Once as a joke, when urged in an ice breaker at a writing group to share something special and having nothing to match the others’ revelations I said, ‘I see dead people.’ It was a good rendition of the little boy, Haley Joel Osment in the film, The Sixth Sense, and was accepted as a joke, but I was only half joking.
Those faces that are to be seen in the clouds, on gnarled tree trunks, amid foliage are the dead people I see. They are also to be found on floor tiles, wallpapers, book covers, paintings. I could go on. For a writer they are a fabulous resource. Characters. Whole lives, histories, with sadnesses and triumphs to be discerned in the static, often heroic features.
Could these grotesques, beauties, young and old, male and female, peasant and aristocrat that peopled the inanimate world around have once been real? Could they be the last earthly expression, the lingering sigh of an actual person? And if so, why these faces and not others, or all? And what say, happened to the bust of the Roman emperor complete with laurels and toga who inhabited a cork tile in the bathroom when the cork tiles were consigned to the tip and replaced with stone?
It led again to Thornton Wilder and the Bridge of San Louis Rey, a book that has haunted over the years for the beauty of the prose and its meditation on the seeming randomness of life, love and death. Perhaps in order for a face to appear in this great pantheon of the sky their must have been love. Not necessarily the all consuming, self destructive passion of Mimi or Anna Karenina, more a love for humanity.
This passage resonated: ‘for those who had no capacity for love (or rather for suffering in love) could not be said to be alive,and certainly would not live again after their death. They were a kind of straw population, filling the world with their meaningless laughter and tears and chatter and disappearing still lovable and vain into thin air.’
And finally, ‘There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.’