The Cut-Outs

Posted: September 21, 2018 in Uncategorized

I recently read a poem in which the author described the way in which her brother cut his own image out of all the family photographs before he took his own life. It was a way to define his own absence in advance, an absence he already felt and  surely one that would become permanent. Those cut-outs became the way she experienced her brother’s absence. It was not simply a feeling, a grief, a regret. It was a blank space in the fabric of time and space, the absence of something present, the presence of something absent.

People who are gone seem to linger that way. Most of what made them who they were is  out of sight. But much is known by the outline of what used to be present. We find the outline everywhere. Sometimes we color inside the lines, fill in the blank. With memories or dreams.

One of the strange things is that we mostly get to choose what stays inside the lines. Even change it. The past is so fluid. We can still work on it now. Finish it up, write a new ending. And focus on which parts of them bounced around inside the lines while they were still with us.

One of the lingering powerful images of Casey Affleck’s A Ghost Story is that the departed simply shows up as a sheet covering the body he used to be. The viewer never has the privilege of even one glimpse beneath the covering. We only have the surface of his outlines, and by where he shows up presumably what still matters or is unresolved.

When you think about it monuments and statues provide a similar function. They present the outlines and surface of what was a life. He or she occupied space for a time on this planet. There was impact that can be known and felt. Touch the stone or metal or wood and your mind fills in the story.

Our Western problem is linear time, of course. We actually believe things unfold sequentially. But just imagine for a moment that they don’t. Imagine that past is really present is really future. Imagine that sequential time is one of the illusions we seize to make sense of our world. And then imagine that the cut-outs of those who once were (or will be?) are really place keepers. The ancestor is still here and may be tomorrow. The future is flowing out from what we just think is an empty space. We love to oversimplify. But the world is so much more complex and mysterious than that.

If, theologians in the house, God is eternal and reality is infinite in every way, what is the outline of a life? A punctuation mark in a sentence? The temporary material reveal for something that can never stay material? Ego wanting to hold on?

What a gift that this young man cut himself out of the pictures before he made his final exit. What he gave to his sister and everyone else was a trace that could continue. Yes, you can find me and, no, you can’t. And yes, I can find you and, no, I can’t. In the end none of us will be found except in some echo of eternity that ricochets through the cosmos with all the other ricochets.

They say that sound waves echo through space forever. At least the outlines of them do. When we hear them they seem to come from another time. And yet we hear them now.

Like an image cut out of a family photograph.

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