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  • Aarik Danielsen

Fathom-ing Another Year

By the time you read this, I will have turned 42, a number I do not understand.

Whether discussing birds or baby humans, we speak of feathering a nest with the physical and spiritual matter to keep them safe and alive. One thing I do understand at 42: words feather my nest. This means my shelter is both stronger and more fragile than what others build, but I don’t know what else to gather.

As I mark this year, and a birthday that falls two weeks before the whole calendar changes, I look back at words I salvaged and borrowed and crudely threaded into a structure. As Fathom feels like my place, let me focus on words offered and gathered there.

Here are five editions of The (Dis)content from this year I pray will linger with you, with me:

“Someday the stars as we know them will collapse on themselves, to be reborn as everlasting bulbs. Towering trees, as omniscient as any created thing, will stretch their roots until they touch the core of a new Eden.

The best of what we’ve made—and the best of what God makes—will survive, this time without blemish. We will tend our gardens without worm or rot, comb libraries without fear that the latest Amor Towles novel is due back before we can finish. Each artifact of our living will know its true meaning and none of its mistakes.”

“Two nights ago, a few minutes before 8 p.m., I heard the rain come down outside. The sound, like an old jazz drummer playing with brushes; each hit quiet, yet still direct and in time. Taking the opposite path, I traveled Ash Street to West Boulevard, around the other side of the library and home.

Raindrops stretched themselves into thin, Christmas Eve candles beneath a streetlamp’s gaze; they congregated on still-bare branches that will know spring bloom in weeks, maybe sooner.”

“When it rains, I play whatever I want; all my favorite songs have rain in them. The singer may not pronounce the word itself, but you smell rain as chords change, catch a storm blowing up in the rhythm section. Whether a cold, gray drizzle or sweet summer shower, it’s always there.”

“I long, perhaps as you do, for a quieter existence. For just a few sounds to choose from; birdsong, breath, unforced laughter, a child at their piano working out Bach one broken chord to the next. In this economy, what’s quietest speaks loudest: imperceptible notes of snow falling on snow, mezzo-piano glances between longtime lovers, the slightest rustle of pages as one Christian Wiman poem chases another.

But maybe noise produces clarity the way pressure yields diamonds. Eventually.”

“What happens to an already old soul that absorbs others’ stories, the days and weeks of someone else’s suffering under the sign of the cross? God, my soul must be pushing 100.

In all this, I am keenly aware that angels or devils sit on my shoulder no longer. Forever, the shape of Christ at my back, wrapping threads of faith around my shivering frame. Less a blanket, more a threadbare coat worn by three winters.”

Here are five of many other Fathom pieces that stuck to my soul in 2022:

Played Up to Heaven by Casie Dodd (March 28)

“Now he worships in a soup kitchen

on Chicago afternoons, making love to the piano

while other nomads chant to themselves

a prayer that needs no words to be played up to heaven.”

And Reality Broke by Micah Rickard (June 1)

“Even in the face of calamity, there’s a profound mercy to our lives. Certainly, there’s a mystery to the preservation of human life across centuries. But the perseverance of grace and generosity is an even greater mystery than humanity’s mere existence.”

Hope is a Cousin to Courage by Grace Hamman (Sept. 12)

“Hope was so easy as to be meaningless for a middle-class and much-loved girl who expected nothing but good things from the future. I confused hope with confidence that everything would turn out okay for me, on a personal level, and for America, on a public level. I think a lot of Americans felt like me.

These last years have crushed that inherent hopefulness into a sludgy let’s-just-not-think-about-it attitude. That change itself is Hopkins-like.”

Love is Walking in the Dark by Katie Rose Yen (Sept. 12)

“and observing the way that shadows look like human-shaped tears fallen upon the landscape,

rippling and stretching their watery silhouettes in the lengthening blue of moonlight

as you stumble, hand in hand, over sidewalk cracks and dandelion weeds while gazing upward,

each of you giving up on deciphering ancient constellations and instead making up your own—”

To Lose a Very Good Tree by Courtney Ellis (Oct. 6)

“I don’t have any answers, not really, but I continue to bear witness to the beautiful and the terrible, and to cast my fears heavenward through that hole in the sky.”


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