Monday Morning

When I began this gathering of essays, which, yes, comes from the French essai, meaning to try, or to attempt, I planned on writing one of these things — these attempts — every day for a year. When I decided this I was walking back to my lodging in a castle (delight) from two very strong espressos at a café in Umbertide (delight), having just accidentally pilfered a handful of loquats from what I thought was a public tree (but upon just a touch more scrutiny was obviously not — delight!), and sucking on the ripe little fruit, turning the smooth gems of their seeds around in my mouth as wild fennel fronds wisped in the breeze on the roadside, a field of sunflowers stretched to the horizon, casting their seedy grins to the sun above, the honeybees in the linden trees thick enough for me not only to hear but to feel in my body, the sun like a guiding hand on my back, saying everything is possible. Everything.

~ Ross Gay,  The Book of Delights


Notes: Loquat Photo. Quote via Brain Pickings

Lightly child, lightly

Just when the worst bears down
You find a pretty bubble in your soup at noon
And outside a bird says “hi”
Slowly the sun creeps along the floor;
It is coming your way. It touches your shoe.

~ William Stafford, from “It’s all Right” in The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy by John Brehm


Notes:

  • Poem: Thank you Karl Duffy @ Mindfulbalance. Photo: Hache with “my life plans” (via Mennyfox55)
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Lightly child, lightly

…We came out of a time when birth was happy…

We are prizes. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so important,
so healthy…

We were sold on dissatisfaction –…

I am very lucky but that’s not life. And maybe no more than
any person born in any year, I want but don’t know what, feel
unsettled in a sea of similarly restless faces. The breadth of
possibility makes choosing seem evasive. We decide but we are
slow and small with doubts.

It was 1954 when my parents moved to have room for me. I
remember a box my mother packed for me to store at school,
filled with canned milk and soup and Hershey bars.

Two thousand good nights. My checked uniform on a hook.
My face to the hall light because that felt like a day in the sun.
Not fear, not loneliness, but my preference for sleeping near the
window and near the floor, humming.

~ Killarney Clary, from “Who Whispered Near Me?”


Notes:

  • Poem Source: Thank you Beth @ Alive on All Channels. Photo: Blue Canary Night light
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Sunday Morning

People often ask me how Buddhists answer the question: ‘Does God exist?’ The other day I was walking along the river. The wind was blowing. Suddenly I thought, Oh! The air really exists. We know that the air is there, but unless the wind blows against our face, we are not aware of it. Here in the wind I was suddenly aware, yes it’s really there. And the sun too. I was suddenly aware of the sun, shining through the bare trees. Its warmth, its brightness, and all this completely free, completely gratuitous. Simply there for us to enjoy. And without my knowing it, completely spontaneously, my two hands came together, and I realized that I was making a deep bow. And it occurred to me that this is all that matters: that we can bow, take a deep bow. Just that. Just that.

~Rev. Eido Tai Shimano, Disciplines for Christian Living: Interfaith Perspectives by Thomas P. Ryan (Paulist Press, 1993)


Quote Source:

Lightly child, lightly

It’s so delicate, the light.
And there’s so little of it. The dark
is huge.
Just delicate needles, the light,
in an endless night.
And it has such a long way to go
through such desolate space.

So let’s be gentle with it.
Cherish it.
So it will come again in the morning.
We hope.

~ Rolph Jacobsen, “A Few Delicate Needles” from The Roads Have Come to an End Now


Notes:

  • Poems: 3QuarksDaily. Photo: (via Mennyfox55)
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

What if resting, all by itself, is the real act of holiness?

My great-grandmother was a lifelong Baptist who spent the last four decades of her life worshiping with the Methodists because by then there was only church left in that tiny farming community in Lower Alabama…She was so quiet in her convictions that I was 10 or 12 before I noticed that she went straight back to her room after church every Sunday. On other days, she was always busy — shelling peas or snapping beans, crocheting or quilting or sewing — but on Sunday her hands fell still, and her sewing machine sat silent. The foot-pedal Singer she’d ordered from a catalog sometime during the early 20th century was still in daily use until a few weeks before her death in 1982, but she never sewed on Sunday.

When I went looking for her help with a tatting project one Sunday afternoon, I found out why. Tatting is a kind of lace made of tiny knots tied in very fine string. The trick is to tie the right kind of knot without tangling the string into the wrong kind, but I had made so many of the wrong knots that I couldn’t even figure out how to unpick the tangle and start again. I found her sitting in a chair under the window, her Bible in her lap. The book was very old, with edges so worn they curved inward toward the pages, as soft as a puppy. I knocked on the open door. “Mother Ollie, can you help me with this?”

All these years later, I think about the heartache it must have cost my great-grandmother, the one whose bedroom I shared whenever the house was full, to disappoint a child she loved so much. But that day she could not help me with my needlework. “Not today, honey,” she said. “The Lord tells us not to work on the Sabbath.” And handwork, by definition, is work.

I’ve thought of that conversation many times over the years. Sunday has never been a day of rest for me. I’ve always used at least part of the day to catch up with work, with email, with the myriad responsibilities that fall to people in the sandwich generation. I don’t know anyone who takes Sunday off anymore. If we aren’t doing professional work, we’re doing the housework that won’t get done once we leave for work on Monday morning.

But it’s not as though the world stopped on Sunday in Lower Alabama, either. The crops — and the weeds — in my grandfather’s fields continued to grow, whatever the day. My grandmother still had papers to grade and lessons to plan. The peas in the bushel basket on the back porch would not shell and can themselves. Nevertheless, my people put their work aside on Sunday to nap on the daybed or sit on the porch and rock. They didn’t ask themselves, as I do, whether they could “afford” to rest. God obliged them to rest, and so they did.

There are many, many people for whom this kind of Sabbath is not an option. People who work double shifts — or double jobs — just to make ends meet, truly can’t afford to rest, but I could reorganize my life if I tried. I could focus on priorities, spend less time on things that matter little to me and make more time for those that matter most. Somehow I had simply reached the age of 57 without feeling any obligation to sit still.

That changed the day after my book tour ended last week. Possibly I am just too old to learn the art of solo travel: of lying in a different bed night after night and actually sleeping, of finding my way through new cities and new airport terminals. I love meeting book people with all my heart, but by the end of book tour all my body was in revolt.

I sat on the sofa with my laptop, planning to get started on the 90 million emails that had piled up in my absence, but instead I fell asleep. I tried the wing chair next to the sofa with no better results. When I found myself looking at the one clear spot on my desk as a good place to lay my head, I gave up and went back to bed, rousing myself barely in time for supper. Then I slept 11 hours more.

Nothing in the third commandment identifies which day of the week should be the Sabbath. It doesn’t even mention the need to attend church. Its chief requirement is to rest. “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy,” reads Mother Ollie’s Bible. “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work.”

Reading those verses again made me wonder: What if resting, all by itself, is the real act of holiness? What if honoring the gift of our only life in this gorgeous world means taking time every week to slow down? To sleep? To breathe? The world has never needed us more than it needs us now, but we can’t be of much use to it if we remain in a perpetual state of exhaustion and despair.

The next day, I didn’t even try to work. I took a walk around Nashville’s Radnor Lake, the best possible way to celebrate a day of rest. The temperatures here have finally dropped, the rains have finally come, and Middle Tennessee is now serving up one fine October day after another.

At Radnor, the beauty-berries were gleaming in all their purple ripeness, and the asters and the snakeroots were still in bloom. Behind its mother, a fawn was foraging, its springtime spots just beginning to fade. A great blue heron was standing on a downed tree at the edge of the water, preening each damp, curling feather and sorting it into place. A fallen log just off the trail boasted a glorious crop of chicken-of-the-woods, and the seedpods of the redbud trees were ripe and ready to burst. At the lake’s edge, the sound of a lone cricket rose up from the skein of vegetation next to one of the overlooks. Its song was as beautiful and as heart-lifting as any hymn.

~ Margaret Renkl, from “What if resting, all by itself, is the real act of holiness?” (NY Times, October 21, 2019)


Photo: Radnor Lake State Park in Tennessee by Michael Hicks

Flying AA 5240. With Grace.

It’s a head cold that won’t release.  Thurs, last week, I wake with a scratchy throat, a cough, and a certainty that this, this thing is sliding, and sliding fast. And it does. And it did. And it’s still here.

I take inventory.

Air travel. Hands laid down on arm rests, where hundreds of others set down exactly in the same spot. American’s Clean-up crew, not enough of them, mop up major spills. Most arm rests sit untouched by the cleaning rags, or maybe they are touched, with the same rag passing from one arm rest to the other to the other. Petri dishes, waiting.

Airline club. I brush away crumbs of food on the seat and the arm rest. Coffee cups, soiled napkins, all sit stacked on the side table. One cup, 3/4s full, has a lipstick tattoo, and a fingerprint, a thin film from hand lotion leaving traces of her DNA. I shift in my seat, the freshly painted Quiet room can’t hide its fatigue from the thousands that pass through the day. It groans, Give me your Tired, Your Hungry, Your Rich, all sequestered in this Oasis a few minutes before boarding. Passing our crumbs, paying it forward.

Long term rehab facility. Walking down the hall. Avoiding a stare in each room. Ventilators pumping oxygen. 24×7. Pumping. Pumping. Why is she here? Why is he here? Does she ever get out of bed? How does she not get bed sores?  I turn the corner to my Brother’s room. A roll of the dice and he’s here. Here. Inside. I’m Outside. His roommate. A Veteran. (?) Amputee. It’s Veteran’s Day on Monday. Our eyes connect. Good morning I offer. He never responds. He has no bowel control. The Help pulls the thin curtain. It’s OK Sir. No problem. Just turn a little to the left. The smell of disinfectant fills the room, and burns its tracks.  On the flight home, someone has passed gas, the smell detonates in the cabin, the young lady in the seat next to me buries her head in her sweater and whispers: “Disgusting.” I’m brought back to Rehab. Just turn a little to the left Sir.

It starts in the head, the slow drip of fatigue slides like lava and builds, from sinuses down to the toes.  DayQuil every 4 hours. NyQuil before bed. Bed. Sleep. Work. Bed. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

This morning. I flip open the smartphone. 26° F, feels like 22°.  And it arrives. Why now, I can’t explain.  Anne Lamott’s ‘mystery of Grace.’  Mucous secretions streaming. This air I breathe. This thick comforter, and the warmth that it offers. This miracle of being here, in this moment, in all of its fog.  I’m Grateful. For all of it.

And, I’m not moving, not from here. Not from this spot. Not today. Not until noon.


Photo: (via Endless Summer)

Lightly child, lightly

I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on in the world between the covers of books, such sandstorms and ice blasts of words, such staggering peace, such enormous laughter, such and so many blinding bright lights, splashing all over the pages in a million bits and pieces all of which were words, words, words, and each of which were alive forever in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.

~ Dylan Thomas, “Notes on the Art of Poetry” in The Poems of Dylan Thomas, Volume 1


Notes:

  • Quote: Thank you Beth @ Alive on All Channels.  Art: Michael Azgour with Jennifer Reading (2019)
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Lightly child, lightly

This is the bleached-bone veritas of the Colorado Plateau. We stand on the edge of an erosional landscape looking out. The curvature of the Earth becomes our home range. The silence before us is time. We feel how small we are in the embrace of geologic relief… Watching light captured and held within the pastel pinnacles of Bryce Canyon in shades of pink, orange, and yellow—all these weathered places show us we are merely humans, soft, humble, and temporary.

~ Terry Tempest WilliamsErosion: Essays of Undoing (Sarah Crichton Books, October 8, 2019)


Notes:

  • Photo: Colorado Plateau by tlswan2
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Driving I-95 South. Baptized without God.

5:33 am. Friday morning.

Google Maps signals 17 minutes to destination. Smooth ride, cruising down I-95 South. Truckers, insomniacs, and DK listening to Audible, his book on tape. More Terry Tempest Williams, her new book, Erosion: Essays of Undoing.  Terry’s way in my head, and beyond, and yes, we’re on a first name basis now. “Our undoing is also our becoming. I have come to believe this is a good thing.”

The Heads-up Display on the windshield flashes alert: Object ahead on highway. It flashes an alert again. I tap the brakes.

A wind gust blows leaves across three lanes. I exhale.  Wonders of technology. Car warns you about objects on highway, or if you veer outside your lane. I’m listening to books on tape, beamed from the cloud. GPS tells me how long to the office. And I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday.

The car wobbles over uneven pavement. 4000 pounds of car, wearing grooves into the asphalt, with my back and forth 4-5 days a week.

Read somewhere from a survey that 85% of us wished to travel more.  And that one in 10 Americans surveyed say they have no interest in going anywhere.  Welcome readers, to Me, I’m on top of this stack of 10. [Read more…]

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