I’ve been sitting out here all day, writing and revising, composing and cutting. I’ve watched the sun fall over the Hindu temple, which I can see from my balcony, behind the growing trees that never used to be this big. I used to be able to see much more of the hill that lies adjacent to this apartment balcony. The hill filled with abundant trees and plants and life; the hill where a single hawk flies over every day in search of food. He’ll circle for up to thirty minutes sometimes before he dives down behind those trees and comes back up and then flies away, off to his nest hidden somewhere in the nearby forest, or maybe he has his home built in the windowsill of a building nearby, a suburban life for a wild hawk.
Today I hardly saw him until he flew back up from out of the trees and flew off, always south, and always with great tenacity. When I see him flying I do not think of it as flying; it’s more like gliding. He spreads out his wings as far as they can go and simply lets the wind do all the work, allowing him to fly in circles around the adjacent hill, pumping only every so often to maintain his height and speed. He has mastered and conquered a natural force, which I have come to admire him for. If only I, too, could spread my wings and jump off this balcony and feel the same amount of exhilaration a hawk feels as it dives at nearly a hundred miles an hour toward the ground, swooping and swiping up his prey at the very last second, making an indent into the universe as one life dies suddenly, without warning, and too quick to even realize it.
The hawk, in all its majesty and precision, is an agent of death. And it is a quick, instantaneous death that the hawk delivers, grabbing its prey by the neck and clamping down immediately. The very moment of an animal’s flicker in the eye of a hawk might as well be its signature on its own deathwish. Imagine having that necessary power of deeming the end of one sentient being in a single moment! The hawk, like a man with a gun, is the fingers and claws of fate, dishing out its irrevocable will on the living beings of the earth.
But, unlike a man with a gun, the hawk only uses its power out of necessity. It only kills for survival. A man with a gun may have a range of purposes as to why he is putting the life of a sentient being in his hands, able to affect its fate, totally, in a single moment. A man with a gun may be hunting man or beast, at war, robbing somebody, or even just having the malicious intent to kill without reason. The hawk does not know any other way to survive, and therefore must end the mouse’s life in one fell swoop.
The day has fallen completely, and from where I sit I can see two stars, one looks like Venus, and the other is shimmering weakly. Off to my right I see heat lightning flash for an instant and then disappear, reminding me how fast this life is actually going, how quick one moment truly is. When I see one straight on I try to hold it in my mind for as long as possible, as if extending its life, its reality, its being. But then it is gone from my mind as quick as it came, in an instant and back into the nowhere and blackness and nothingness that it was. I am reminded of my own existence, as short as it is, as quick as it happens. I hope that maybe some day somebody will hold me in their mind so that my life may be extended, too, along with these flashes of heat lightning.
I am also reminded of the time I first heard of the term “heat lightning.” Sure, I had heard of lightning before; I was sixteen at the time. It was on the balcony of my friend’s apartment; she was having a party and it was a Friday night and everyone was very drunk and very underage. But a complete stranger, to me, was at that party and he was not underage. His name was Elvis. In fact, along with my friend’s mom, he was the other source for obtaining alcohol for that night.
As we stood outside on the porch, we were all entranced by the lightning show that was taking place on the black horizon. It was an unusual spectacle that night, I remember. I said something along the lines of: “That lightning is amazing,” and Elvis replied: “It’s heat lightning,” and proceeded to tell me the difference: that you could not hear heat lightning, that it happened on hot summer evenings like this, and so on. I was really entranced by this new information for some reason and even remembered it in the morning and up until now, several years later.
The reason I was capable of remembering a seemingly uninteresting conversation such as this was because two weeks later, I found out that Elvis had been murdered. He had been walking down a street in Nashville by himself one night and was shot. People said that it was a drug deal gone awry. Either way, he met his end at the hand of a man with a gun, probably with the intention of robbing him, as if that were a valid reason.
I only knew him one day, but I was still sad. One can hardly smile at the news of a tragedy, especially one so close to home. He came into my life just as quickly as he exited it; we had one, brief conversation on the balcony, and the rest of the time he was talking to someone else. Then I learned I would never see him at a party or anywhere else again; he would never again hand down to me his little tidbits of wisdom he had acquired over his twenty-three or
–four years on the earth. His life has ended, but his memory still lives on. I suppose every time I see heat lightning I think of him and the tragedy that was his end, and I am reminded that at any moment, on any street, at any time, somehow my time might end in a flash.
It’s not really a question to me of what happens when you die or where you go anymore. I’m a firm believer in my faith. It’s more of a question of what will happen between now and my last breath of earthen air. When the end will come and, as quickly as the hawk swoops and swipes, this reality will be replaced by another.