Twelfth Night -
Viola shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria, disguised as Cesario, revealed as herself at the end -
Eldest is passionate about this part. Practicing Viola's lines her voice throbs with emotion. Musing over Viola's character - such faithfulness, energy, willingness to try, to change, to make things happen, to stand true – my daughter's hands scoop up the air, trying to mold and give shape to the ungraspable, to imagine and make that image flesh and action.
Watching rehearsal this week what strikes me most is how cynical the play is, how world-weary . . . and the rain it raineth everyday. Drunkenness and faithlessness and paralysis of will, paltry betrayals, pretension, pride, loneliness, empty jest. It’s a challenging play for a young cast.
And wandering through it all, my own sweet Viola (the shipwrecked soul of innocence) lost and bereft, disguised in a blocky cape that hides her willow waist and most of the movements of her arms and a false mustache that covers most of her mouth, but ever gallantly footing it forward.
I had come into the dark auditorium from a day training for our hundred-mile Memorial Day ride over the Coastal Range: a glorious day of mild blue skies which darkened into downpour then turned itself back into bright and fragrant sunshine. For the rain is not, after all, over and gone.
But I can bike in it – thanks to sunglasses (rain goggles?) to keep water-pellets out of my eyes and lightweight rainslicks. The rain it may still raineth every day, but I’m over and done with rain and worry keeping me trapped in gloomy inside spaces, and besides Mary Oliver keeps chanting into my inner ear:
of the physical body—rides
and so I do.
And it is exhilarating: To zoom around the long curve beneath the cottonwoods with the wind over your shoulders as it rushes out to dry the rippling grasses. To fill your lungs with air rising freshly from the wide green bosom of the field. To see the grasses’ heavy seedheads darkening to blue-violet, dipping in the wind. To hear the birds swooping up into the sunshine, brighter than ever, calling their new and everlasting calls.
This is the real world we live in. What Inger Christensen in her grand alphabet calls “the real real world” as opposed to the unreality of places like Eniwetok and the other atomic bomb test-sites. The unreality that we make real through our unwise imaginings.
Not that we need to go about inventing disasters.
“Remember my cousin Angela?” asks Fritz the next evening.
“Brown eyes? Blonde? We sat next to her and her mom at the picnic last summer? About our age? Or younger?”
“Yes, I remember her. She was a school counselor? Quite pretty, very friendly? I liked her.”
“She died this morning.”
“It was just sudden. She’d had a cold and then it was pneumonia and they said it turned septic.”
“What? Does that happen these days? – You don’t think it’s swine - ?”
He cuts me off, “No indication that that’s the case. Her mother’s pretty bad, pretty broken up.”
I have only a short moment for real compassion towards this other mother, imagining her grief, before I have to turn my mind away from the sudden sharp memory of my younger daughter’s sleeping face a few days ago, right after we heard that swine flu had been reported in our own state - at a college where my daughters' friends had spent the weekend. The closing of the campus and the urging of campus officials that students stay put for a week had been a hot topic on the radio talk shows during Fritz's commute home - preposterous draconian fear-mongering, thundered one side, while the other side trumpeted on about heroic medieval villages who quarantined themselves and refused to pass on the bubonic plague.
Not that this has any link with that - except that despite penicillin and the X-ray and every medical wonder since, we still are heir to illnesses we can't contain and sure to die of something sometime.
But that is a danger still imaginary. What is real is that for now we are here and together and well. Middlest had fallen asleep at my feet watching a movie. She’s had a slight cold and coughed in her sleep without waking.
“Cover your mouth,” I said, though she would not hear me, my eyes tracing every jot and wiggle of her profile, imagining nothing but that she would wake soon, imagining her laugh when she comes in from running in the rain.
Tomorrow I will ride again.