Andersen: Kisses of life and death
The trail was overgrown with tall grasses reaching almost to our handlebars. Only a faint trough existed where the trail ran, and we steered our mountain bikes through it, trusting that there were no hidden boulders or logs.
We flew through the meadow without seeing the trail. The white trunks of aspen trees were a blur as we sped past. Suddenly, the grasses rose above our handlebars. Seeds flew into our faces like face shots on a powder day.
My son and I yipped with pleasure. We had never ridden anything like this before, and it felt magical doing it together. At the end of the meadow we stopped, both of us breathing hard, huge grins on our faces.
The trail continued, and we entered the dark timber, where we navigated around serpentine tree roots and over rock outcrops. Soon we came to an opening beneath the spreading boughs of an enormous blue spruce where a small stream burbled and formed a shallow pool.
The water was clear and cold. We were thirsty, and we trusted this water in this remote valley where no cattle or beavers could foul it. I got down on all fours, lowered my face to the stream, pursed my lips and sucked up deliciously cold water that tasted of minerals, of the elemental nourishment of the earth.
That act reminded me of a kiss, by the way my lips were shaped, the way I sucked gently on the water. It was a kiss of life, taking in the vitality of water. I wondered if primitive man drank that way long ago. I wondered if that act was the origin of the kiss.
When two people kiss, they purse their lips and suck gently. Smack! It was the same with drinking from that beautiful, cool stream. Both kisses are life-affirming, life-giving. Both kisses are vital to being a human and meeting the needs of sustenance — one taking in the liquid of life, the other taking in affection and love. Both inputs are profoundly physical, sensually oral.
Guiding a hike last week for a group of Jewish philanthropists, I conversed with a woman who described the death of Moses as a kiss from God. Moses’ spirit was sucked out by God’s lips. Moses’ spirit became one with the spirit of God, who delivered the kiss of death and release.
Another biblical kiss of death was delivered by Judas, when he marked Jesus as a target of the Roman soldiers by kissing him in public. Judas’ betrayal was done with a kiss that led to the Crucifixion, the Martyrdom, the spread of Christianity. A kiss.
“Harry Potter” author J. K. Rowling created an ultimate evil form in the guise of “dementors.” These haunting, spirit-like wraiths threatened their victims with a kiss of death, all told graphically in childhood tales that personified the most repugnant of evils — Voldemort.
The kiss of life and the kiss of death are both kisses — both intimate, communal, spellbinding. One gives vitality; the other saps it. Both originate from the mouth, the taker of nourishment, the maker of speech, the opening for breath and life.
When I kissed the waters of the mountain stream, I became intimate with nature and the bounty that spills from the earth in limpid gurgles. I kissed a flowing artery of the earth, an eternal fountain that gives life to all it touches. A kiss.
“The Kiss” is portrayed in a painting by Austrian symbolist Gustaf Klimt. It shows a couple — two bodies entwined, the woman kneeling, the man leaning over her. The painting evokes rapture — with closed eyes and parted lips — an immediate unity between two. In 1908, Klimt’s “The Kiss” was part of a scandalous series considered pornographic. A kiss.
My kiss with the mountain stream was in answer to thirst, to a need, to a want that was fulfilled with immediate gratification. My kiss, reflected in that stream, revealed a momentary passion for water, which runs through us all and makes up most of our corporeal being. It was a kiss of love for nurture and nature. A kiss.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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