Fog hovered over the city this morning, giants’ breath condensing and making us small. I grabbed my camera and the wide glass, thinking that only an eye open all the way could take it in.
Because of barriers – stalled trains and jangled nerves – I rerouted to the lowest point of the park, just before the tracks. There, laid into the swampy soil, is a replica of the labyrinth at Chartres.
The camera wasn’t behaving. After taking a passable shot or two of a Live Oak at the outset, it decided it didn’t recognize the focal length of the wide glass, giving me a tiny depth of field and no options for focusing past about two feet. This pissed me off.
I gave up on troubleshooting the settings and decided to just walk the labyrinth.
The paving stones are flat, contrasting pale red and grey to create a rosette pattern. I kept my eyes on the stones, but worried that the fog might be lifting – that I would never make it to the sunken grove beyond the train tracks I was still hoping to catch in the fog. Humans, from Ramesses II to your toddler niece, are always striving for permanence. We become attached to passing states, label things. Own them like “forever” is a thing.
When I passed through Chartres in 2010, I was outrageously tired. I couldn’t comprehend, as I sipped a café crème just outside the famous cathedral, why my body wanted to shut down at three in the afternoon. I had already had coffee that morning. But I had also just said goodbye to the place that my baby and I had called home for the last ten months. My then mother-in-law was there at the table as well, helping to repatriate us to a place I had no desire to return to. Chartres sits near the Loire, and I thought a journey through the region was my last-chance to claw into my life the trailing threads of my great adventure. If I’d thought it was in any way a viable option, I would have jumped back into the rental car and headed back to Picardie. Instead, I swallowed coffee in my crashing disappointment, registering her silent (itself a ticking bomb) disapproval of my choices. We did not walk the labyrinth.
Although I’ve walked the New Orleans labyrinth multiple times, I became overwhelmed midway through the journey at how far I was from the center. How much unsettling there is in the world. In my world. I paused, my cheeks damp like everything else on the earth that morning, and pulled moist air into my nose. Labyrinths are all about trust. We have to know that when we despair the most, are furthest from the center, the simple faith of following one’s feet is the only answer. We will arrive somewhere, even if it takes us so many more years than we planned. Even if the path has been torn up with explosions and betrayals or overgrown with thorns. I thanked the weather, the fog still diffusing the sun, for the lack of clarity. How lovely, to have a completely different set of questions to live through. A decade ago, my unknowing about the future was a fire at my back, and in front of me. But under a gentle New Orleans fog, pausing to marvel at the question of being was a river.