Hope is a muscle.

GQ: On Being sometimes seems like an outlier in today’s culture, in terms of its themes: patience, civility, mystery, asking questions rather than supplying answers. Why do you think it has resonated so deeply?

And simple ones.

Or something we can implement now.

Do you have hope that we’re going to get them back on the right track?

I think that hope is a muscle. The hope that I see to be transformative and modeled in very wise people who have shifted something in their world—civil rights leaders to [social justice activist] Bryan Stevenson to [labor activist] Ai-jen Poo—it’s not [idealistic]. I don’t use the word idealism. I don’t use the word optimism. It’s not wishful thinking. It’s not assuming that things will turn out all right. It’s an insistence, looking at the world straight on as it is and rejecting the idea that it has to be that way, and then throwing your light and your pragmatism as much as your spirit at [that]. What does it look like if you don’t accept it? That’s how I think of it…

One of the criticisms that gets lobbed at these conversations is that they’re too—and I know you just said you don’t like this word—idealistic, and perhaps not as important as conversations about politics or policy. You worked in Berlin in the 1980s and you saw geopolitics up close and personal, what it can do and the effect it can have on people’s lives. And yet you still came away to have these conversations. So you seem uniquely suited to respond to someone who’s skeptical, who says, why do these conversations matter?

We have a bias—which I also inherited, it’s in our education—to take what is dysfunctional and catastrophic and frightening and failing more seriously than what works well and what is quietly flourishing. The bias is a really powerful one. We’re learning about our bodies and brains—which is an incredible frontier. They’re so mobilized by threat or fear. There’s a level at which we’re so sophisticated, and then there’s this animal creature. We don’t investigate: what is generative? This is one of the motivations for me in starting the show. The question for me in the beginning is, how can we make goodness as riveting as evil and destruction? …

In science fiction, or even at the far edges of quantum physics, you hold this idea that there are parallel universes; that there are equal realities that may be wildly divergent. Because I have trained my eyes on this, I’m looking for it, I see it. There’s a phrase that came out of a study about the incredible health benefits from an intentional practice of gratitude: Take in the good. It’s not even about getting more optimistic. It’s just saying, I’m going to attend to that. I’m going to give that my attention. Maybe that’s the spiritual practice. That has become a discipline [for me]. What we practice becomes instinctive.

Krista Tippett, excerpts from “Hope is a Muscle”: Why Krista Tippett Wants You to Keep the Faith” in an interview with Clay Skipper. (GQ, July 21, 2022)

Quiet conversations that will not be publicized

So what’s a new possibility you’re inspired by? I love your questions. You’re pushing in the really important way. Here’s what I think of: I see the disarray. I see the broken power structures. I see the damage and the pain. I also see people tending to that. At the heart of some of these national-level or community-level conflicts, there is space to move below the radar and start stitching together relationships and quiet conversations at a very human, granular level. We’re going to work on quiet conversations that will not be publicized. That feels to me like a power move in this world…

A lot of people worry about finding their calling. Do you have any advice for them? I’m very aware that in this culture, in the 20th-century world, we’ve diminished the idea of a calling to mean your job title. I think there are many callings in a life. I want people to liberate the idea of their calling from what they’re being paid to do for a living. Your calling may be something that you do that gives you joy but that you’re never going to get paid for. It may be certain relationships that you’re holding that are primary. Being a parent or being a child, being a friend, being a neighbor, the service you do in your community. It can be how you show up through your day, how you treat strangers. You can play an instrument. You can write. It’s the things that amplify your best humanity.I don’t think I have to define that, because we all intuitively know what it is. I talk so much on this show about Rilke —

I know where you’re going: “Living the questions.” Yes! The notion of living the questions in a world that is in love with answers. I’ve been reading Rilke since I was in Berlin almost 40 years ago, what I feel coming back to our world is this idea that to do justice to a question means that you cannot rush to an answer. What you’re called to do is hold the question itself, dwell with the question respectfully, and love the question. Live your way into the answer. If you hold a question, if you’re faithful, the question will be faithful back to you.

OK, what was the last thing that blew your mind? For me the last two years have been one seismic event after the other. That experience of the ground shaking beneath our feet and that happening to every person on the planet — that is what all of our spiritual traditions tell us is the reality at any given moment, and it’s what our culture gives us a million devices to deny. But there it was: We are fragile. Civilization rests on something as tender as bodies breathing in proximity to other bodies. We were reminded of that. And living in Minneapolis when George Floyd was killed. The West Coast caught fire. Our political fragmentation that we’ve been walking into for such a long time. We have a war in Europe. We pretended like capitalism triumphing would lead to a moral universe. It just goes on and on. It’s all before-and-after now.

— David Marchese, excerpts of a interview with Krista Tippett in “Krista Tippett Wants You to See All the Hidden Signs of Hope” (NY Times Magazine, July 7, 2022).  Tippett created and hosts the public radio program and podcast On Being.

 

Lightly Child, Lightly (Take 2)

Thomas A. Edison was born in 1847, and on October 21, 1879, he invented the incandescent light bulb. I was born on October 21, 1947, one hundred years after Edison’s birth and on the sixty-eighth anniversary of his famous invention. By the time I discovered these facts, I was in my forties, but I had already developed a lifelong fascination with light.

Indeed, my first memory is of light dancing in the leaves of a tall tree in my grandmother’s front yard in Sparta, Missouri. Aunt Grace had placed me on my back on a blanket under this tree. I remember the sunlight sparkling through the changing colors of the fluttering leaves and the occasional patch of cloud shadow that affected everything. I didn’t have language, but I knew what I was watching was beautiful.

I remember nothing else about the first two years of my life, but I recall this as clearly as if it happened this morning. Light sticks in my memory that way. And ever since that seminal moment, dappled light has held the power to induce wonder in me.

I take note of shadows and sunspots and if a cloud crosses the sun. I stop to admire the sparkling dew on grass and flowers, the rainbows in lawn sprinklers, and the way certain kinds of light shine on birds’ wings or breasts. I notice my cat glistening in the sunbeams and the way light sparkles on nearby Holmes Lake. These minute alterations in light affect me emotionally and even spiritually.

When I swim, the parabolas of light dancing on the bottom of the pool make me happy. So does the way sunlight splashing through rain can paint my porch with light. When I see shafts of sunlight breaking through storm clouds, I pay attention. When we travel, it is light that most astonishes me. Light in the Sandhills of Nebraska, in Alaska, in San Francisco, and in all the mountain towns along the front range of the Rockies…

I am solar-powered. As a child, I spent every waking moment outdoors in the summer. I spent my mornings mixing mud pies, cookies, and cakes on wooden slabs under an elm tree. And I spent long afternoons and evenings in our municipal pool. That’s when I began reminding the other children to look at how sunlight twinkled on water. [Read more…]

Lightly Child, Lightly

In the morning, I sit with a cup of coffee and organize myself for the day. I watch the sunrise over the lake by my home, and I listen to the sounds of the sparrows and wrens. Orioles come and go from our grape jelly feeder, and each one makes me smile. I breathe deeply for 10 breaths to ground myself in my body. I remind myself of my many blessings and set my attitude to positive. My old calico, Glessie, sits by my side. Even though I am ragged with grief at the news of the world, I am ready to face whatever happens next.

Over the decades, I’ve acquired skills for building a good day. Especially in the summer, when I can swim, work in my garden, attend outdoor concerts and read in my hammock, life is fun. I have work I enjoy — sponsoring an Afghan family, participating in an environmental group and writing.

Of course, I am leading a double life. Underneath my ordinary good life, I am in despair for the world. Some days, the news is such that I need all my inner strength to avoid exhaustion, anxiety and depression. I rarely discuss this despair. My friends don’t, either. We all feel the same. We don’t know what to say that is positive. So we keep our conversations to our gardens, our families, books and movies and our work on local projects. We don’t want to make one another feel hopeless and helpless.

Many of us feel we are walking through sludge. This strange inertia comes from the continuing pandemic, a world at war and the mass shootings of shoppers, worshipers and schoolchildren. In addition, our country and our planet are rapidly changing in ways that are profoundly disturbing. We live in a time of groundlessness when we can reasonably predict no further than dinnertime. The pandemic was a crash course in that lesson.

As we are pummeled with daily traumatic information, more and more of us shut down emotionally. I can hear the flatness in the newscasters’ voices, see the stress in my friends’ faces and sense it in the tension of the workers at my sister’s nursing home. We are not apathetic; we are overwhelmed. Our symptoms resemble those of combat fatigue.

The most informed and compassionate among us are the most vulnerable to despair. We understand the brokenness and the sorrow in our own and faraway communities. We are also fully aware of all the things we cannot change. Staying focused on the light in the world is hard work.

Of course, America isn’t eastern Ukraine, Afghanistan or Yemen, but nonetheless, we are a lonely, frightened people who have lost hope in the future. Any psychologist knows that is a dangerous place to be. We risk losing our ability to think clearly or experience life completely. We lose our vitality and sense of direction. We cannot help others. We cannot fix anything. [Read more…]

Walking. T.G.I.F.

Good morning.

4:23 am. Day 780 at Cove Island Park. 780 consecutive (mostly) days on my morning walk. Like in a row.

Beautiful morning. 60° F. Soft, gentle breeze.

I walk.

Images in front of me at the Park are repeats. I’m tired. This view is tired. All of it, uninspiring.

And that’s all that this Mind needs, just a sliver of darkness, and it’s match-to-gasoline.  Supreme Court strikes down New York Gun law, expanding concealed carry rights. Jan. 6 panel. Flood of pardon requests. Ukraine. Uvalde. Putin. Afghanistan earthquake kills 1000. New Mexico wildfire. Abortion rights. Gas Prices. Climate Change.

And then, a hardening, the shoulders tensing up, the thighs tight and stiffening, anger rolls up the torso like an incoming storm. Come DK. Snap out of it.

I walk.

I’m on the shoreline. And there they are. He’s embracing her.  They sit quietly and stare out over Long Island Sound.

This image prompts a softening.

Where I see Repeats, they see beauty.  The world awakening.

The image gives me hope.

They give me hope.

We need hope.

Halldór Laxness: “All the same…she was not too old once more to view the future in a dream; in a new dream. To be able to look forward is to live.

Photos from this morning walk here.

 

Walking. With My Oystercatcher.

She was alone. Some form of birdsong, but at a high (very) pitch.  It’s the long beak that caught my attention. What is it? No clue.

It’s tough to get close in the mucky, low tide. Tough to focus in pre-twilight. I take the half-a**ed shot from way back, wary that if I get another 5 yards closer, she’s gone.

I approach.

Today, 757 consecutive (almost) days on my morning walk at Cove Island Park. Like in a row. And I’m clopping in angle deep mud, hoping that I don’t sink to my knees. Don’t you dare bolt on me.

S: “So when did you become a Birder?” That was Wednesday, several days ago —  and it’s like cupping your hands to your mouth and yelling: So when did you become a Birder?…Birder…Birder…Birder….Birder…on repeat, the echoing Upstairs.

What she didn’t say, but it was back there: “So how long is this NEW obsession going to last.”  After 38 odd years, you sort of have each other figured out. 10 years ago, I would counterpunched: “Be nice if you found any sort of obsession to lock onto.” Instead, I smile, all grown up now. It’s really a strange feeling, this controlling yourself thing.  Destabilizing, really, this letting things go. Come on. Not really letting go. Just setting it in short term parking, and waiting, when the pressure is unbearable, and then release. And carnage. [Read more…]

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

Sometimes I don’t know how any of us go on. Sometimes I fear there’s no way our species will survive our own self-destructive choices. Sometimes I feel so I gut punched by the backward deal of the universe — that if you’re really lucky, you get people in your life to love, and then, over time, they will all either leave you or die — that I am angry at life. Actually, not sometimes. Always. I always feel that way. I don’t always actively think about it, but it’s in there.

At the same time, I am always looking for some gratitude, warmth, or hope. I often have to really search for it, but when I see something that makes me feel joy — even just a tiny odd hardly anything — you’re damn right I applaud it. Way to go, adorable cat on a leash! Thank you, server who brought my hot pizza! Kudos, writers of a TV show that made me laugh! Hallelujah, sunshine after a week of storms! Yay for good hair day, yippee for hot coffee, huzzah for an outfit that puts bounce in my step.

If I can scrape up some evidence of a thing made beautifully or a gesture made kindly, then can believe, for a few seconds, that this world is careful and kind. And if I can believe that, I can believe it is safe to let the people I love walk around out there. It’s my own attempt at foresparkling, seeking out hints of good, even planting them myself, so I can believe there’s more good to come. It might all be superstition, just mental magic, but why not try?

So I say yes for things that offer some pleasure. Yes for people who choose to be friendly. Yes for any glimmer of light through all the darkness. I mean that yes. I need it. Seriously.

Mary Laura Philpott, Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives (Atria Books, April 12, 2022)


Notes: Book Review NY Times: Is it Possible to Body-Block Our Loved Ones from Pain? Alas, No.  The Washington Post: Worry much? You’ll relate to Mary Laura Philpott’s book.

T.G.I.F.: You inhale the soft cool night

7/15/44 [New York.] You have to enjoy the weather always. Walking home from Sixty-First Street on Second Avenue, eleven beautiful black blocks. (The moon is not, the lights are, you are, your feet with the spring in them, this is youth, now!) You inhale the soft cool night, you gaze on the lighted bar doorways fondly. Your shoes, for once, are comfortable. Your head is filled with a number of things… with the youth’s grudging appreciation of the splendid night, and with the consciousness of health, future, potency. Breathe deep! Your lungs are still functioning perfectly, your thighs do not shake too much, your calves are resilient, your toes eager. Every muscle is obedient (taut for an instant, then couchantly relaxed), every dream will come true.

 Patricia Highsmith, “Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks: 1941-1995.″ Anna von Planta (Editor). (Liveright, November 16, 2021)— Patricia Highsmith, Her Diaries and Notebooks: 1941-1995


Photo: Mike Kononov via unsplash

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

I always peek into baby buggies when I walk home, because I love to look at the little children who are lying asleep with upstretched hands on a ruffled pillowcase. I also like to look at people who in one way or another give expression to their feelings. I like to look at mothers caressing their children, and I willingly go a little out of my way in order to follow a young couple who are walking hand in hand and are openly in love. It gives me a wistful feeling of happiness and an indefinable hope for the future.

—  Tove Ditlevsen, Youth: The Copenhagen Trilogy (FSG Originals, January 26, 2021)


Highly Recommended. And the trilogy has been recommended as a Best Book of the Year in 2021.

a promise of everything the day ahead might hold

Becky that morning had awakened before dawn… She lay in the dark and listened to the tick and wheeze of the radiator, the struggling clank of pipes below. As if for the first time, she appreciated the goodness of being snug in a house on a cold morning. Also, no less, the goodness of the cold, which made the snugness possible; the two things fit together like a pair of mouths…

When the alarm clock went off in her parents’ bedroom, one door over from hers, it wasn’t the usual cruel morning sound but a promise of everything the day ahead might hold. When she heard the faint buzz of her father’s shaver and the footsteps of her mother in the hallway, she was amazed she’d never noticed, until today, how precious ordinary life was and how lucky she was to be a part of it. So much goodness. Other people were good. She herself was good. She felt goodwill to all mankind.

Jonathan Franzen, Crossroads: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 5, 2021)

…his long neck folded

All winter
the blue heron
slept among the horses.
I do not know
the custom of herons,
do not know
if the solitary habit
is their way,
or if he listened for
some missing one—
not knowing even
that was what he did—
in the blowing
sounds in the dark,
I know that
hope is the hardest
love we carry.
He slept
with his long neck
folded, like a letter
put away.

— Jane Hirshfield, “Hope and Love” from “The Lives of the Heart: Poems


Photo: DK @ Daybreak. Heron. 6:03 am, August 22, 2021. 75° F. Cove Island Park, Stamford, CT. 

Truth…

Somewhere each day we have to fall in love with someone, something, some moment. Somehow each day we must allow the softening of the heart . Otherwise our hearts will move inevitably toward hardness. We will move toward cynicism, bitterness, fear and despair. That’s where most of the world is trapped and doesn’t even know it.

~ Richard RohrRadical Grace: Daily Meditations


Quote – Thank you Beth @ Alive on All Channels)

What is that weird, tingling feeling? Could it possibly be … hope?

But then the sun came out where I live this week, and I was alive again. Dunno if you’ve noticed this, but it’s been the longest year since records began, and the timing of lockdown restrictions easing this week coinciding with warm weather in parts of England – which the press was more than happy to call a “heatwave” – has me feeling quite hopeful. I can hear a bird tweeting as I type this sentence! The sun is in the sky! Life begins anew! …

There is a tingling, bright feeling in the air that feels alien to a lot of us – anticipation, maybe, the idea that lido visits will soon lead to pub visits that will one day lead to music festivals and cheap summer holidays. I have a haircut booked in for 12 April and, after a full year without anything to anticipate, it might be the most excited about anything I’ve ever been in my life. Spring is a season of green shoots. Being able to go to someone’s garden and interact with five other people who have spent a year forgetting how to make small talk finally feels like one of them.

— Joel Golby, from “What is that weird, tingling feeling? Could it possibly be … hope?” in “The Guardian” March 30, 2021


Photo: DK @ Daybreak, March 30, 2021, Norwalk, CT. 6:38 am.

I’m only now starting to fully understand is that this is an inside job. It only works if I believe.

But what I’m only now starting to fully understand is that this is an inside job. It only works if I believe. I’ve always been confident, positive, doggedly determined; but doubt is beginning to mitigate my conviction. Who am I to think I can accomplish this, when so many have struggled with similar setbacks; some with Parkinson’s, some with the aftermath of spinal surgery? I may be the only one who has taken on this particular two-headed beast…

I have to learn to walk again; to reclaim my mobility, remaster my motion. I consider this fundamental to my therapy —  for me, it all starts and ends with walking. And I understand that it’s more complicated than that. So many tiny disciplines have to be observed, and neglected muscles and ligaments need to be restored. I’m exhausted by the effort I’ve already put in at Johns Hopkins, and daunted by how much work I still have to do. It’s like being nibbled to death by ducks.

Back in the days of carefree ambling, I would have considered the topic of walking to be rather pedestrian. Now the acts of stepping, strolling, hiking, and perambulating have become an obsession. I watch Esmé gliding through the kitchen, grabbing an apple while opening the fridge door for a coconut water, closing it with a quick shift of her hip and pirouetting out the swinging door at the other end of the room. Down in the lobby, my neighbor and her daughter are quickstepping to catch a taxi. I spy on a man walking with a slight limp, which he counterbalances with a bag of groceries. I secretly watch the way they all move. Easy, breezy, catlike, or with a limp, every one of them is far better at it than me. It may be that the most difficult, miraculous thing we do, physically, is to walk…

It’s tough. With PD and the aftermath of the surgery, something as simple as remaining upright is often sabotaged by a rogue army of misfiring neurons. I try to stay organized. I have memorized a litany of admonitions, not unlike my golfer’s list of swing thoughts: Keep my head centered over my hips; hips over my knees; no hyperextending; stay in line with my feet; eyes forward; shoulders back; chest out; lead with the pelvis. All of this kinetic vigilance can dissolve in a nanosecond of panic, or come apart with some other distraction. A tiny nervous jolt or spasm, and like a house of cards in a sudden gust of wind, the only messages that make it through the debris are: Don’t fall. Don’t fall. Don’t fall

—  Michael J. Fox, No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality (Flatiron Books, November 17, 2020)

Hmmmmm….

Neither season after season of extreme weather events nor the risk of extinction for a million animal species around the world could push environmental destruction to the top of our country’s list of concerns. And how sad, he said, to see so many among the most creative and best-educated classes, those from whom we might have hoped for inventive solutions, instead embracing personal therapies and pseudo-religious practices that promoted detachment, a focus on the moment, acceptance of one’s surroundings as they were, equanimity in the face of worldly cares. (This world is but a shadow, it is a carcass, it is nothing, this world is not real, do not mistake this hallucination for the real world.) Self-care, relieving one’s own everyday anxieties, avoiding stress: these had become some of our society’s highest goals, he said—higher, apparently, than the salvation of society itself. The mindfulness rage was just another distraction, he said. Of course we should be stressed, he said. We should be utterly consumed with dread. Mindful meditation might help a person face drowning with equanimity, but it would do absolutely nothing to right the Titanic, he said. It wasn’t individual efforts to achieve inner peace, it wasn’t a compassionate attitude toward others that might have led to timely preventative action, but rather a collective, fanatical, over-the-top obsession with impending doom.

Sigrid Nunez, What Are You Going Through: A Novel (Riverhead Books, September 8, 2020)


Photo: Patty Maher, Light & Dark

Sunday Morning

No weather so perfectly conjures a sense of foreboding, of anticipation and waiting, as the eerie stillness that often occurs before the first fat drops of rain, when storm light makes luminous all roofs and fields and strands black silhouettes of trees on the horizon. This is the storm as expectation. As solution about to be offered. Or all hell about to break loose. And as the weeks of this summer draw on, I can’t help but think that this is the weather we are all now made of. All of us waiting. Waiting for news. Waiting for Brexit to hit us. Waiting for the next revelation about the Trump administration. Waiting for hope, stranded in that strange light that stills our hearts before the storm of history.

—  Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights (Grove Press, August 25, 2020)


Photo: DK, 6:15 am, September 27, 2020. The Cove. Stamford, CT

Sunday Morning

I don’t believe in religion, but the aesthetics of Catholicism have stuck with me. I love the way church incense coats my hair and skin. It is a safe smell, like a blanket… I envy the faithful. There are shrines dotted around the hillsides here in Ireland, places where saints have supposedly appeared and healed the sick. There are wells of holy water and statues in the rocks, huts filled with prayer cards and gardens filled with painted stones in memory of loved ones who have passed away. I like to visit them occasionally. I sit in the stillness and observe people crying and praying and I close my eyes and try to let some of their hope get carried on the air and through my pores. I would like to believe that everything is accounted for, that there is life after this one, and that all of our decisions hold some kind of significance or moral worth. There is weight in religion. It is an anchor of sorts.

~ Jessica Andrews, Saltwater: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, January 14, 2020)


Notes: Photo: Patryk Sadowski with Church of Ireland

Lightly Child, Lightly. (Part I)

Three Advil every three hours wasn’t taking the edge off.  The pain was ripping thru my left shoulder and rolling down my arm.  And during sporadic moments, there was relief.  And, I would breathe. But the storm returned.

Resistance to professional evaluation had run its course. It was time.

A five minute wait in the waiting room.

X-Rays of shoulder prior to examination.

“Shirt off please.”

Doctor steps in.  “Resist here.”  “Push back there.”  “Is it tender here?” “Or here?”

“Sports injury?” As he looks at the bone protruding on the left shoulder.

He continues.

“I’d like to get x-rays of your neck. Your shoulder pain, it’s a red herring.” [Read more…]

What’s it like to be a human the bird asked

What’s it like to be a human
the bird asked

I myself don’t know
it’s being held prisoner by your skin
while reaching infinity
being a captive of your scrap of time
while touching eternity
being hopelessly uncertain
and helplessly hopeful
being a needle of frost
and a handful of heat
breathing in the air
and choking wordlessly
it’s being on fire
with a nest made of ashes
eating bread
while filling up on hunger
it’s dying without love
it’s loving through death

That’s funny said the bird
and flew effortlessly up into the air

~ Anna Kamienska, from “Funny


Notes: Poem via Alive on All Channels. (Thanks Beth). Art by Klára Piknerová (via Your Eyes Blaze Out)

It’s been a long week


Three-month-old Klavan Munyisa lays in a hospital bed after surviving a bus crash in Rusape, Zimbabwe, near where a head-on collision between two buses killed 47 people. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, AP, wsj.com November 8, 2018)

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