Uncertainty - 2016

A Gentle Reminder

By A. Spaice

“How did it not become a thing, though?"

She's distraught, disconnected.

It's my best friend, Eliza Vera, phoning from Northern Europe. I can't imagine how dark it must be right now there, but it's probably similar to here, at this hour. Squinting at the round clock on the opposite wall, I try to discern the roman numerals.

“I wonder how it became not a thing." She's talking about something, but what is it? “Empathy."

Her voice is flat, much more deflated than the last time we caught up, about Johannes Kepler and his quest for the Harmony of Worlds. I don't know what's happening, now. Neither does she. “Tycho Brahe wasn't a very nice guy, did you know? It's in this nice illustrated version of Carl Sagan's Cosmos. So many good books here, in my new flat. But it doesn't even matter, I don't think, what kind of legacy he left if he wasn't even nice to people. I mean, I feel that way. Did he make people feel something? Warmth, awe, inspiration? Or…"

We've been through Brahe before. I've tried to reason with her on this, but it's hard.

“I wonder what the pair of them could have discovered together," she muses, “if they really collaborated, from the start. Brahe and Kepler." Art, poetry, philosophy, astrology, mysticism, and the gift of intellectual pursuits born of the simple, very human urge to ask questions.

“That was a while ago, Eliza." Everything that tips when it does makes its choice to do so at a certain moment. This was it. I gave her the opening. Sure, it was out of nowhere, but it felt like the thing to say. So I said it: “Do you remember when the baby came?"

A catch in breath, just then. A reversal of the logician in her. Sliding back to reveal the poet-mystic, the one that I knew two decades ago and have seen blossoming this whole time. “Of course I do," she says, but softer than before.

The brash and anxious indignant tone is dissipating. I picture the hot tears I know are there as she whispers, “How could I not remember that?"

“I love to hear you talk about it. Will you tell me again, how it was?"

“Yes. Are you awake yet?"

“I'm starting to be. Please, go ahead."

Her voice seems to become dreamy, when she tells me about it, and I don't know how much of what I'm going to relate next is hers, and how much is my own filling in the gaps. Interpolating or making things up. She starts with a disclaimer, something about how it has to become a narrative for me if I'm to make some degree of sense of it, and that I'll never know the feeling of it because how could I, but still. She starts in. This is what love looks like, Eliza says. A little thing is here, a new baby, and it is in your charge. You can write all the gallant lines of code in the cosmos to describe the wonder in the impossible “Where did you even come from" question, you can wrangle with it internally for decades, lifetimes, and never know a thing. But that won't ever equate to the feeling, and she's insistent on this point. The now and here. Where there is reality, the only reality we can know. Isn't that what Einstein had said? The only true knowledge is experience. What's true for me might not be true for you, and so on. But I think empathy starts with this kind of a moment, doesn't it?, she says, or I say, I can't seem to remember now. The mothers. The fathers. Their new hopes and dreams for the little new one, their responsibility to protect, nourish and love. New mothers soon have to learn to be gentle with themselves, their bodies. To forgive themselves for being too-cranky, or too-snippy one day, because of hormones and changes and shifts. We humans come into shape, in this way, don't we?

As they are growing, they are becoming, so are we. This starts before we're even born, I'm convinced. Dreams. The womb is where there is that portal to the mysterious thing, that thing that we can't know anything about, can't spell or logic-puzzle into some shape of space that makes any sense at all.

“Are you listening, A.?"

“I am."


Did you know, A., that I just read a gorgeous short story, Portrait of the Avant Garde. It's by this person named Peter Høeg, and I just found it on the bookshelf in the kitchen, yes, the kitchen has books in it, too, this is… Hm? Oh, yes. I've settled in well. It's not too cold yet… but soon it will be winter. I'm not very far from Assistens Cemetery, remember how I told you I wanted to go and see the magpies? I'm going to describe it to you, maybe in a letter. I miss writing by hand. Well, I'll tell you about that another time, will I? But yes, you know what? This short story I was just talking about, it sums it really well, the thing that became not a thing. Empathy. You should really read it. Don't read the comments on those internet sites. Read the work. There's a certain quality… a certain exquisite grasp of… that thing. That used to be a thing that isn't a thing now. But if it were, if we could put it back in the center of our awareness and work on it, the way I wish Brahe had worked harder at relating to people like Kepler, you know? Then maybe, just maybe, we can cope better. Because in the moment of birthing there's also a kind of a shock: this is not, and nothing is really, in your control.

“Are you still there, A.?"

“Still here, Eliza. Corn stalks. New ears catch the red glints of this morning."

“Nice… sounds quiet."

“Yes. Quiet is important."

“Always." “When will I see you next?"

“In a month? I've been working hard on that checklist assignment you gave me. Let's find each other in London, shall we? You'll be visiting, still? Let's do that."

“See you at the same place?"

“See you there."