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Stone Hands Reaching

I’m told the statue is right in front of me, so I reach out and find myself touching a stone forearm. It’s cold, of course, and it’s coarser than skin, but tracing along the arms is enough to bring back memories of being comforted, of being held, when I was a kid.

They say it’s a good likeness, like I’d care. It can’t be that good of a likeness. She wasn’t made of stone.

When I commissioned the statue, I’d been much more confident that I wanted it made. The first feelings of strangeness came when the sculptor asked me about what I had in mind for the piece. He’d been surprised at the pose I’d wanted: squatting down so the statue would be on the same level as a child, her arms outstretched, like I’d always imagined her. The sculptor had hesitated.

“Can you do that?” I’d asked.

“I can,” he’d said. “I just was expecting something a bit more powerful. Fiery. I want to do her justice.”

Do her justice, he’d said. As though he, through hearsay, would know better than me. Other people’s interpretations were already crowding out who she had really been. But of course that’s the kind of statue people would expect. Everybody saw the fire, but few were ever close enough to feel the warmth.

I’d hoped that this statue could show another side of her. The tenderness buried deep within her, the fuel that kept her fire burning all that time. I’d believed, foolishly, that it might be possible to portray her as she really was.

But distance is a cruel thing, across space and across time. You can never fully understand someone else, but when they’re here, now, you can hold them close and listen to them breathing. You can feel out the discomfort in the way they move. You can listen for every note, every tremor, in the way they speak, and gauge their reaction as you speak to them. It’s not perfect, but it’s the closest you can get.

But the further we reach, the less control we have. You speak across a room and you have to infer based on tone. You sing for a crowd and you gauge the mood by murmurings and the ambient noise. If you want to project yourself across the world, you must rely on fickle, slippery words, and you might get no response at all.

And what about time? What if you wish to project someone who mattered to you into the future? You must bind them into lifeless stone, or try to capture some fleeting fragment of them in story or in song. The future is impossibly distant, and you can try to communicate with the people there by flinging something into the maw of time, but you can’t listen for the future’s reaction. What is this statue, anyway? A blundering, crude message hurled futureward. It is me shouting to people who can never respond.

And who can know what they’ll hear? Since I commissioned the statue, I’ve spent some time loitering near other statues, and the commentary that people make about them is always so…pathetically trivial. “His eyes look weird.” Really? Someone spent a small fortune to send you a message from the past, and all you can bother to do is glance, once, at the packaging?

But I, of all people, should know how messages work by now. The weirdest part of performing has always been listening to what people think I need to hear afterwards. There are the people who tell me I’m a really good musician, as if I might somehow not be aware. There are the people who get hung up on weird details, and the ones who give half-compliments, and the ones who tell me what songs I’m supposed to be singing or how. And of course there are the critics who think that nothing could bring me more joy than the knowledge of where exactly I stand in their estimation.

I never liked critic-types much. You can dissect a song if you want, I guess, stand outside of it and pick apart its workings. It’s just that it makes you a coward. I never sang for the ones who go on and on about how my songs are “energizing” or “emotional”. I sing for the cherished few who enter into the music, who dance, who cry. You can hear the recent tears in the subtle tremor in their voices, and for the dancers, you can smell the sweat. The best compliments I’ve received weren’t words.

Songs are a river, and most of the audience stands milling around on the banks. But a few of them dive in, and they’re the only reason performing is worth it. And those few—well, they’re proof, aren’t they? Proof that bridging the distance is hard, but it isn’t impossible. Proof that you can shout into the distance, and the message might be garbled, but it isn’t unrecognizable.

It gets exhausting, but I’m still glad that I can perform my music, because I know that those few exist. I meet some of them, but most, I’m sure, disappear into the night at the end of the show. I guess the statue must be the same thing, then: it is me reaching out into distance, into the future, entrusting my intentions to stone hands that can withstand the slow fade of all things better than I can. I can only hope that in the unknown future, there will be those few who behold the statue and enter into its river. I can only hope that something like her warmth will echo through the ages to meet them there.