Light changes when it changes mediums; so do waves in the ocean or in the bathtub, and sound is muffled by the walls. Encounters change the progress of travel itself, whether you run into a wall or pulses of light hit the side of your eye, undetectable, until you’re in bed with a migraine. It doesn’t have to be that brutal. Light softens a room, candlelight travels through water, love becomes easier.
Without refraction, nothing would move through us. Hard sharp corners, reflection only, the ultimate narcissism. You’d only see yourself looking back. It’s hard to avoid as it is, being the center of your own universe, the sun in your own solar system. No refraction, then nothing penetrates, nothing gets through. We’d be static as well as unaffected, unmoving and unmoved. Alternatively, I suppose, we could absorb everything and end up dark and muddled. Nothing would escape, but that’s a pretty heavy existence, especially if you hang around people who give you a lot to soak in.
I try to take a refractory approach to life. I think it’s the years of sitting in the orbits of others lives, listening and listening. If I reflect everything I hear in therapy sessions, I’d cause despair and loneliness and make the problem worse. If I absorb everything, I’d have the trauma of genocide to carry, and I’m sure I can’t carry anything that dense.
It’s been two years since the passing of a fine man I knew for a brief while. The formal arrangement was that I was to help him with a forty year old regret and a tragic recent loss. I believe he tried not to weigh me down and I sometimes let these waves pass through me with a false objectivity, as if I were playing at a crystallized existence. I saw a glimpse of a barracks destroyed by a bomb, a flash of a knife, a military funeral, tiny children dancing in Indian regalia, a small girl sleeping in a truck, a makeshift boxing arena with Blackfeet men gathered around to watch a fight, a high school baseball game, veterans in uniform at the mall, sipping McDonald’s coffee, a brush running through an old woman’s hair.
I heard a voice ask for forgiveness; I could only listen, and channel the forgiveness from someone who wasn’t present to offer it herself.
I felt the warm press of his hand.
The light travelled through me.
One day his son called me and told me that his father was with Creator, and the waves hit me hard enough that there was no air, and I sat on the floor. I didn’t get up until someone knocked on the door.