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The place in the middle

POSTED: August 30, 2012 5:52 p.m.

On one side is a field of cotton. The stems are blooming with pink and white flowers, soft and sweet like appliques on a gingham sundress. On the other side is a field of corn. The stalks are stiff, the fronds brittle, the ears hard as a brick bat. What was pulsing, quivering green is now lethargic tan, the color of a cup of coffee gone cold. In between, in the middle, is the road.


That is where I am. The middle. Looking from side to side. Comparing and contrasting. Noting that this is an odd season, one in which some crops are made, ready for harvest, and others are on the cusp of what they are yet to become.


I want to sit there a while, listen to the voices of the cotton and the corn approach from either side and mingle over my head. There is something in the middle that wants to be heard.


I drive on.


Occasionally Adam e-mails me a YouTube video. It is usually country music or a vituperative political commentator. Today it is a television interview of Erk (Interesting, isn’t it, how some people don’t need last names?) done during the 1987 playoffs. Vintage Erk – Beautiful Eagle Creek, Snooky’s, the rattlesnake story. I listen like I listen to hymns in church, with half an ear because I know them so well.


But then I hear the voice-over mention that Erk was 55 when he came to Statesboro. It startles me. That’s how old I am.


I write Adam back: “You were five years old. You grew up going to those games and watching him coach and you didn’t even know what you were seeing. He was 55 when he came to Georgia Southern and the work for which we remember him most he did after that. Kinda makes me think I might have a little something left in me.”


I hit “send,” hoping he will laugh, hoping that maybe he will respond with something along the lines of, “Don’t be silly, Kap. There’s a lot left in you.”


He does not.


I get back to work. I make telephone calls, answer telephone calls, draft petitions. And all the while the corn and the cotton are humming in the background.


On the way home I stop to visit with a friend. Conversation turns to a book she is reading, that I have already read. It is titled “Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis” and includes a chapter called “Middle Voice.” There are a few languages, the author points out, including ancient Greek, that have, in addition to the active and passive voices, what is called the middle voice. It is used to indicate situations in which the subject of the sentence is changed by the action of the verb, but not just passively acted upon, when the subject is at least partially responsible for what has happened. “When you are somewhere,” she writes, “between the agent and the one acted upon. When you have something done to you. I will have myself carried. I will have myself saved.”


My friend, who is almost my age and asking herself a lot of questions these days, has just read this chapter. “I think,” she says, “that maybe I am in the middle.” There is something in her words that sounds exactly right, so I nod in agreement, but it is only later, that I realize they are also revolutionary.


Middle voice has little use in a society in which self-reliance is the religion of choice, in which pop culture deifies defiance, and in which daily doses of doomsday prophecy eviscerate even the hardiest of souls. And, yet, there is such a need for it. A need to deliberately choose to be less than deliberate, to purposefully yield to the current, to intentionally sail with rather than against the tide.


I will not be 55 much longer. Another birthday breaks the horizon. There are things that are finished. There are things that will not be done. But sitting in the road between the cotton and the corn I think that, perhaps, I may have finally come to the place where I will have myself carried. The season between the blooming and the dying will have itself lived.

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