A Welcome Arrival
July 14, 2009
Working on origin, and this great quote from Emerson: “Language is fossil poetry. The etymologist finds the deadest word to have once been a brilliant picture.” And orient. And horizon. They all have to do with rising, I think. The or is a remnant, a fossil fragment of an ancient verb, from a time before writing, before letters, before history, but spelled er or eur by modern linguists, meaning to rise, to flow, to move. That’s what my books say. The earliest meaning is probably flow. The r in river is a piece of the same fossil, evidence of the same root. The word rise itself, same root. Arrive. A flowing rising river is doubly redundant, inundatingly redundant.
It is found again in the conjugation of our most fundamental verb, to be, in are. They are, we are. Same fossil, same root, now meaning to exist. Existence is movement, rising and flowing, to be alive is to rise and move. To stop moving, to fall, to lie still, is to die.
Origin, the place of rising, of first movement. Orient, the place of the sun’s rising, now simply the east. To orient, to know the directions, to know where you are, how to find your way.
But I’m wrong about horizon. The or fossil is a look-alike but from a different species, from horos, a younger word, Greek, of unknown origin (!) meaning limit, border, boundary, dividing line. I am disappointed. I wanted it to be the same, the redundancy would be pleasant, the sun rising above the place of rising.
Sitting here pondering these things, on a sunny Sunday morning, seeing in my mind’s eye a brilliant picture, an ancient sun rising over the Caucasus ten thousand years ago, shining down on my chattering Indo-European forbears, when my laptop pings. An email has arrived, flowing in through the ether from my father. Subject heading: A Joyful Sunday.
My mother died seven months ago today. We were all with her. One of the last pieces of news she received was that my older sister’s daughter was pregnant, with her first child. Life flows on. The email from my father was announcing that my niece had given birth early this morning, to a girl. Seven months to the day. The sun over the Caucasus flew out the window and I burst into tears of joy and sorrow.
Within a hour a picture popped up on my facebook page, her sister had posted it. There they were, mother and child, the child the great grandchild of my mother, someone who had birthed me, held and nursed me the way Megan now held and suckled hers. And now gone. Seven months gone. And yet there, on my screen, in an other hospital room, in the mountains of North Carolina, not gone at all, in the smile, the loving embrace.
To flow, to move, to exist, to rise. To come into existence. This new baby rising like the sun. Megan, exhausted, yet beaming like a mother sun, milk flowing like a river from her swelling breast. The baby rising from the loving flowing of her parents, the loving movements of her grandparents, her great-grandparents.
Life goes on, flowing, moving, rising– and yet we die, we lie down and stop moving. The horizon stands in the distance, more clear to me, and closer than ever before, the divide that we must all cross, that my beloved mother has so recently crossed, that separates us now from her, this line that sets the sun.
And yet. And yet. Life does go on. Our mouths are full of words and fragments of words, fragments of pictures tens of thousands of years old, our blood with water billions of years old; the salt in my tears, how old is that? the sweetness in her milk, how perfect and ancient and ever-new is that?