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This is My Cathedral

Published 2002-03-13

The squall of March rain arrives like an announcement, travelling a patient course, propelled by 8000 miles of Pacific Ocean. I hear it crawling eastward from the West Hills. We stand, the dog and I, under the shelter of an enormous hemlock planted at an intersection.

In seconds, the sound of falling rain washes away the murmur of Portland after sunset. It washes away the sigh of traffic along Powell and 39th. In the greying light we watch the rain, in sheets, in lines, in tiny points, obscure the world. The world narrows to a circle enclosing this corner, and the enormous evergreens surrounding the stations of the cross at the Jesuit novitiary across the street.

In a moment I am reminded that this is a moment. Suddenly revealed to me are a thousand previous moments of my life, exactly like this and yet completely unique. Cold toes, wet socks, the smell of hemlocks, purplish light an hour before darkness, cars hissing in the distance, house lights winking into existence in the west hills. My life is somehow held together by these moments. They hold together long jagged hours and days of sickness, difficulty, pain, joy, exuberation, exhilaration, boredom.

A mis-wiring, a bad chemical, in my dog’s brain makes his back legs unable to move smoothly, makes him trip and stagger, makes him afraid to walk through doorways; it will kill him eventually. I don’t have a job, there are no jobs to be had. My best friend is stricken with an affliction in her heart I know intimately, and yet I cannot seem to affect it. Perhaps I am its cause, perhaps I invented it, it will destroy our relationship. My life is broken and I cannot fix it. If I step out from under this hemlock I will get soaked.

I have heard people say, on hikes in old growth forests, “this is my cathedral.” I have heard people say words with this meaning on mountain tops, in Native American medicine circles, under brooding Arctic skies, in throbbing city intersections, at punk rock shows. I have heard people say this in actual cathedrals. This moment is my cathedral. It is not a place, it is a point in time. A minute, five minutes, 10 seconds, a glance, a sigh. I cannot choose to visit it, it visits me. My life is built, patiently, unconsciously, from moment after moment, moments of profound emptiness, moments where something as commonplace as a brief spring rain squall reminds me, “this is a moment.” My life, moments, tiny cathedrals, pearls strung along a line.

We stand, and listen, to falling rain, and to the crows cawing in the mossy evergreens around the stations of the cross. The squall passes and we cross the street.