“It’s hard sometimes not to measure by the world’s ruler.”
I can still hear Miss Lila’s voice saying those words, though I can’t remember now if she spoke about the need to avoid measuring by the world’s measures, to turn away from the things that the world values—that would have been like her—or whether she invoked the ruler of the world, the maker of this and all universes. That, also, would have been like her.
Back then the world was smaller, the roads narrower, the ways twistier and less graded—steeper and more risky. There wasn’t an approved way of thinking and an opposition to that way; instead, we all thought our own free thoughts and let them fly every which way like birds without ever once considering that perhaps free thoughts were not the only way to live in the mind.
I always saw her in summer. We came down from the corkscrewed roads of the Carolina mountains, whirling fast and occasionally laughing in fear because my father, our driver, was fearless and jerky in his manner and sometimes frightened us with his maneuvers. We fell into the hot, pale world with its loblollies and ladies hatpins nodding in the ditch above the pale rippled leaves of carnivorous plants and tiny orchids that gyred along a stem, and we drove flat out with a great star burning on the antennae and the chrome of the car until we reached the outermost edge of the little town of Collins and then the fringe where the land ended in scuppernong arbors, and I leaped out and pressed through the heat and more stars so that I felt sick with the temperature of the world and yet raced on, kicking up pale puffs of soft dirt in the yard as I fled past the fig trees and the lichened, silver table with the pump and the silvery outbuildings, past the pear tree that had grown so immense and old that now it had begun to grow smaller again, onto the lower porch where the well reflected the white lamp on the ceiling like an impossible smooth moon made of marble and the upper porch with the sink and bench with baskets of butterbeans and field peas, running into the cooler air of the house until I reached her arms.
And, oh, she is dead and in the grave, and what a trouble that is for me! Because I can tell you, it is harder than ever not to measure by the world’s ruler, and whether I take her meaning one way, or I take it the other, it is hard, it is hard, so very hard.