Finding the Words

You may not believe it, but sometimes Jeffrey is at a loss for words.


Jeffrey in Ohio, trying and failing to embrace Lake Erie, on the Ride to Iowa, April 5, 2011.

It’s beyond kangaroo puppet understanding, but for as long as he can recall, Jeffrey has been entranced by vastness.  In ways he has struggled and failed to articulate, he has stood in awe of nature (the Grand Canyon, the sea, the emptiness of the moon) and human wonders (the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal) and somehow wanted to be part of them.

Kathy Jones of Human Rights First gave Jeffrey a 2003 book by Jerry Dennis, The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas.  In words that resonate with Jeffrey, he wrote of his fascination with the Great Lakes, which contain a fifth of the world’s fresh water and 95% of the fresh water in the United States (pp. 9-10):

I’d become lost in the parts. Wherever I went, I wanted to know the water and everything in it and near it. . . . And I wanted the words to put it all together—every place, every moment, and all they signified. It had become overwhelming. The water alone was defeating me. How do you describe water? What words can evoke those spangles of sunlight, those shifting wave shadows, those pellucid blue depths? I lacked the vocabulary. I wanted to take hold of the immediate world, see it independent of the names we give it, then give it name [sic]. But I couldn’t grasp it. . . .

Emerson said the world lacks unity, or seems to, only if we have lost unity within ourselves.  He thought a naturalist might learn to see the world whole, but only if all the demands of his spirit were met.  “Love,” he wrote, “is as much its demand as perception.”

I had the love but not the perception.  I couldn’t see far enough.  And I couldn’t unite what I saw. . . .  I didn’t want to trivialize what I saw, and to dissect it would murder it.  I’d done enough dissecting.  I was reaching for something else entirely. I wanted to hold what I saw, felt, heard, tasted, and scented, and to possess it always—not like a tourist snapping photos, but literally, taking possession of its physical fact and keeping it with me always—yet I couldn’t get my arms around it.

It occurred to me that I should strip off my shirt, raise myself on my toes, breathe deeply, and dive. Immerse myself. Swim down into emerald depths until the weight of the lake embraced me and I could run my hands over granite blocks that had never been touched. It would have been still and cool down there, and very quiet.

But I lacked courage. The water was too cold by far. I thought the shock might burst my heart.

So Jerry got himself a boat.

And Jeffrey got himself a bicycle.

If you understand Jerry, maybe you understand Jeffrey.

On these Rides, Jeffrey doesn’t listen to music, doesn’t read much.  He tries to see, to hear, to live in the moment, to become part of the landscape, part of the people he meets. Trying to embrace the world in this way fills some of the holes in his heart, a little, for a while.

Jeffrey does these Rides to learn, to teach, to forget, to disappear.  And for love.  And because he has to.

Follow our progress.  Maybe you too can disappear in the vastness for a few minutes each day.

Our next post will be from the road!

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2 thoughts on “Finding the Words

  1. Dear Jeff,
    While reading your eloquent description the Japanese concept of KAMI came to mind.
    My sense is that these journeys are(perhaps partially) a way to balance your lifestyle in NYC.
    and hopefully heal your heart. I wish that for you more than anything..


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