HALF OF SOMETHING
By John Ballantine
The glass is half full, even though it is emptying fast. Life seeps out of the body as we wake to another day with the sun rising.
The water station, with plastic cups lined up in neat rows, cannot possible quench my thirst as I trod my way up First Avenue after sixteen miles and the slight Queensborough Bridge incline that broke the unsuspecting—water cups are thrown randomly to the side. The Willis Avenue Bridge, with its diagonal grating, will trip up some as we stumble into the Bronx hot, tired, and ready to turn toward Manhattan and Central Park. My fifth or sixth NYC Marathon with spectators of every shape, language, and color cheering us on—Hare Krishna, black fist raised, and gay pride—my feet keep moving as thighs lift slowly and my back clenches. The knees will not give out for a couple more years and many miles. I stumble with thirty thousand victorious runners with hands raised under the banner at 26.2 miles with legs cramping. I eat my banana in the November sun and cold rain next to Tavern on the Green.
Our glass is half full even with the Boston Marathon bombs, the World Trade Center planes, and the cut off-heads that ISIS tweets across our consciousness. I see the outstretched hands with water cup, orange slice, and the smiles shouting, “Keep on going.” I touch the small hand of the black boy running with me through the sprinkler who says I am just a step behind his dad, the fireman running with one plastic leg. A soldier back from Iraq. “Keep going, you can catch him.” Never, I think.
Half of something is better than nothing. Half of life is better than disappointment on the final day because, even then, the white orchid bends its head. The smiles lining the streets astonish me still. “You want it all but you cannot have it. Take what you get, hold it tight, and keep breathing deep.” I trace the steps of the man with one leg and one prosthetic limb just ahead of me. A life half lived, half full lifts my head in the Bronx as I push my revived body toward Central Park and the cheers of Manhattan onlookers.
Why, you ask, did you not drop your head, not see the horrible rapes of Boko Haram or the trafficking across Asia? Did you not hear the screams of Idi Amin’s dead or the drunk, confused stares of your mother, unable to tell what was true and what was not? The vodka in her hand, the rape on the ocean liner as it made its way to Hitler’s brown shirts ready to exterminate civilizations in the name of what?
Did you not hear Wagner picking up the pace with the killings—know that Genghis Kahn conquered almost all the world, or wonder why gods of every name sent the locust to scratch the sores of plague-weakened people? Did you not see the horribleness of living here?
Still you climb the mountain, look at the stars, see beauty, love, and kindness. I cannot kill the naïve spirit, crush your illusion, or stir the meanness in your soul. I cannot break you, yet.
No, you dropped me on my head time and time again, cut my fingers, and pierced the veil of civility. You piled bodies decaying in trenches buried nearby. Still I hear the violin mimicking a melody of morning bird songs, a jig, a dirge. I know the call of doves, the warm touch next to me—dog, wife, and even my mother with uneven hand.
My glass is half full. I know the world is not always good. That meanness and greed prevail and that the kindness of strangers cannot be expected. Still, turning my eye to the light started with the first cry, with the ray of sunlight, the miracle of being. Believing, seeing, and feeling the half-full glass, the spring of each day, and the song you cannot hear. It started so early, before the silver spoon, with the first smack of love on my bottom, the pabulum that fed me, and the first smile that lit my mother’s eyes.
This is how I will walk to my grave with a song reverberating like a symphony of turning leaves, a glass brimming to the rim.
You did not lead me astray—though you tried. Shock, disappointment, alienation with dropping head and loneliness late at night with one light burning. Broken heart too. I stood with no breath and did not turn. The darkness opened to deeper notes of love—the saxophone calling, the howl of the wolf, and my imagination that rides on the crescent of the moon with the creatures of the night wind.
Maybe if the black star sucks in all—crushing even consciousness of our steps along the path, maybe then the mass of the universe will smash hope and destroy all the light around me. But that black hole holds the weight of being—all history, knowledge, and even the nightmares of universes crashing in cannot negate my being, not blacken the yellow petals of each flower. No, the place where there is nothing, where all is infinite, where the heaviness in my hand, that black hole is how I see the half-full glass. The water nourishes me still, the glass is still half full even as I drink.
Hope cannot be crushed in me, even as the ashes are scattered, the voice goes, and all consciousness is gone. Hope, love, and faith in the half-full glass stays. I wake to it each day, and I will carry it out. My hope strikes back, I turn from the blackness that you say surrounds me. I hear symphonies yet unwritten, and I touch the lips of undeclared love. I dream of fountains nourishing me—good and bad—leading me to new pathways. I fill the empty vessels. The glass is half full in the blink of an eye. I just imagined it and it is so.
You wonder why the devil never, ever wins—even as you twist the truth to the ground—that is because the flowers spring from the ashes, and my smile laughs with the half-full glass in front of me.
About the Author:
A professor at Brandeis International Business School, John Ballantine took his Bachelor’s degree in English at Harvard, with an M.A. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Economics from NYU Stern. He has published economic commentary in Salon and the Boston Globe. His literary work has appeared in Crack the Spine, Existere, Forge, Lime Hawk, Penmen Review, Ragazine, Rubbertop Review, Saint Ann’s Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, Slippery Elm, and SNReview. He writes to understand the world we walk in and to ouch our complicated lives.