"What do you know of love?" whispered the voice in my head, ricocheting off the warp and weft of my mind to burst forth through my eyes and shatter on the back of my sunglasses. I was turning off the road, much to my relief. The arched gate of the cemetery beckoned, the orangey-tan dirt track leading me on. Beyond lay a sparse grove of monuments, blushed with moss and gleaming dull white in the soft sunlight of a Kansas spring. In a final burst of crunching gravel the car rolled to a stop. I briefly leaned my head on the steering wheel. I answered to no one present.
"I don't know."
I opened the door. The cool air of the Flint Hills rolled in to caress my face with feathery hands smelling faintly of stone, sod and ghosts. It was quiet out there, broken only by the subtle hissing of wind through the grass and a whirr of sparse traffic along the distant road. I stood up while taking a deep breath. My hand gripped the door frame. Thinking of love, or of what I did not know of it, made me dizzy.
Love slipped away from me again, a salmon evading the paws of a starving bear haunch deep in the stream. I thought I knew love but somewhere on this short road trip it came to me that it may be impossible to truly know something so much bigger than myself. So much more mysterious, arcane. Why this happened to me in broad daylight I cannot tell you. Perhaps the birds calling from the nearby trees knew the answer.
I asked them, nicely, and not too loud so as to avoid seeming rude. There was a burst of musical chatter, but nothing I could decipher. They gave me no counsel. The sun had moved a degree of arc, reminding of why I stopped here in the first place. I pulled my camera gear from the car and set off into the cemetery.
(It took little time to find a vantage point worth considering. There was a serendipitous line of sight threading through a cross, more markers, the cemetery gate, up a hill across the road and ending in a silo. I was surprised and delighted.)
The memorials were a curious mix from antique to new. Pillars, crosses, and slabs of marble and granite. In their own way all testaments to love. At least, I hoped it was love. I was seized by the notion that it would be tragic to carve all that stone for the sake of appearances.
I wondered, then, who would love me when I was gone. Who would care enough to erect a stele, provide a plaque and urn in honor of my memory. Staring past the large marble cross up to the silo on the far hill, a wan smile crept over my face. It did not quite reach my eyes. I wondered if pity made me feel this way.
(I set up the tripod with the pinhole camera secured to the top. My first go at it. This day would be full of accidents and revelations, I smiled to think.)
No, it was not pity. It was acknowledgement of a fact of my existence. Someone would almost certainly provide stones to ballast my remains, maybe even a cross. A Celtic one, I hope, or perhaps a megalith of bluestone with my name inscribed in Ogham runes.
"Do you think so, sir? Do you really believe that?" whispers again in my head. I looked up into the sky. I shook my head. "Yes." My voice sounded odd in the boneyard air. The funny thing was, I really did believe it. Perhaps for the first time in my life, certainly as an adult, I did.
(Advance the film. Check the level. Adjust the sighting. Open the shutter. Seven seconds. Good.)
Over a thousand miles and 47 years removed from the soil of my birth, I found myself standing in this alien graveyard with other old souls celebrating the knowledge that I would live as long as there were those who still remembered me. If I had thought to bring a flask, I would have raised a toast to our bones, mine clothed in flesh and those embraced by the sod around me.
(Advance the film. Check the level. Adjust the sighting after having nudged the tripod by accident, startled as I was by screech of what may have been a crow behind me. A lone truck downshifts over on the road, low growl bringing back memories of a long-ago road trip where I see the silhouette of my maternal grandmother against the side window. I wipe sudden moisture from the corner of my eye, and press the shutter release. Click like bones. Nine seconds. Click.)
Standing there waiting for the time to be up on the exposure, I decided that I did know something of love. Imperfect and incomplete, perhaps, but mine own knowledge. I know that I am loved. But the true test for me, the gauge and bellwether to guide me, is not so much the love I receive as it is the love I can give. This exhilarated and frightened me.
"How much can you give?" The voice, disguised as the murmur of wind-blown grass mixed with the songs of birds, asked me.
I let go of the shutter release. Images irreversibly burned into the film, to be taken on faith and unearthed later. The opening of that which seems tightly closed, to let in the light which provides form and depth to the shapeless darkness we far too often hold to close. We open, we illuminate, we develop.
We become, in the presence of light. We are formed, in light...in love.
"How much can I give?" I whispered to the bones and the prairie earth. A score of heartbeats passed. There was no answer, it seemed. I gathered my equipment and headed back to the car. The clunk of the door shutting nearly made me miss the reply when it came.
"More than you believe possible. Open your heart."
I gasped. That was it. I will open my heart, letting in others, forming myself in love. By such poetic measures we all become light. We all become love.