In September, 2007, Mary-Louise Parker adopted a child from an orphanage in Ethiopia. The child’s Uncle walked a distance that Parker stated she would complain if she had to travel to in a car. The journey was made with his children, three of which were under 10. The baby was carried on his hip. This excerpt is from a letter written by Parker (“Dear Uncle“) as a tribute to him. In their first meeting, he said: “I hope that she will be taken care of, go to school and perhaps one day be something, a doctor.”
There are so many reductive adjectives used to describe those materially less fortunate, words the privileged use to anoint them. Words like proud, or graceful…It never rings true. Having seen what I saw when you brought me to the hut where my daughter was born, and introduced me to the people in your village, I felt like I was hovering over every judgment of my reality and yours, unable to land. None of the families I met were intact, everyone had lost children, parents, or a spouse. There was not enough of anything for anyone. The only bounty was in categories of suffering or possible ways to die. I didn’t feel them looking at me with distance, they all smiled and shook my hand.
I hid my embarrassment at how stupid I felt when I entered your hut and was alarmed by the darkness that swallowed me despite it being late morning. Of course I knew there was no electricity, no light would be there except for what might creep in through that ceiling of straw. I knew it, but I couldn’t fathom it until I stood inside with you and stared at an actual nothingness and my eyes adjusted to near black. There is nothing, and there is not one bloody thing. As you pointed at different parts of the hut that were designated for the cows to sleep, or the spot where your family of twelve eats when there is food, or where you slept, I saw spots with absolutely nothing in them. There was an absence of comment on your situation that made you seem twenty feet tall. It’s something I could never know if I hadn’t stood there, with you showing me what life is like on another planet where there is no complaining, or showing disappointment. [Read more…]
Quiet has many moods. When our sons are home, their energy is palpable. Even when they’re upstairs sleeping I can sense them, can feel the house filling with their presence, expanding like a sail billowed with air. I love the dawn stillness of a house full of sleepers, love knowing that within these walls our entire family is contained and safe, reunited, our stable four-sided shape resurrected.
~ Katrina Kenison, Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment
A brisk walk to catch the 5:40 train to Grand Central.
28º F. Cold. Can’t touch me.
Running on a four hours sleep. Can’t feel it.
Dark. Spring forward. Fall back. Fall back into darkness, on both ends of the work day.
But today, light beams.
A scheduled vacation week. And here you are, Day 2 of vacation and off to work again.
And, looking forward to the day.
I find an open two-seater in the Quiet Car.
I lean my head against the window, close my eyes, and replay last night. [Read more…]
If there is one god who shaped this ribbon of coast and mountains, who created and nurtures the community of living things that covers it, this god is Rain. About 215 days each year have measurable rain or snow. Yearly precipitation on the island totals nearly a hundred increase – eight feet – and perhaps half again that much on the high slopes. A single inch of rain disbursed over a square mile equals 17.4 million gallons of water. This means about 1.7 billion gallons falls each year on every square mile of the island. The upthrown land is wrapped almost constantly in clouds, and the stead wash of rain has shaped it with veins of coalescing water. Thousands of streams and rivers shed their burden into the Pacific, where it convenes as a mass of freshened current that flows along this entire coast. The rich forest exists here at the behest of rain, as do the muskegs and estuary meadows, and the whole array of rain-loving animals, from timber and slugs and click beetles to bears and bald eagles. I crawl outside the tent to feel the storm once more and take in this moment of its life. Standing in near-absolute darkness, I breathe the wind and try to perceive the power of the moment, to let the storm blow away these snares of thought and leave me the purer freedom of my senses. The storm has given me this day, this island born of rain.
~ Richard Nelson, The Island Within
Once he heard the gunfire stop, Matthieu made his way back to the restaurant. “I saw a lot of women dead on the ground,” he said, his voice catching on the “f” of “femmes.” “It was mostly women that I saw.” He found one of his friends, a Brazilian studying in Paris, lying in the middle of the street. She had been seated across from him, and was shot in the chest. Matthieu sat on the ground and held her legs, feeling her shallow breathing. She would survive.
People were running through the streets in an eruption of panic, shouting as the police arrived and tried to establish order. The scene couldn’t be secured; Matthieu worried that the shooters might return. Next to him, a man without injuries held his girlfriend’s lifeless body in his arms. Then, without warning, he ran off. The woman was about twenty-five and very beautiful. Matthieu searched for words to describe her perfect, uncanny stillness. […]
Last week’s victims were normal people doing normal Parisian things: eating and drinking together, going out at night to hear a concert or watch a soccer game. After a few days, the rhythm of Parisian life returned, but a new fatalism hung in the air. People seemed resigned to the idea that more attacks would happen, maybe soon. […]
I remembered that when Matthieu and I first met we’d discussed our upbringings, and religion had come up. His family was Catholic, but I couldn’t remember if he was religious. “I’m more agnostic than Catholic, though I come from the Catholic culture,” he said. “In any case, this isn’t really a moment when I’m thinking about religion. When I think about religion, I always think about it in connection with what’s beautiful, what’s good. But never in connection with evil. I just don’t see the connection.”
~ Alexandra Schwartz, Letter from Paris: The Long Night. Terrorist attacks and a city changed.
Illustration: Arc De Triomphe by Christoph Riemann in The New Yorker
Everything around it moves, as if just this one time and one time only, as if the message of Heraclitus has arrived here through some deep current, from the distance of an entire universe, in spite of all the senseless obstacles, because the water moves, it flows, it arrives, and cascades; now and then the silken breeze sways, the mountains quiver in the scourging heat, but this heat itself also moves, trembles, and vibrates in the land, as do the tall scattered grass-islands, the grass, blade by blade, in the riverbed; each individual shallow wave, as it falls, tumbles over the low weirs, and then, every inconceivable fleeting element of this subsiding wave, and all the individual glitterings of light flashing on the surface of this fleeting element, this surface suddenly emerging and just as quickly collapsing, with its drops of light dying down, scintillating, and then reeling in all directions, inexpressible in words; clouds are gathering; the restless, jarring blue sky high above; the sun is concentrated with horrific strength, yet still indescribable, extending onto the entire momentary creation, maddeningly brilliant, blindingly radiant.
There it is, in the middle of the Kamo, the water largely reaching up to its knees, hence the truly quite shallow weir, interspersed with small grassy enclaves, hence truly peculiar, if not the most bizarre river upon the globe, and the bird just stands, without a single movement, its body strained forward, waiting staggeringly long minutes for the day’s quarry, now already ten minutes, then a half-hour passes as well; in this waiting and attentiveness and motionlessness, time is cruelly long, and still it does not move, standing exactly the same, in exactly the same pose, not a single feather trembles, it stands, leaning forward, its beak bent at an acute angle over the mirror of the gurgling water; no one is looking, no one sees it, and if it’s not seen today then it is not seen for all eternity, the inexpressible beauty with which it stands shall remain concealed, the unique enchantment of its regal stillness shall remain unperceived: here with it, in the middle of the Kamo, in this motionlessness, in recognition that it is the one that gives meaning to everything around it, gives meaning to the spinning churning world of movement, to the dry parching heat, the vibrations, every whirling sound, scent, and picture, because it is a completely unique feature of this land, the unyielding artist of this landscape, who in its aesthetic of unparalleled motionlessness, as the fulfillment of unswerving artistic observation, rises once and for all above that to which it gives meaning, rises above it, above the frantic cavalcade of all the surrounding things, and introduces a kind of aimlessness — beautiful as well — above the local meaning permeating everything, as well as above that of its own actual activity, because what is the point of being beautiful, especially when it is just a white bird standing and waiting for something.
After great pain, a formal feeling comes—
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs—
In the days after Paris, Emily Dickinson’s poem kept ringing through my mind as I tried to figure out what I felt—and, surprisingly, didn’t feel. I did not, as the facts emerged and the story took its full size, feel surprised. Nor did I feel swept by emotion, as I had in the past. The sentimental tweeting of that great moment in “Casablanca” when they stand to sing “La Marseillaise” left me unmoved. I didn’t feel anger, really. I felt grave, as if something huge and terrible had shifted and come closer. Did you feel this too?
I feel certain that in the days after the attack people were thinking: This isn’t going to stop.
~ Peggy Noonan, Uncertain Leadership in Perilous Times
Image: The Economist