Suszynski: Nothing is without name
I met my good friend Miles near Sylvan Lake on Tuesday. “How are you feeling?” I trailed off, knowing that I have asked this question too many times. “Better but not there yet,” he told me.
I haven’t seen his face since January. Inside this new year, inside a version of a disease that has him listless in his room most days of the week, I have moved away from this question. “The fires are making it worse,” he said as he hugged an aspen tree too wide for his arms. I leaned against the tree next to him. We looked at each other with our faces pressed against bark.
“But you know,” he said with a smile, “I learned a piece of folklore the other day. In Gaelic mythology, people used to think that if they put aspen leaves underneath their tongues, it made them speak eloquently.”
I called my cousin Isabel on Wednesday, “How close are the fires to you?” I said, knowing that I asked this same question a year ago. “Too close,” she told me. “Too close to the vineyards.” Me in Vail, she in Sonoma, California. “How close are you?” she asked. Too close. I can taste the wood smoke on my tongue.
Exchanging the large questions with friends is becoming more difficult. Although we try to say everything in one answer, we say nothing at all.
On Thursday, my mom, our friend Mo and I sat outside and practiced saying goodbye. Mo is moving to Mancos in November. All summer, we traded kohlrabi salads and sunbaked heirloom tomatoes. You can get to know people through the food they bring to lunch and the containers they bring them in. Bonds form like rip currents in the ocean. Pulling, making circles in the sand until you are confronted with something as large as a goodbye.
All of these moments remind me of the book “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy. The story follows a misshapen family living in the state of Kerala, India. At the heart of the book are twins Rahel and Estha, two people sharing in their devastating sensitivity to the consequences of one day.
In the beginning of the book, the narrator describes Rahel through the lens of what her new husband will never understand about her, “He didn’t know that in some places, like the country that Rahel came from, various kinds of despair competed for primacy. And that personal despair could never be desperate enough. That something happened when personal turmoil dropped by at the wayside shrine of the vast, violent, circling, driving, ridiculous, insane, unfeasible, public turmoil of a nation.”
Throughout the book, the author uses proper nouns to signal Small Things that take up space in our lives like the “Blurry End, a Free Cold Drink, and Two Thoughts,” being “a) Anything can happen to Anyone and b) It’s best to be prepared.”
Love is thwarted by the lager society: “instinctively they stuck to the Small Things. The Big Things ever lurked inside.”
Somewhere between the Big God and the Small God, there lies a talus slope. Estha believes that, “Perhaps it’s true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house — the charred lock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture— must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for.”
The Big God has put his name on Goodbyes, the Virus, the Immense Fires but what of the Small God? What of Early Morning Before Smoke? What of Splashes of Water from my cousin’s feet on the other side of the phone? What of Garden Lunches held among Snorts of Laughter and Chocolate Stuck to Fingers?
“They laughed … At the minute spider who lived in a crack in the wall of the back verandah of the History House and camouflaged himself by covering his body with bits of rubbish … One night they contributed to his wardrobe—a flake of garlic skin,” the narrator says of two lovers finding comfort in a Small Thing.
At precisely 5:43 p.m. in West Vail on Wednesday as I was talking to my cousin, I heard pattering on the roof. Thimbles started appearing on the stone of the patio, I stepped out and felt a raindrop strike my forehead. By 6:01 p.m., the rain was enough to dampen my shirt sleeve; I let out a long sigh. Isabel on the other side, “That sounded like a good noise.” A Good Noise.
“They chose [the spider] because they knew that they had to put their faith in fragility. Stick to Smallness,” the narrator says of the lovers.
Even if the Big God changes your life in a day, we are the Gods of Small Things. We are the organizers, the namers, the beings capable of caring for each other. Those Big Things with big names take up space but the Small Things packed between the boulders are the real substance. Nothing is without a name, you name it, you give it meaning, you trade small morsels with chocolatey fingers, you redirect those boulders by asking pointed and detailed questions to crack its cold exterior.
Anna Suszynski is a staff editor at the Vail Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Instagram at annasuszynski or on Twitter at anna_suszynski.