Flat Affect

I used to think the land
had something to say to us,
back when wildflowers
would come right up to your hand
as if they were tame.

Sooner or later, I thought,
the wind would begin to make sense
if I listened hard
and took notes religiously.
That was spring.

Now I’m not so sure:
the cloudless sky has a flat affect
and the fields plowed down after harvest
seem so expressionless,
keeping their own counsel.

This afternoon, nut tree leaves
blow across them
as if autumn had written us a long letter,
changed its mind,
and tore it into little scraps.
~Don Thompson October

photo by Nate Gibson
photo by Nate Gibson

We’re in a time of seasonal abundance but our emotions are spent from containment through lock-down, shelter-in, social distancing, zoom-in and zoom-out.

As I meet with my patients via a televisit, I try to read their faces and find that along with the flatness of our screens, our emotions are flat too. My usual gentle humor to lighten things up becomes pointless – it is hard to elicit smiles these days. On the other hand, there no longer is a need for abundant tissues for tearful conversations because no one will weep on screen. There may be a hint of emotion in a catch in a voice, but I have yet to see anyone actually cry in two months of telehealth conversations. That would be too vulnerable – somehow being on camera suggests we need to put the actor-mask on, be expression-less, strong and invulnerable. And somehow my patient knows I can’t reach out as I would in an exam room, literally and verbally, to reassure them I’m present and listening. I’m not really present on a screen even though I’m listening.

And while out in society, we must literally hide ourselves behind a mask that conceals our smiles as well as our grim-faced frowns.

So our social and clinical interactions are as flat as the screens they play out on.

We need some unchecked tears about now, as well as endless belly laughs. Perhaps there will be a reawakening to the range of emotions we have taken for granted before finding ourselves in this time of restraint and restriction.

As we reintegrate and reunite, slowly, carefully and compassionately, let us re-experience in 3-D what we have been missing in our virtual meetings: tears that accompany joyous reunion as well as the lament of all we’re lost during this time.

Please pass the tissues.

From Joy to Joy to Joy

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There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
~Li-Young Lee from “From Blossoms”
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These are impossible evenings of color and cool breezes.
A sense of immortality extends across the sky as far as the eye can see.
Impossible — because I know they won’t last; this precious time is ephemeral.
Still I revel in it,
moving from joy to joy to joy,
from buttercup to buttercup,
lifted up like petals loosened
and set down gently,
oh so gently,
to rest in the sweetness of line-dried sheets
that promise spring someday will last forever.
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Between Midnight and Dawn: From Decay, Beauty

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I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3: 19-23

 

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I wished to wade in the trillium
and be warmed near the white flames.
I imagined the arch of my foot
massaged by the mosses.
This field immersed in gravity
defying growth.  Green and glorious.
It let me know that out of the
soil came I, and green I shall be.
Whether an unnamed weed or a
wild strawberry I will join in
the hymn.
~Luci Shaw from “Spring Song, Very Early Morning”

 

The trillium only thrives where death has been.

The mulch of hundreds of autumns fluffs the bed where trillium bulbs sleep, content through most of the year.

When the frost is giving way to dew, the trillium leaves peek out, curious, testing the air.
A few stray rays of sun filtering through the overgrowth and canopy encourage the shoots to rise, spread and unfurl.

In the middle, a white bud appears in humility, almost embarrassed to be seen at all.
There is pure declaration of triune perfection.

In a matter of days, the petals spread wide and bold so briefly, curl purplish. Wilt and return aground.

Leaves wither and fall unnoticed, becoming dust once again.

Beauty arises from decay.
Death gives way to pure perfection.

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During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

A Hand’s Span of Whiteness

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Her body is not so white as
anemony petals nor so smooth—nor
so remote a thing. It is a field
of the wild carrot taking
the field by force; the grass
does not raise above it.
Here is no question of whiteness,
white as can be, with a purple mole
at the center of each flower.
Each flower is a hand’s span
of her whiteness. Wherever
his hand has lain there is
a tiny purple blemish. Each part
is a blossom under his touch
to which the fibres of her being
stem one by one, each to its end,
until the whole field is a
white desire, empty, a single stem,
a cluster, flower by flower,
a pious wish to whiteness gone over—
or nothing.
~William Carlos Williams “Queen-Anne’s Lace”
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Sometimes all I know
is my own bleeding central blemish,
my impure core.
What else is there in this July snowstorm
of complex compound blooms,
forming a protective corona around
an imperfect purple heart in the middle?
Only when
the light glows from the Son
can the rest of me
wholly illuminate.
~EPG
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As You Wish

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{Buttercup’s} heart was a secret garden and the walls were very high.

Buttercup: We’ll never survive.
Westley: Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.

Westley: Hear this now. I will always come for you.
Buttercup: But how can you be sure?
Westley: This is true love. You think this happens every day?

That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying “As you wish”, what he meant was, “I love you.” And even more amazing was the day she realized she truly loved him back.
~William Golding, quotes from The Princess Bride

 

How was I ever blessed to find a farm boy?
A farm boy who says “I love you” in many ways every day.
The walls of my secret garden heart came tumbling down…

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Heaven in a Wild Flower

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To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the Palm of your Hand,
and Eternity in an Hour.

When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light 
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night 
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day

~William Blake from “Auguries of Innocence”

To fall head long into the depths
of a dandelion puff ball,
captured in its intricacy,
a seeded symmetry
lined with delicate dewdrop drizzle.

To know the cosmos is contained
within the commonplace,
the God of Light and Living Water
no further away
than my back yard.
~EPG

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Wish to Whiteness

swirlHer body is not so white as
anemony petals nor so smooth—nor
so remote a thing. It is a field
of the wild carrot taking
the field by force; the grass
does not raise above it.
Here is no question of whiteness,
white as can be, with a purple mole
at the center of each flower.

Each flower is a hand’s span
of her whiteness. Wherever
his hand has lain there is
a tiny purple blemish. Each part
is a blossom under his touch
to which the fibres of her being
stem one by one, each to its end,
until the whole field is a
white desire, empty, a single stem,
a cluster, flower by flower,
a pious wish to whiteness gone over—
or nothing.
~William Carlos Williams — “Queen Anne’s Lace”
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