty space* – is just some stuff in my head. And this blog – *gestures now at imaginary walls* – is a place for me to stuff some of that some-stuff so my brain doesn’t overflow. I don’t even know why you have to be here.

I’m not a topical journalist. We just live in topical times.

But let’s maybe steer this boat away from those topical blue lagoons for a little while and head for the broad, open ocean, huh? Where we can skitter, helter-skelter, like schools of skates scudding along in scant formations? Or dutifully descend down through dark and dappled depths like dignified dolphin-dauphins? How’s that sound, gang?

Okay. Good. We’re pivoting now.

So. I’ve developed a habit where I try to pluck a fistful of leaves – or a solitary leaf – off as many low-hanging branches on as many passing trees as I can while walking home on pretty-good Saturday nights (weather permitting). I might do it on weekdays too, or even during daylight hours if the urge has really got a grip on these twitchy digits. It’s powerful, when it hits. I don’t underestimate it. When it takes hold, my body leaps like a finely-tuned guitar string undulating to the cosmic strummings of a guitar-strumming universe.

It’s become a tiny act of personal rebellion against everything my life is supposed to stand for. It’s a feat of objective meaninglessness bordering on asinine, trifling self-indulgence. It’s the closest I can get to religious ritual without doing much of anything. And I own it. I’m no less than a small falcon-god swooping in from high-heaven to plunder his meager share of creation. I own the act; I own the leaf too, while I hold it, and I construct altars wherever I choose to cast my spoils down. I am a counter-insurgent throwing a middle finger to the seasons of life and decay.

Sometimes, the universe will conspire to bless me with a wholly intact, flawless kill. Twirling the stem between thumb and forefinger, I think I might never achieve such utter perfection ever again. Then I shred the leaf into many artless, fluttering pieces.

Other times I’m not so bold; instead of ripping life from limb, I might half-consciously stretch out a hand and allow my fingers to softly plow through a field of green tips. It’s an involuntary form of grounding – basically a reminder that I’m moving through a physical, tactile world. I could just as easily hurl myself headlong down the slope and my body would feel that too. It’s comforting, I think? It’s mine, anyway.

That’s what I thought.

A few weeks ago, I was walking on the Arts Quad, as is my God-given right, when I spied a fellow walker walking on a nearby path, except she wasn’t walking. She had stopped. All of her things were on the ground. She was jumping up and down, trying desperately to grab something just out of reach. It slowly dawned on me.

She was leaf-grabbing! The thing! That I usually do! What!

I’m a jealous person, so I expected to get angry at the girl’s blatant theft. But this whole development caught me quite unexpectedly, and so my only reaction was something like a wide, rushing tidal wave of :-)))). It rose swiftly and carried me afloat long after I had walked away. My head swam, but I didn’t mind. Heads should swim, since they’re like coconuts.

And after a few tries, she got her leaf.

Here, Jeremiah uncovered an important truth about the manner of special things (i.e., things he held special and which he thought made him special in some way). And that truth is: your hands aren’t the only hands holding those things; get over yourself. That thing where it sometimes occurs to you to suddenly wonder about the origins of mustard? Someone else has that thought too, maybe everyday even. That thing where you stand at the bottom of empty stairwells, gazing upward with an expectant look (when you know full well that there’s nothing/nobody coming down to meet you)? There’s another person beneath another stairwell waiting in equally giddy silence.

But following that first truth comes another, of much great significance: consider it joy, friend! This means that, not only are you revelling in brief, arbitrary contact with your immediate environment, but you’re also continuing a colorful tradition of human beings touching plants for no apparent reason, a tradition of which you may simultaneously assume full and zero ownership. You realize your kinship with other people. You realize we all live on a wobbly tabletop, teetering between hyper-real-life and dislocated daydreams. Whatever we do, we have to keep balance. We take screaming leaps from one reality to the next, pushing through portals, falling over carefully hidden trip-wires in the underbrush. We might never make it, or we might all punch our way to the finish line in record time.

Where was I?

Right there with you. Here, take my leaf.