All Shades of Purple

This post was written by Rebekah James, winner of the 2024 Humanities Center Essay Contest.


The British poet William Wordsworth saw the death of his father in the rain. He wrote,

I do not doubt

That in this later time when storm and rain

Beat on my roof at midnight, or by day

When I am in the woods, unknown to me

The workings of my spirit thence are brought.

Even when he himself was unaware of it, the workings of his spirit were brought back to his father with the sound of the rain. Of this he was certain.

I sit across from my professor as he explains these lines to me, Wordsworth’s personal history, how this young boy at school sat on a hill thinking of Christmas while, unbeknownst to him, his father died at home of shock after a storm. The schoolboy expected the warm cheer of home, oblivious that the carriage coming to bring him there would open its doors and bare teeth with news of insurmountable loss. There are tears in my professor’s eyes. There are tears in mine as I leave his classroom, and my chest is in my stomach.

This Christmas, my fiancé cut his hand open. He gashed it on a large piece of glass, slicing a fleshy chunk out of the side of his palm. The doctors pulled it together, stitched it tight, and my father—an old surgeon—removed those stitches several days later, sitting at our kitchen table.

“Be careful,” my father said. “The deeper layers could rip open still, if you strain it too soon. The scar will turn purple over the next several months; you’ll see the color change. That’s normal.”

I wonder if we all are still shades of purple. I wonder if that’s normal. I can hear my dad in the background as I think it over. The removal process has made my fiancé feel queasy, and my dad apologizes to him with a saccharine quality that has persisted throughout all the pain I’ve watched be placed on his shoulders—his brother’s death, his sister’s cancer, the loss of his own parents. The pillars of the house we stand in are also on his shoulders. I can hear it when he talks, his voice filling up the corners. I wonder if home was still real for Wordsworth after his father was gone.

The only loss of home I’ve ever known was through scholarly displacement, and I can’t decide if that really is a loss of home. Novalis says “Philosophy is really homesickness; it is the urge to be at home everywhere.” I’ve flexed, adapted, molded myself into the little jar that is my college room; I’ve sat here waiting for it to feel familiar. Rosemary Marangoly George says she “reads all fiction in terms of homesickness.” I look down at my hands and wonder if people can see they’re purple when I pick up a pencil. William Wordsworth says “Imagination [is] our being’s heart and home.” Monica Ali says home is “not a different place but a different time,” that “such things cannot be held, and must be lost.” I say, “Fingers, be less purple.” It starts to rain

It rained on the worst day of my life. At that time, I was red—too raw to be purple. If “home” can’t be held and is constantly lost, then mine was lost forever, buried in the hard January ground next to a seventeen-year-old boy with self-inflicted wounds. The six foot downward plunge from equilibrium was sheer and impossible to climb out of. I have seen that boy in the rain ever since.

I can’t put aside the fact that my love of literature blossomed in that emptiness, that homelessness, and in the years of red and then purple that followed. I can’t understand why reading that William Wordsworth’s spirit goes home to his father in the rain lifted a weight off my shoulders for a shining moment before bitter-cold homesick fog came creeping back to me. I listen in a big-windowed classroom as my professor tells us, “Intimacy makes things universal.” I look at the rain and ask it, “Give me more poems.”

Works Cited

Wordsworth, William. William Wordsworth – The Major Works: including The Prelude. Delhi, Grapevine India Publishers, 2022.

George, Rosemary Marangoly. The Politics of Home: Postcolonial relocations and twentieth-century fiction. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Ali, Monica. Brick Lane. New York, Scribner, 2004.

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