The Vapor

This was written in the Spring of 2020 from my disappointment in the growing acceptance of "social distancing."

Being a sucker for things Scottish, I scavenged the web for videos in Gaelic and discovered a series that explores the shared heritage of Scottish and Irish folk music. One episode features a traditional Scottish folk song called Farewell to Fuinary or Soraidh Slàn Le Fionnairigh. It’s about the Highland Clearances, when thousands of Highlanders were forced to leave their homeland and sail west to North America. In English, it begins this wise:

The wind is fair, the tide is fine
And swiftly, swiftly runs the time;
My boat lies waiting on the tide
That carries me from Fuinary.

A thousand, thousand tender ties
Awake this day my plaintive sighs;
My heart within me almost dies
At thought of leaving Fuinary.

We must up and haste away,
We must up and haste away,
We must up and haste away,
Farewell, farewell to Fuinary.

Something in me resonates and stirs at the listening to it; something like a memory or an omen. In my imagination, Fuinary is an echo of the Grey Havens of Middle Earth, a place from which elves of Tolkien’s mythology sail into the West, never to return to mortal shores. It’s a semblance of earthly death and passing into that which is to come. “We must up and haste away” rings true for all. We are everyone emigrants and refugees and pilgrims.

Life is brief and precious. It’s that ephemeral quality that lends a sweet sadness and a tender joy to our days.

There’s an ethereal beauty to be found in the elegant way a wisp curls up from an extinguished candle, the way steam from a mug of mulled cider tickles your nose before it vanishes, or the way mist floats from the rainwashed earth to melt in the waxing sun. To find the beauty before it fades is the magic. To capture it is the mischief; it will not be held. Sooner or later we all must say “the time of my departure is at hand.”

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

-James 4:14, KJV

We haven’t much time to love one another. When the sun dips deep into the nether sky and final rays give way to frigid starlight, each and every possibility enwrapped in this singular day will be no more forever. Yesterday’s could-haves are eternally gone, and tomorrow’s follow quickly. We have only now to make the moment count before it slides away.

Plague or no plague, thousands of people who breathe today will breathe their last tomorrow. Could you or I be in that number? Can we afford to hide our smiles and cross our arms and save that kind embrace for someday?

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