Sometimes you don’t get a chance To pause and rest Even to just take it all in Sometimes life just goes too fast And if you halt, even for a moment You could get rolled over By the momentum of existence So, push yourself and keep going Because once you stop You may not get started again And if you need a breather Do it after the big stuff is done – I guarantee you the view Will be a whole lot better ~Eric Nixon “The Momentum of Existence” from Equidistant
Sunrise and sunset happen so reliably every day, but I’m often too busy to be there to witness them. I miss some great shows because I don’t get up early enough or get home from work in time or simply don’t bother to look out the window.
These are brilliant light and shadow shows that are free for the taking if only I pause, take a breather, and watch.
The view keeps getting better the older I get. The momentum of daily life is pausing purposely to allow me, breathless, to take it all in.
The first surprise: I like it. Whatever happens now, some things that used to terrify have not:
I didn’t die young, for instance. Or lose my only love. My three children never had to run away from anyone. Don’t tell me this gratitude is complacent. We all approach the edge of the same blackness which for me is silent.
Knowing as much sharpens my delight in January freesia, hot coffee, winter sunlight. So we say
as we lie close on some gentle occasion: every day won from such darkness is a celebration. ~ Elaine Feinstein, “Getting Older” from The Clinic, Memory
It is a privilege to turn 65 today, celebrating the unofficial end of middle age and the beginning of senior citizen discounts and elder status. I’m pleased to make it this far relatively unscathed.
When I was an early grade school kid, I worried about everything: whatever could happen would happen – in my imagination. My parents would perish in an accident while I was at school. My dog would get lost and never come home. I would get sick with a dread disease that only afflicts one in a million children, but I would be that one.
The worries went on and on, often keeping me awake in the night and certainly ensuring that I had stomach aches every morning so my mother would keep me home from school where life felt safer. Our pediatrician, who saw me much more regularly than was actually necessary, would look at me over his glasses with a gentle penetrating gaze, put his hands on my shoulders as I squirmed about on the noisy paper on his exam table, and tell me for the umpteenth time I was 110% healthy so there was nothing I needed to worry about. I now try to instill this confidence in my own patients, thanks to that good man.
But I knew I needed to worry; somehow the worry was a talisman that kept the awful darkness of bad stuff away, things like nuclear bombs and polio outbreaks and earthquakes. That is a heavy load for a little kid to carry, making sure everything stays right with the universe. None of it ever happened in my sheltered little life so I must have been doing something right!
Thankfully, by the time I turned nine, I finally learned to coexist with the inherent risks of daily life, as I realized I, in fact, wasn’t in control of the universe. We lived okay through a 6.3 earthquake. We lived through a 114 mph windstorm that took out the power for a week. We lived through my grandpa dying. Later on I lived through some hard stuff that is painful to even recall so I’d rather not.
Growing older means realizing that bad stuff will happen, and it is usually survivable yet the reality is: life on earth itself isn’t survivable. I’ve seen and experienced plenty of traumatic things over 65 years, and have seen how heroic people can be in the worst possible situations. I’ve even been a bit heroic when I needed to be. But I’ve learned my confidence can’t be in myself or anyone else, and rests in Someone who really is in charge of the universe and who knows all that was, is and will be.
Oh, I still worry. It is hard to stop when it is deeply engrained in my DNA, having descended from a long line of worriers. My children are not grateful for that genetic gift to them. I’m sure my grandchildren won’t thank me either.
Yet, every day I snatch back from that darkness is reason for celebration, and today is no different.
Nearly 24,000 days under my belt of celebrating being here. Hoping for more gentle occasions like this one.
Sometimes I think all the best poems have been written already, and no one has time to read them, so why try to write more?
At other times though, I remember how one flower in a meadow already full of flowers somehow adds to the general fireworks effect
as you get to the top of a hill in Colorado, say, in high summer and just look down at all that brimming color. I also try to convince myself
that the smallest note of the smallest instrument in the band, the triangle for instance, is important to the conductor
who stands there, pointing his finger in the direction of the percussions, demanding that one silvery ping. And I decide not to stop trying,
at least not for a while, though in truth I’d rather just sit here reading how someone else has been acquainted with the night already, and perfectly. ~Linda Pastan“Rereading Frost” from Queen of a Rainy Country.
that even though its lines are broken
will be drawn forward to the part where blueberries firm against fingers
say roundness sweetness unspeakable softness in the morning light. ~L.L. Barkat,“This Morning” from The Golden Dress
I want to write with quiet hands. I want to write while crossing the fields that are fresh with daisies and everlasting and the ordinary grass. I want to make poems while thinking of the bread of heaven and the cup of astonishment; let them be
songs in which nothing is neglected, not a hope, not a promise. I want to make poems that look into the earth and the heavens and see the unseeable. I want them to honor both the heart of faith, and the light of the world; the gladness that says, without any words, everything. ~Mary Oliver “Everything”
I’m asked frequently by people who read this blog why I use poems by other authors when I could be writing more original work myself.
My answer, like poet Linda Pastan above is:
Sometimes I think all the best poems have been written already, and no one has time to read them, so why try to write more?
Yet, like Linda, I’ve decided not to stop trying, since I’ve committed myself to being here every day with something that may help me and someone else breathe in the fragrance of words and the world. There are several hundred of you who do take time to read every day – such a privilege to share what I can with you!
Even when my lines are broken, or I say again what another has already said much better yet bears repeating — I too try to write with quiet hands, in reverence and awe for what unseeable gifts God has granted us all.
Let us celebrate by illuminating words and pictures which lift the veil.
Tonight at dusk we linger by the fence around the garden, watching the wound husks of moonflowers unclench themselves slowly, almost too slow for us to see their moving— you notice only when you look away and back, until the bloom decides, or seems to decide, the tease is over, and throws its petals backward like a sail in wind, a suddenness about this as though it screams, almost the way a newborn screams at pain and want and cold, and I still hear that cry in the shout across the garden to say another flower is about to break. I go to where my daughter stands, flowers strung along the vine like Christmas lights, one not yet lit. We praise the world by making others see what we see. So now she points and feels what must be pride when the bloom unlocks itself from itself. And then she turns to look at me. ~James Davis May “Moonflowers” from32 Poems Magazine, (Number 16.2, Winter, 2018)
Ever since I was a kid, I have had the need to share something special I’ve seen: a “hey, have you seen this too?” pointing it out to another to then witness it again through their eyes – that sharing can make it even sweeter. I guess that is much of what this blog is about.
Sometimes others can see what I see; sometimes not. Sometimes others wonder what has gotten into me.
I was an odd farm kid, no question: a summer twilight’s entertainment might be watching the evening primrose blossoms open at night. It, like the moonflower of the above poem, is one of a few night blooming plants meant to attract pollinating moths. Its tall stems are adorned by lance shaped leaves, with multiple buds and blooms per stem.
Each evening, and it was possible to set one’s watch by its punctuality, only one green wrapped bud per stem opens, revealing a bright yellow blossom with four delicate veined petals, a rosette of stamens and a cross-shaped stigma in the center, rising far above the blossom. The yellow was so vivid and lively, it seemed almost like a drop of sun was being left on earth to light the night. By morning, the bloom would begin to wither and wilt under the real sunlight, somehow overcome with the brightness, and would blush a pinkish orange as it folded upon itself, ready to die and drop from the plant in only a day or two, leaving a bulging seed pod behind.
I would settle cross-legged on our damp lawn at twilight, usually right before dusk fell, to watch the choreography of the opening of evening primrose blossoms. Whatever the trigger was for the process of the unfolding, there would be a sudden loosening of the protective green husk, in a nearly audible release. Then over the course of about a minute, the overlapping yellow petals would unfurl, slowly, gently, purposefully in an unlocking action that revealed their pollen treasure trove inside.
It was like watching time lapse cinematography, only this was an accelerated, real time flourish of sudden beauty, happening right before my eyes. It was magic. I always felt privileged to witness each unveiling as few flowers would ever allow us to behold their birth.
My brother wasn’t nearly as impressed when I tried to lure him into becoming audience with me. That’s okay; I was always underwhelmed by the significance of his favorite team’s touchdowns that he insisted in sharing with me.
It’s all praiseworthy as long as one among us notices.
The south-west wind! how pleasant in the face It breathes! while, sauntering in a musing pace, I roam these new ploughed fields; or by the side Of this old wood, where happy birds abide, And the rich blackbird, through his golden bill, Utters wild music when the rest are still. Luscious the scent comes of the blossomed bean, As o’er the path in rich disorder lean Its stalks; when bees, in busy rows and toils, Load home luxuriantly their yellow spoils. The herd-cows toss the molehills in their play; And often stand the stranger’s steps at bay, Mid clover blossoms red and tawny white, Strong scented with the summer’s warm delight. ~John Clare “Beans in Blossom”
Walking, thinking and paying attention to one’s surroundings all at the same time requires a slower pace than the recommended 3x a week standard cardiovascular work-out.
So, even if it isn’t getting my heart rate up, I’m trying out sauntering. Ambling. Meandering. Strolling. Dilly-dallying. Lingering.
As my feet move more slowly, my brain stays busy, even as my muscles aren’t so much. Musing. Cogitating. Contemplating. Reflecting. Pondering. Ruminating. Appreciating.
What takes place is a perplexing paradox: I empty out while filling up:
letting go of worry, doubt, fear, anxiety, grief, self-absorption allowing room for praise, contentment, grace, gratitude, worship
… if you ran, time ran. You yelled and screamed and raced and rolled and tumbled and all of a sudden the sun was gone and the whistle was blowing and you were on your long way home to supper. When you weren’t looking, the sun got around behind you! The only way to keep things slow was to watch everything and do nothing! You could stretch a day to three days, sure, just by watching! ~Ray Bradbury from Dandelion Wine
Late summer is a time to slow down and just watch, to stretch the days out as long as possible.
I have a tendency to race through the hours granted to me, heedless of the sun settling low behind me; I don’t want to surrender the day to the advancing march of darkness.
So I choose for now to be observer and recorder rather than runner and racer, each moment preserved like so many jars of sweet jam on a pantry shelf.
The sun may be setting, but I want it to take its time.
For some reason we like to see days pass,
even though most of us claim we don’t want to reach our last one for a long time.
We examine each day before us with barely a glance and say, no, this isn’t one I’ve been looking for, and wait in a bored sort of way for the next, when we are convinced, our lives will start for real.
Meanwhile, this day is going by perfectly well-adjusted, as some days are, with the right amounts of sunlight and shade, and a light breeze scented with a perfume made from the mixture of fallen apples, corn stubble, dry oak leaves, and the faint odor of last night’s meandering skunk. ~Tom Hennen from “The Life of a Day”
I am ashamed to admit I squander time shamelessly,
waiting for that particular day I always hoped for,
tossing off these mundane but precious hours
as somehow not measuring up or special enough.
The shock is:
there have been over thirty years
of such days on this farm,
one passing by after another,
emerging fresh each morning from the duff and stuff of life,
and every single one has ended up being exactly what I’m looking for.
Find a quiet rain. Then a green spruce tree. You will notice that nearly every needle has been decorated with a tiny raindrop ornament. Look closely inside the drop and there you are. In color. Upside down. Raindrops have been collecting snapshots since objects and people were placed, to their surprise, here and there on earth.
…even if we are only on display for a moment in a water drop as it clings to a pine needle, it is expected that we be on our best behavior, hair combed, jacket buttoned, no vulgar language. Smiling is not necessary, but a pleasant attitude is helpful, and would be, I think, appreciated. ~Tom Hennen from “Outdoor Photos”
… We are, as we have always been, dangerous creatures, the enemies of our own happiness. But the only help we have ever found for this, the only melioration, is in mutual reverence. God’s grace comes to us unmerited, the theologians say. But the grace we could extend to one another we consider it best to withhold in very many cases, presumptively, or in the absence of what we consider true or sufficient merit (we being more particular than God), or because few gracious acts, if they really deserve the name, would stand up to a cost-benefit analysis. This is not the consequence of a new atheism, or a systemic materialism that afflicts our age more than others. It is good old human meanness, which finds its terms and pretexts in every age. The best argument against human grandeur is the meagerness of our response to it, paradoxically enough.
And yet, the beautiful persists, and so do eloquence and depth of thought, and they belong to all of us because they are the most pregnant evidence we can have of what is possible in us. ~ Marilynne Robinson from “What Are We Doing Here?”
Some days I choose to trudge along dry and cranky — each step an effort, each thought a burden, each moment an opportunity to grump about myself and my fellow man. It is good to be reminded I am preserved, as is, for an instant, in the camera eye of the raindrops I pass, each snapping an instagram photo of my attitude.
It wouldn’t hurt me to smile out of a sense of grace and forgiveness, even if the events of the day may not call for it. At least those smiles, reflected in the lens of each raindrop, will soak the soil at the moment it is let go to fall earthward.
There is no better place for the gift of grace to bloom and grow, ready for a new day.