Let your verses be an adventure
Scattering on the morning wind
the fragrance of sweet thyme and mint…
All the rest is mere literature.
I’m sitting in my living room listening to piano and fiddle music by Thomas Bartlett and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (pronounced Kevin O’Reilly). Looking out my front window I can see in the partial reflection in the glass the kitchen behind me and, superimposed on the greenery outside the window, the silhouette of my wife.
She moves lazily through the kitchen. With her hair up in a bun she resembles the small sculpture that decorates our living room, “Resting Dancer,” a reproduction of an earthenware sculpture from 7th-century China. She is that dancer come to life in the window’s reflection and moving to the sparse ethereal rhythms of Ó Raghallaigh and Bartlett.
Partial reflection is a mystery to the scientists who study such things. In his book “QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter,” the late physicist Richard Feynman describes the mystery: If a light source emits photons at window glass, four photons in every 100 bounce back and do not pass through the glass with the other 96. (These 4% of photons give us the partial reflections we see in a window.)
But how does a photon know whether it’s one of the 96% or the 4%? How does the photon know to pass through the glass or to bounce back? Are they counting? That’s the mystery.
In the second of these “Coming Out” columns, I described passing by a storefront window and noticing from my reflection that I resemble my maternal grandmother Agnes. In that partial reflection I saw the mystery of another partial reflection: me, a partial reflection of my grandmother. And a partial reflection of all the others who have influenced me biologically and otherwise: grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, teachers and friends — and most of all my twin sister Judy, my kids Jamie, Harry, Katie, Ben and Mary and most recently, my partner Michelle.
But that day it was my grandmother I caught a glimpse of. She was a beautiful woman. I was 19 when she died and too caught up in my own little world to appreciate her as I should have. I wish I had had more time with her. Isn’t that always the case with those we’ve lost?
But I can appreciate what there is of her in me. Would that there were more.
(And I wish I had some of her recipes.)
Ó Raghallaigh and Bartlett are playing an old Irish jig, “My Darling Asleep,” in a new style that makes the traditional tune barely recognizable. Another partial reflection.
I first heard Ó Raghallaigh’s music when he passed through Juneau in 2007 and gave an impromptu recital of mostly Irish music at the old Back Room. I say mostly Irish because he played some of the Irish tunes on a Norwegian fiddle, the hardanger fiddle (or hardingfele, in Norwegian), which changed the character of the music completely.
The show that evening at the Back Room was magical, and I must note here that ”magical” is generally not a part of my lexicon and I don’t use it lightly now. The music inspired me to run to the now-defunct String Shop on 3rd Street and buy a fiddle and demand that the proprietor, my friend Jim Hanes, teach me to play. I think I drove him into early retirement.
I’m still learning to play the damn thing. My playing too is a very dim partial reflection — of music.
Behind the “Resting Dancer” sculpture on my living room shelf is a card I received five years ago from the friend of a friend congratulating me on my conversion to Judaism. The image is the Hebrew letter hei, here the initial of the Hebrew word hineni (הנני) “Here I am,” from the Book of Isaiah, where the prophet responds to God’s calling:
And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I. Send me.’
Here I am. These columns are a partial reflection of the love and art that continue to shape me. Here I am. And, gentle reader, here you are, too. Writing and reading bring us together.
This is going to be the last of my “Coming Out” essays. I had a very simple agenda in mind when I started writing this column: to expose myself in public like a true exhibitionist, but in a way that might bring comfort and encouragement, and promote some courage and gentleness and responsibility in how we all approach questions of gender and in our dealings with all varieties of Queer folk, gay, transgender, non-binary, whatever. Vive la différence, right? I hope I’ve succeeded to some small degree. Thanks for reading.
• Jane Hale lives in Juneau with her partner and their two dogs. “Coming Out” appears biweekly on the Empire’s neighbors page.