trance formations: two cinemas

Cinema # 1
As we sit in the half-light, waiting for the picture to start, music is playing and the crowd is animated, happy. It’s Friday night; it’s an old and beloved movie. We are comfortably and stylishly dressed: well-groomed, nice hair. Couples are tender, friends are merry—we are all alive. It is the present.

I look up at the vast faux-baroque ceiling with its fading gilt trim, and as I gaze downward again at us, the audience, the scene stops. As if we’d become a freeze frame, that movie trick where the soundtrack keeps running but all motion has ceased. Then, silence: we are a photograph of people at the cinema, a grainy, fading image of ourselves. At least a hundred years have passed; we are all dead. Our faces are fixed in the expressions of that moment; our personal characteristics have been recorded, so perhaps we did exist: we were happy; we were alive. But did the flickering dance of our individual lives mean anything, while it happened? All that’s left is the faces in a crowd in a fading photograph: San Francisco Cinema, circa 2000.

Cinema #2
What activity is so benign as our communion in the darkened temple of the cinema, when an old movie is playing? And so of course you have a feeling of well being, looking around at the happy crowd, as it smiles in anticipation of a known pleasure, and taps its feet to the vintage tunes the organist plays. It is that feeling of warmth and happiness that pervades the scene as you scan it, and suddenly notice an old friend, whom you haven’t seen in years, in one of the rows, and as you muse about some experience you shared, you notice that in another row are a kindly aunt and uncle, and over on the left a favorite teacher and his wife, and settling themselves in at the back your best friends from childhood…

And now as the theater fills, it fills completely with your friends and loved ones, so that everywhere you look, in every seat, there are people you have loved at some time in your life, up to their deaths in some cases, while others may have drifted off long before, but at this moment here they are, all together, surrounding you with the quiet warmth of their affection, the aura of the times you shared, and the happiness that each one offered you in a different way…

And then the lights begin to dim, and they go down—but slowly, slowly, so slowly now—until the darkness is complete.

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trance formations: on the path

You and I are taking a familiar walk, through a wooded park adjacent to a dead-end street that backs onto it, the very street where you lived as a child, in fact. As we come down the gravel path that winds among the tall trees, rounding a turn, we see a man in the distance, accompanied by two small children. His build, hair, walk, are all instantly recognizable, even though he’s some distance from us. “He looks just like your father,” I remark. It’s an odd thing. And the two tow-headed children, the girl slightly younger, smaller than the boy, could be you and your sister. “He’s turning in at our old house,” you reply. “See that back gate? That’s how he used to take us to the park.” We keep walking towards them, but something in us seems not to want to move more quickly. The man does not look up, and disappears behind the wooden gate that is just his height, shepherding the little girl before him. But the boy looks back down the path our way, briefly, as he passes through. His gaze is too distant to be distinct. What did he see? As we come up to the shut gate, only a gap of aged wood in an ivy-covered wall, you look down at the ground. There’s a little metal figurine in the dirt, a rusty soldier. “Is it yours?” I ask, remembering the old toys we found in the attic years ago when we were cleaning the house after your father’s funeral.

trance formations: train and birds

On the train heading downtown, I heard a rustling behind me, like a man adjusting his newspaper, but with unusually decisive, sharp, snapping sounds. I glanced back, and at first saw just an average-looking man in a grey suit, who indeed seemed to be folding a newspaper. But then I looked closer and saw the swift, complicated motions he was making with his hands. He was folding the paper with lightning rapidity into hundreds of origami birds, which soon filled his lap. Just as we plunged into the darkness of the tunnel, he flung his arms, loaded with paper birds, open wide. I flinched as they went out in all directions, then gasped: instead of falling to the floor, the origami birds fluttered in the air around our heads, a sudden cloud of winged white. Flying upward, they vanished through the roof of the train and surrounded it, an accompanying flock. For an instant the dark tunnel outside the windows was filled with glimmering birds. Then they were gone, and the train roared on, into the station.