Christina Murphy's work has been published or will appear in a numerous journals, including most recently ABJECTIVE, A cappella Zoo, Counterexample Poetics, and Blue Fifth Review, and has received an Editor's Choice Award and Special Mention for a Pushcart Prize.
Miss O'Connor and the Roses
June 11, 1957: I write to Flannery O’Connor asking if I might visit her at Andalusia and discuss what she calls “the larger questions.”
She writes back: Only the larger questions? And below: Certainly. Come in September, one of my favorite months. Come late in the month and late in the day. It will be cooler then.
I make the journey as instructed, the autumn air turning cool and inviting in the late afternoon, and find her seated on her porch, waving to me as I drive up.
She is most gracious when I arrive, greeting me with gentleness and curiosity, and suggesting a stroll around the grounds. There are peacocks and roses in a garden where twilight falls in shadows deepening to a golden luster.
Within the mosaic of the colorful roses, I say to her: I know you admire the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, so, as a good Thomist, do you too believe that darkness does not exist—that it is the absence of light, just as silence is the absence of sound?
Yes, something must exist to be.
Absence is non-being, which does not exist.
The distinction is an important one in understanding
what is true and what is not.
What does exist here for you—
the roses, the twilight, but not
the approaching darkness?
Darkness is an illusion that misleads
the intellect into thinking something is there that it is not.
What we perceive as darkness is a
misinterpretation of the true nature of light—
and therefore the true nature of reality.
I think it would be a simpler world, indeed,
to say that darkness does not exist and is
not a truth of being. But doesn’t the heart
know differently by not splitting the world
into such easy dichotomies?
I am not one to deny the heart its strategies
or its beliefs. But the heart loves what it knows,
and love, like knowledge, changes with new understandings.
Ah, yes. Love and knowledge. You do believe, like Aquinas,
that they are the same in essence and purpose?
We are constituted in spirit to want to know to the fullest
that which we love. Isn’t that the longing of every human heart?
And if we seek to know something with our whole heart,
is that not love, too? What else can hold the heart and
mind in such steadfast devotion?
The heart, yes. But what of the reason?
I do give credence to reason, and reason leads to the
same truth—that the passion of the intellect and of
the heart are joined in love and knowledge. Love
and knowledge are the basis of faith, which is
the purpose of reason.
As the sunset moved toward the tree line,
I said to Miss O’Connor: Night is coming.
Or a period of absence, as you would say.
Are we now entering into non-existence?
No more than are the moon and the stars.
Are they one with the darkness?
No, and neither are you. But the moon and the stars
do not misperceive—as we humans often do.
The sadness of it, to enter into a darkness
that is an absence of being.
Or the wonder. Understanding the truth within
the illusion is the great challenge—and joy—
of finding one’s way.
Miss O’Connor smiled. And now my way is returning to
my home in the darkness, the illusion, and
with the hope that I will live to see the light again.
That is my greatest love, you know, the search
for what is true and lasting—and what role
I play in such cosmic grandness.
Thank you for your time and this conversation.
I will never look at the darkness the same way again,
or at the light.
True, no doubt. With such a gain in your perspective,
perhaps I should leave well enough alone and
not tell you that evil is an illusion, too, an absence of good.
That would be difficult to understand, given
all the suffering in the world.
The human world, yes, because it manifests
many illusions, but not the universe.
So should we be of the world?
We are of the world—we must be. It is our path.
No choice—just perseverance, my friend.
Life and its illusions and truths are
our journey, our path, just as the roses
in the garden are one with the path of blooming.
Miss O’Connor politely took her leave and
returned to her house. I left by the path through
the rose garden, aware of the delicate scent
of hundreds of roses existing within the darkness.
Weeks later, I received a letter from Miss O’Connor
in which she wrote: In every grace of being
there is a current gorgeously held,
an arc of time, overflowing, into images distantly near.
And at the bottom, beneath her signature, was a postscript:
The current is not an illusion, no matter
how much we may think—or wish—it to be.
I placed the letter on my desk near my own rose garden,
where it stayed for years, sharing with
the roses its own knowledge of love and being.