My dad and I watch PBS at least one evening a week. The nature programs leave me too heartbroken and American Experience too unsettling. We can usually settle on “Great Civilizations”, Greece, Rome, Persia, India, Africa and Central America. Enlightenment and Renaissance. Rise and fall of empire. Despite some gaps in the narratives, our conversations can safely settle around my dad’s often repeated question.
“How did they do that? How did they know to do that?”
Melancholy washes the dusty farmhouse in the realization, “The knowledge was forgotten.”
Was he right? Did they forget? I didn’t care as much about rediscovered knowledge through art, as my academic self might have expected.
“The dome,” my dad returns to the curved swelling piece of architecture that was the focus of a program several weeks ago. “They had to relearn how to do that. An artist figured it out. Weight on the edges.” I had to admit it was an interesting concept, metaphor even. I researched their history and construction.
Dome: In architecture, hemispherical structure evolved from the arch, usually forming a ceiling or roof. Domes first appeared as solid mounds and in techniques adaptable only to the smallest buildings, such as round huts and tombs in the ancient Middle East, India, and the Mediterranean. The Romans introduced the large-scale masonry hemisphere. The dome exerts thrusts all around its perimeter, and the earliest monumental examples, such as the Roman Pantheon, required heavy supporting walls. . .*
I brake at the four way stop followed by a slow left hand turn. This is the low pressure route I take to work away from stoplights. A red winged blackbird stumbles in the intersection. He or she twitters and totters. I swerve farther away from the perpendicular path. An arc. I look away from the questioning faces in the car coming straight. Will they swerve? I don’t want to know. I don’t look in the rear view mirror. I was told I was a leader. I even believed it. Now, I can’t do anything but go around.
Weight to the edges.
Dome: The transition from a cubic base to the hemispherical dome was achieved by four pendentives, inverted triangular masses of masonry curved both horizontally and vertically. Their apexes rested on the four piers, to which they conducted the forces of the dome; their sides joined to form arches over openings in the four faces of the cube; and their bases met in a complete circle to form the dome foundation. The pendentive dome could rest directly on this circular foundation or upon a cylindrical wall, called a drum, inserted between the two to increase height. *
On the country highway connecting cities, I continue to take the long way around to a meeting promising future opportunities and networking. I give thanks that the 55 miles an hour speed limit here has yet to find the tree edged road running in front of my dad’s house, at least officially. Just over halfway to my destination, I pass one more farmhouse, like any other, trapped in the place between lines, where he has ownership but no rights. Wild, long grasses hide half a fence, but not the heavy set dog just shy of the right lane. I see no leash. Does he have an invisible fence? Is he a stray? I could stop, but he doesn’t know me. He might lash out. Cars might hit us both. His life is out of my hands.
On the way home, I drive the second half of a futile tip to another meeting that didn’t happen, everything moves so fast. There isn’t time to know, everything. There isn’t time to know, who needs help and who understands exactly where they are and how to live in that place. Wait. It would be too much.
“Weight to the edges,” I repeat to myself.
“Three crosses on the side of the highway,” the cowboy croons on the radio.
“Please,” I pray. “Don’t be dead.”
I pass the spot with an attention thickened by emotion. No dog. No body. The dog was in a difficult place, but it was his place. He understood how to exist in it. He didn’t need me to guess how to help him. I was told I was creative. I even believed it. Now, I can’t do anything but design maps that aren’t required.
Weight to the edges.
Dome: “True" domes are said to be those whose structure is in a state of compression, with constituent elements of wedge-shaped voussoirs, the joints of which align with a central point. **
Spaced out buildings, cracked parking lots, flashing lights. Town. On the way home, I drive through a busy part of town to arrive at the only store that will sell me a watch battery and replace it for me, a once commonplace service. I don’t want a new watch. I just want the hands to move again, to mark time. On the side of the road, an old man attempts to rejoin his trailer to the hitch on his truck that somehow came loose. Cars in the left lane pack behind each other. Some look before they switch lanes to the right. Some wait in line, signaling their intentions.
Horns slice through my air conditioning. Anger doesn’t help. In quick succession, beeps squeal discontent. Impatience doesn’t help. Scruffed clothes and a long beard. Why are we upset at an old man? The clothes? The beard? What if he was asking for help, instead of us assuming he was in the way? What if he was the bird? The dog? Or, the deer I saw barely slip away from one fate on a previous morning? Our feet too heavy on gas pedals build crosses instead of domes, weight in the center.
I may be the leader or the artist some think I am. I may have the contribution within me that I hope I do. But, hope, I once heard, is not a strategy. Do I somehow do worse when I’m with those like myself or when I am with those unlike myself am I incapable of an accurate assessment of how I’m doing? In the end it seems, there’s ever only one right way to help and only one kind of audience deserving. I can reach for nothing without a base. Stand on nothing without shoulders which already turned their own lives upside down so that I claim more space upon which to stand. I’m lucky. I’m lucky to live in my dad’s house. I’m lucky his trees buffet the highway blare and shade piercing sun. The house is over one hundred years old. Wood set around generations of pieces built outward. It's not a dome, but the walls are thick. Is that enough? Not for history, but for a future, perhaps.
Weight to the edges.
Academics describe the purpose of domes to inspire and remember. I care less about the reason the domes were built and more about the reason why the dome could stand. Why the dome could stand across time. Weight to the edges. I sit moving knitting needles and computer keys in an attempt not to forget, but to move forward. Towards?
“Passion,” say some.
The possum caught just over the crest of the hill reminds me that when we’re gone, what we were is slowly pressed to the edges.
“Purpose,” say others.
The domes, the ancient ones forgotten and slowly forgetting, too, are preserved only around the edges.
“Are those practical?” I wonder.
It seems more likely we all become a thinness of skin in the middle of someone else's road. I attempt to push that weight to the edges, and at least avoid the possum. When he is forgotten, it will not be by me.