It must have come in with the morning paper, still being delivered to those who shelter in place.
A morning paper is still an essential service.
I am not an essential service.
I have coffee and books, time, a garden, silence enough to fill cisterns.
It must have first walked the morning paper, as if loosened ink taking the shape of an ant.
Then across the laptop computer — warm — then onto the back of a cushion.
Small black ant, alone, crossing a navy cushion, moving steadily because that is what it could do.
Set outside in the sun, it could not have found again its nest. What then did I save?
It did not move as if it was frightened, even while walking my hand, which moved it through swiftness and air.
Ant, alone, without companions, whose ant-heart I could not fathom— how is your life, I wanted to ask. I lifted it, took it outside.
This first day when I could do nothing, contribute nothing beyond staying distant from my own kind, I did this. ~Jane Hirschfield “Today When I Could Do Nothing”
Nine months into social distancing one from another, with COVID spreading wider and faster than ever, I feel helpless to be a helper without the virus becoming a potentially deadly attachment to my efforts.
So I look for little ways to try to make a difference, as inadequate as they seem. I can no serve meals after evening church service. I can’t visit vulnerable people in their homes so have to be satisfied with screen visits. I can’t go where I wish when I wish because, by definition of age and medical risk, I am one of the vulnerable too.
So I look for words to express that may bring you a smile or maybe a knowing tear. I look for images to share that remind you of something from your past experience. I look for ways to make sense of the senseless when there can be so much disagreement and anger and bitterness. I look for where our common ground exists: how can we deepen and broaden our connection to one another in this time of painful and empty separation?
I want to ask and I want to hear: how is your life?
When we feel we can do nothing, we can do this: rescuing one another from isolation and loneliness. It will be the most important thing we do today.
In Sleeping Beauty’s castle the clock strikes one hundred years and the girl in the tower returns to the world. So do the servants in the kitchen, who don’t even rub their eyes. The cook’s right hand, lifted an exact century ago, completes its downward arc to the kitchen boy’s left ear; the boy’s tensed vocal cords finally let go the trapped, enduring whimper, and the fly, arrested mid-plunge above the strawberry pie, fulfills its abiding mission and dives into the sweet, red glaze.
As a child I had a book with a picture of that scene. I was too young to notice how fear persists, and how the anger that causes fear persists, that its trajectory can’t be changed or broken, only interrupted. My attention was on the fly; that this slight body with its transparent wings and lifespan of one human day still craved its particular share of sweetness, a century later. ~Lisel Mueller “Immortality” from Alive Together
Little fly, Thy summer’s play My thoughtless hand Has brushed away.
Am not I A fly like thee? Or art not thou A man like me?
For I dance And drink and sing, Till some blind hand Shall brush my wing.
If thought is life And strength and breath, And the want Of thought is death,
Then am I A happy fly, If I live, Or if I die. ~William Blake “The Fly”
I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – The Stillness in the Room Was like the Stillness in the Air – Between the Heaves of Storm –…. ~Emily Dickinson
A fly made the news this past week. It became more important than the issues being discussed in the room in which it buzzed and landed. Maybe it has come to symbolize our helplessness in the face of our anger toward one another, which has become just another way for our fear to express itself.
There is nothing more humbling than a wayward fly buzzing in the room or landing uninvited on my head. No matter whether I live in a slum or a castle, a fly will find its way to me, just because it can. I must learn to coexist with what I can’t control; this is no time for frustration nor fear nor anger to raise my hand, ready to kill the offender.
When I’m feeling bugged, which happens all too often these days, the buzzing may overwhelm my stillness but I won’t let it overwhelm me. I will put down the swatter. I will breathe deeply and admire the ingenuity of such a brief life powered miraculously by two transparent wings.
All men die. Not all men really live. ~William Wallace
Life — the temptation is always to reduce it to size. A bowl of cherries. A rat race. Amino acids. Even to call it a mystery smacks of reductionism. It is THE mystery.
After lecturing learnedly on miracles, a great theologian was asked to give a specific example of one. ‘There is only one miracle,’ he answered. “It is life.”
Have you wept at anything during the past year? Has your heart beat faster at the sight of young beauty? Have you thought seriously about the fact that someday you are going to die?
More often than not, do you really listen when people are speaking to you, instead of just waiting for your turn to speak? Is there anybody you know in whose place, if one of you had to suffer great pain, you would volunteer yourself?
If your answer to all or most of these questions is no, the chances are that you’re dead. ~Frederick Buechner from Listen to Your Life
I like mysteries if they are neatly solved between two book covers or contained within 90 minutes on a TV show.
Mysteries that don’t neatly resolve? Not so much. The uncertainty and unknowns can be paralyzing.
I am gifted the opportunity to witness miracles every day and the mystery is that I don’t often recognize them. I’m too “in my own head” to see.
If I weep, which I do more often than is comfortable to admit, am I weeping for something other than myself? If I listen, which I like to think I do well in my profession, but not as well in my personal life, do I really hear the perspective from another life and world view? If I become aware of someone’s suffering, am I willing to become uncomfortable myself to ease another’s pain?
I am being tested in these days of disrupted routines and potential threats to my health and well-being. Do I hunker down defensively or reach out unselfishly to make the best of the days that are left to me?
The mystery of when I will die can’t be solved until that moment comes, and I can’t be paralyzed by that unknown. But the everyday miracles of life are large and small and grand and plentiful and hidden in plain sight. I want to live every moment as their witness.
Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper?
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
I’m reminded daily of how short our time on earth is – the evidence is everywhere. Yesterday it was the stark finality of discovering a beetle-cleaned bighorn sheep skull in the woods, in addition to the bold reality of a black bear paw print on the car sitting next to our cabin.
Each day I receive an email from the local hospital where I’ve had clinical privileges for 35 years – it innumerates the number of admitted COVID-19 cases and deaths, the number of ICU beds filled and the number of ventilators in use. Reading those numbers is like scanning the obituaries for names and ages and causes of death in the newspaper, the only consistent thing I read in the paper anymore. The deaths are reported dispassionately, as if they are inevitable, which they are, yet each happens too soon.
Much too soon.
So the admonition is to pay attention to each living thing and witness each moment, falling onto the grass in worship of this “wild and precious life” I’ve been given rather than dwell on the future when I’ll be buried under the grass.
I shall celebrate being a consumer of this precious life, overjoyed by these sweet weeds and colorful wildflowers. There is still much that awaits me on this earth before, inevitably, I too become the consumed.
Imagine you wake up with a second chance: The blue jay hawks his pretty wares and the oak still stands, spreading glorious shade. If you don’t look back, the future never happens. How good to rise in sunlight, in the prodigal smell of biscuits – eggs and sausage on the grill. The whole sky is yours to write on, blown open to a blank page. Come on, shake a leg! You’ll never know who’s down there, frying those eggs, if you don’t get up and see. ~Rita Dove “Dawn Revisited” from On the Bus with Rosa Parks
When I was a kid, summer mornings were simply delicious – I loved the smell of breakfast being prepared while I unfolded and stretched my growing legs under the covers, lazily considering how to take on the dawn.
Each new day felt like another chance, a clean slate, a blank page ready to be filled with the knowledge gained from the mistakes made the day before, the urgency of today’s needs, and the hope for grace tomorrow.
Now I’m the one cooking up a breakfast of words and pictures, trying to lure others from their beds with the fragrance of another day, another chance, another opportunity.
There is life to be lived; the whole sky is yours. Time’s a-wasting. Time to get up.
The cat calls for her dinner. On the porch I bend and pour brown soy stars into her bowl, stroke her dark fur. It’s not quite night. Pinpricks of light in the eastern sky. Above my neighbor’s roof, a transparent moon, a pink rag of cloud. Inside my house are those who love me. My daughter dusts biscuit dough. And there’s a man who will lift my hair in his hands, brush it until it throws sparks. Everything is just as I’ve left it. Dinner simmers on the stove. Glass bowls wait to be filled with gold broth. Sprigs of parsley on the cutting board. I want to smell this rich soup, the air around me going dark, as stars press their simple shapes into the sky. I want to stay on the back porch while the world tilts toward sleep, until what I love misses me, and calls me in. ~Dorianne Laux “On the Back Porch” from Awake
If just for a moment, when the world feels like it is tilting so far I just might fall off, there is a need to pause to look at where I’ve been and get my feet back under me.
The porch is a good place to start: a bridge to what exists beyond without completely leaving the safety of inside.
I am outside looking square at uncertainty and still hear and smell and taste the love that dwells just inside these walls.
What do any of us want more than to be missed if we were to step away or be taken from this life?
Our voice, our words, our heart, our touch never to be replaced, its absence a hole impossible to fill?
When we are called back inside to the Love that made us who we are, may we leave behind the outside world more beautiful because we were part of it.