There are these landmarks.
One such landmark is the bite of soybean pods. I was a child who went to a school that rented classroom space inside a convent. The nuns who lived in and ran the convent grew the soybeans. It was part of how they supported themselves, the land they were on, the retreat they ran, the building that housed our school.
This memory is so far back, I can’t tell if I contained the day, or if the day cradled me in its October-lighted care.
The day was gray, so gray you could almost feel metal in the air. The clouds were so heavy, birthing fall, low, swollen and swinging close the ground, close enough almost for this child’s arms to reach. That day was cold enough that we knew recess wouldn’t be outside much longer, and it made us a little wild and reckless. I was playing with one of the only other boys who wasn’t afraid to go this far from the playground, past the hills, beyond the copse, to the soybean fields. His name was Jason and usually we weren’t friends, but today we were compatriots in dangerous adventure, and that added to the unpredictability of the day.
The wind was unkind, but we were young so we ran and ran and ran, and the heat of the veins beat back the wind. I ran headlong into the yellow field of soybeans. I didn’t know anything about them until I was dozens of yards deep, and I ran out of breath, and realized. The bean pods had sharp, dried out little points at the ends of their pods. The hard points were poking and scratching me through my clothes.
Each soybean plant held dozens of seed pods. I examined one single pod, still attached to its plant. It was covered in brown prickly fur, and its seeds were small, almost too small to call beans. I tested the point and found it too sharp, and the sharpness made everything real, made everything I could think of, know, or see harden to a single, point, grown by the world for me to touch. I was in a field of soybeans, that was somehow connected to the work of God the sisters did, a thousand, no thousands, no tens of thousands of sharp real points of beans all around me, each one grown by the sisters, waiting, perhaps for harvest. I was in a crop. I was part of the field. I was part of the work of the nuns, whom we never saw, but knew were somewhere, mysterious forces, who lived a life incomprehensible to us, but here I was touching it, the effect of invisible nuns. This was no moment of unity with all things, but a moment of understanding connections, and also a moment of understanding the impossibility of fathoming all connections. I intuited that there was something deeply spiritual, something Godly, about a community of women supporting themselves by bringing forth the fruits of the Earth by their labor. It was a kind of prayer I understood, maybe my first real understanding of prayer. I was touching faith, I was touching work, and it was touching me back in return. I knew — or chose — that moment of nine years old in October, freighted with potential, lowering out of the future, and up from the ground, I knew that moment would poke at me forever, like a bean, through all the clothes I would ever wear in my life.
I could not communicate this. I could not articulate it. I just felt it. I felt touched and changed, humbled, and lifted up. And of course, with this secret knowledge that all children are prone to, I felt that loneliness that only a child can feel. And then, when Jason found or caught up with me, I shook all of it off, the way only a child can, and started playing again.