Ad Infinitum

The Fibonacci Sequence: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377 …

___

Grapes.

Gravel.

Long ago.

Cars racing by.

It’s six in the morning.

“There goes Fred. He’s an elementary school teacher.” 

As a former teacher herself, my grandmother had quite a fondness for them.

To me, the people streaking by on the Michigan highway were more exciting –firefighters and astronauts. Maybe there was a nurse.

If we had seen her that morning, she would have been driving east, making the long, winding trip towards Marquette Hospital. It’s a two-hour drive, though. She probably lived closer to the medical center.

I never did know her name. She came and left quickly, bustling off to another calamity. An unknown variable, she shall live forever undefined to me. This is a conundrum for the defined world. We who scoff at Socrates’ musing that a wise man knows he knows nothing. The foolish Greek never encountered big data.

Roommates of mine may follow in this tradition. They are certain of their beliefs, certain of the misery of the world and are worse for it in the end. They didn’t see the cars go by that day; they didn’t eagerly munch on grapes from a Tupperware container that helped win the cold war; and they weren’t there that night. They did not rush into the hallway, hurling glances around wildly, unable to form words. And in their frenzy, they saw no savior, briskly walking towards them, scrubs swishing.

The other day, with sleep alluding me, I took a walk late at night, just after three. I came to a park bordered by a stream called Dixon Creek. The music in my earbuds was paused as I watched that bubbling torrent for a while. It was constructed of turbulent order, always there and yet never there again. But, as scientists may study their whole lives and find no answers in turbulence, I moved on, finding a large grey cat whose back I scratched. It must have been past the feline’s bedtime. Finally, I came across two wheels, the first of which was a prayer wheel like those found in Nepal. It was erected by a neighbor to commemorate a dead friend. The whole neighborhood had written prayers, placed in the wheel to be released when spun. I spun it. Why anger a ghost?

The second wheel belonged to a rusty old wheelbarrow with a “FREE” sign taped on. My grandmother used to tell me, “always be kind to everyone, you never know their burdens.” As I had spun the last wheel for someone whose stream had bubbled to a halt and likely did not necessarily need any prayers at the moment, thank you very much, I decided to spin the wheel of the wheelbarrow too, just in case it held prayers for some other poor fellow struggling with his own burden. Perhaps prayers from that second wheel flew straight up and east, crossing the Rocky Mountains and Mississippi River, before resting with an unknown nurse in northern Michigan. I’ve crossed the Mississippi many times by plane and car. One time, I crossed in a dust colored suburban. My grandfather drove; my grandmother sat with my sister and me in the back. We were following the car containing my parents as we travelled from Connecticut to our new life in Oregon. I was just three, but I remember the lummi sticks provided by my grandmother. Long and hard, the sticks made an impressive sound when struck together, perfect to accompany the exciting rhythms of Leroy Anderson that blared from the speakers. We also looked at the cars that we saw from our windows, much like that morning by the highway, inventing stories for everyone that streamed by.

Asked later, my grandfather said it was “the best wedding anniversary we’ve ever had.” Given the racket that we were making behind him, I am tempted to think that he was lying, but since he is the most honest man I have ever known, I must then conclude that he is, instead, slightly mad. Kant was equally mad when he turned to monstrous buildings and ferocious storms to discuss the sublime. The silly man needed only to walk up to a stranger and ask, “who are you?” It is there that we can find infinity. The enormous complexity of the human mind and spirit is enough to leave you standing in awe. All humans have lives, as infinitely complex as your own, and feelings, opinions, fears, burdens, all infinite. But it gets worse!  They just keep living every day, increasing the infinity bit by bit. Then go to an intersection, or crowded café. You will watch as infinitely complex people rush by you, like a raging flood where our own infinity is but a trickle. In this vast torrent of humanity, my grandmother’s current is almost done bubbling. When I was a senior in high school, she suffered a stroke, leaving her with extremely limited mental capability. My mother and I flew to upper Michigan in March to aid as we could. With my uncle and grandfather, we took turns sitting with her at night, making sure that in her confusion she wouldn’t wander or injure herself further. It was one night that she would not listen to me, when she insisted on getting up, that I darted into the hallway with terror in my eyes. I could not form complete sentences as I pleaded for help, but she came anyway. She talked with my grandmother patiently, helping her back to bed. She wasn’t our normal nurse who would come regularly to check in. Instead, she was a stranger who I never saw again, and I love her. I wish that I could describe all the infinities of this stranger’s life, where she grew up, if she has children, if she likes pineapple on pizza. But like a car on the highway she burst into my life, providing aid and respite, before rushing off towards the horizon. 

I wish too that I could tell you everything about my grandmother. How she was one of the first female instructors at Michigan Technological University, how she stood up to a crooked cop who abused two youthful vagabonds, or how, as a member of the league of women voters, she followed the all-male city council to a bar in order to prove that they were making deals behind closed doors and off the public record. But I cannot, just as I cannot stop the flood of time or save her from a brain’s collapse. So, I will instead leave you with a thought as your own story infinitely unfolds. You may call it the Norma Lee Stuart Conjecture if you wish. Take note of the nameless who stream around you, you know not their burdens…

Ad Infinitum 


Ad Infinitum, Author’s Description

There’s a word that I quite like, sonder. Its not a word that can be found in Webster’s dictionary, it hasn’t quite hit the mainstream. It was created in a project called the “Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows,” which aimed to put words to feelings that had been previously undefined. The following definition is given: sonder is “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.” When I came upon this phrase I was immediately reminded of my grandmother and our early mornings making up stories for the people that drove by on the road below us. Since she became injured, I have thought about that memory a lot. I believe that my grandmother was the first person to instill the feeling of sonder within me. It has also occurred to me that few people will ever know her incredible story, unless I told them. Unfortunately, I knew that no short story could ever contain such a meaningful life, so I instead aimed to create a broader, more applicable narrative. 

I hoped to capture the infinity of humanity in my story. By following the form of the Fibonacci Sequence, I attempted to visually capture the unfolding process that occurs when you get to know someone. Each line could be thought of as a day, the words contained then become the lived experiences of the individual which expand into infinity. Ideally, if I have done my job right, this will instill in you a feeling of sonder. I hope too that it will encourage you to call your grandmother if you can.

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