Lightly Child, Lightly

Life should carry more meaning than the facts would bear. Which facts were these: we occupied a tiny corner of the universe, minor planet orbiting a minor star, in an even tinier corner of cosmological time. Still we wanted all of it, the sun and the moon and the firmament that held them, to be about us. This want had been bred into humanity, selected by nature, so it must have served some purpose once, but it had long outlived its usefulness… What was needed now was to know.

— Christopher Beha, The Index of Self-Destructive Acts: A Novel (Tin House Books, May 5, 2020)


Notes:

Lightly Child, Lightly

How do we forgive ourselves for all the things we did not become?

—  Doc Luben, from “#13” in “14 Lines from Love Letters or Suicide Notes” (Genius.com)


Notes:

  • Doc Luben is a spoken word slam poet. He comes from Portland, Oregon. He can be found on Tumblr, where he posts new poems. (Thank you Make Believe Boutique)
  • 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

The truth? The truth about all this?… We’re doing the best we can, we really are. We’re trying to be grown-up and love each other and understand how the hell you’re supposed to insert USB leads. We’re looking for something to cling on to, something to fight for, something to look forward to. We’re doing all we can to teach our children how to swim. We have all of this in common, yet most of us remain strangers, we never know what we do to each other, how your life is affected by mine. Perhaps we hurried past each other in a crowd today, and neither of us noticed, and the fibers of your coat brushed against mine for a single moment and then we were gone. I don’t know who you are. But when you get home this evening, when this day is over and the night takes us, allow yourself a deep breath. Because we made it through this day as well. There’ll be another one along tomorrow.

—  Fredrik Backman, “Anxious People: A Novel” (Atria Books, September 8, 2020) 


Notes:

  • Fredrik Backman portrait by Casper Hedberg for The New York Times
  • 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.”

Moments snap together like magnets, forging a chain of shackles. Why?

There’s a famous play, Equus, about a troubled boy with a blinding love of horses. The boy sees a psychiatrist named Martin Dysart, who tries to understand him by trying to understand his love. Dysart is confounded by it:

A child is born into a world of phenomena all equal in their power to enslave. It sniffs—it sucks—it strokes its eyes over the whole uncountable range. Suddenly one strikes. Why? Moments snap together like magnets, forging a chain of shackles. Why? I can trace them. I can even, with time, pull them apart again. But why at the start they were ever magnetized at all—just those particular moments of experience and no others—I don’t know. 

I can trace my love, too. Why stars instead of horses, or boys, or hockey? I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because the stars are the antithesis of darkness, of abusive stepfathers and imperiled little sisters. Stars are light. Stars are possibility. They are the places where science and magic meet, windows to worlds greater than my own. Stars gave me the hope that I might one day find the right answers.

But there’s more to my love than that. When I think of the stars I feel an almost physical pull. I don’t just want to look at them. I want to know them, every last one of them, a star for every grain of sand on Earth. I want to bask in the hundreds of millions of suns that shine in the thousands of billions of skies in our galaxy alone. Stars represent more than possibility to me; they are probability. On Earth the odds could seem stacked against me—but where you are changes everything. Each star was, and still is, another chance for me to find myself somewhere else. Somewhere new.

Sara Seager, The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir (Crown, August 18, 2020)


Notes:

Walking. With the Silent Generation.

I counted him out yesterday morning. There was light drizzle from 5:00 am to 6:20 am, and it continued for my entire 5 mile loop around Cove Island Park. But he didn’t disappoint. There he was.

We intersect most mornings.

Never met him. Don’t know him. Never spoken a word to him.

But I imagine his life.

He’s a member of the Silent Generation, following his Parents, who were members of the Greatest Generation who survived the Great Depression. Waste not. Want not. Sacrifice. Freedom. God. Country. (I’m consciously leaving out ‘Guns’.)

He didn’t come from the Privileged. He was drafted, he didn’t seek medical deferment, he fought in the Vietnam War. Memories haunt, Demons always in pursuit. Jennifer Pastiloff’s: “Get out of your head. It’s a bad neighborhood.”  So he walks.

There’s no Apple Watch tracking his steps. No iPhone pumping in music or books on tape.  Nothing to shake that gnawing, that scraping…

There are two flags that hang on his house; they are worn, the whites have long lost their sheen.  They don’t just make their appearance on July 4th, they hang 365 days a year.

The homes around him, one by one, are torn down, rebuilt, taller, larger, and fill with young families fleeing Manhattan. Property values have soared, his taxes have followed upward, and now pinch. He could flee to Florida, land of no State income tax, but that has never crossed his mind. He was born here, and will die here, his home town.  He completes his own tax returns, reports his modest pensioner’s income and pays all of his taxes, because that is what has to be done.

The curtains are always drawn. He’s a Widower, married for 40 years, and then lost Her to Cancer.  No one to open the drapes.  No dog to keep him company. No cat to nestle next to his feet, purring, as he watches The Evening News. Income is tight, he can’t afford the expense. He misses his Wife.

The lawn is cut, never shaggy. A fence, freshly painted brown, provides token separation from the neighbors, with toys strewn all over their front yard.

His Story may be entirely different. But it’s what I see. What I need to see.

Yet, what doesn’t require imagining, is this.

I’ve come to look for him each morning. I round the turn to walk up Anthony Lane and there he is.

No matter how far up the street I am, he looks for me, and always throws up his hand to wave Hello.

Because that’s what he was taught.  And that’s what he Believes. Character. Honesty. Decency. Be a good neighbor.

Some day, I’ll either tire of this same morning walk, or he won’t be there. One, or the other.

And, I’ll miss him.


Notes:

  • Photo: DK, Saturday, Aug 30, 2020
  • Inspired by: “If you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it.” — David Foster Wallace, from “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace” by David Lipsky (Broadway, April 13, 2010)
  • Inspired by: “We may be in the middle of a story we don’t know how will end, or even whether it will end, but we are not helpless characters created and directed by an unseen novelist. We have the power, even in this Age of Anxiety, to enfold ourselves in small comforts, in the joy of tiny pleasures. We can walk out into the dark and look up at the sky. We can remind ourselves that the universe is so much bigger than this fretful, feverish world, and it is still expanding. And still filled with stars. —  Margaret Renkl, “A Reminder to Enfold Yourself in Small Comforts” (NY Times, August 24, 2020)

Sunday Morning

I asked him what he thought it meant for our lives, for how we spend them, for what they mean. He said our lives mean nothing except as a cycle of regeneration, that we are incomprehensibly brief sparks, just as the animals are, that we are no more important than they are, no more worthy of life than any living creature. That in our self-importance, in our search for meaning, we have forgotten how to share the planet that gave us life. Tonight I write him a letter telling him I think he was right. But that also I think there is meaning, and it lives in nurturing, in making life sweeter for ourselves, and for those around us.

— Charlotte McConaghyMigrations: A Novel (Flatiron Books, August 4, 2020)


Photo: Sparks by Christine Lynch

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either…

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper…

And if we continue to look we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper.

And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

Looking even more deeply, we can see ourselves in this sheet of paper too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, it is par of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. We cannot point out one thing that is not here — time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper…This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.

—  Thich Nhat Hanh, from “Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life”

 


Photo: Anka Zhuravleva with Head in the Clouds

A rupture in our constructed realities

I know this pandemic is a big deal. But it is really only now sinking in how much of a bigger deal this will be for our social consciousness than 9/11. Maybe even more significant than WW2, since it is effecting everyone. Every society on earth is having to adjust and respond. And, more than any other event in my lifetime or my father’s lifetime, it is exposing the problems of our society and, perhaps, creating space in our collective capacity to imagine a better world…This pandemic is a sharper reminder of human fragility, the utter incapacity for us to solve these natural crises within our capitalist framework…But this is a rupture. A rupture in our constructed realities, exposing what lies underneath. May we discern, together, the movement of the Spirit of Life so that we might create a new, more compassionate world, with one another.“

— Mark Van Steenwyk


Notes:

  • Quote via Beth @ Alive on All Channels. Photo: David Ramos in NY Times
  • Inspired by a passage Keith shared with me: “There are certain things that happen to you as a human being that you cannot control or command, that will come to you at really inconvenient times and where you have to bow in the human humility to the fact that there’s something running through you that’s bigger than you …” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert (The TED Interview podcast, October 19, 2018)

Flying AA1487 JFK to PHX. More Lav Follies.

I ran the themes of this post by S&S (Spouse and Son).

Both gave me the meh“.  “Tired.” “You’ve done this before.” “What’s so strange about that?”

Give me a hat tip. I choked down my usual retort. “Dumb and Dumber. What do you know?

But Mind only needs a bit of push back, and they had me spinning away from the Topic. Maybe they’re right.

He who- what was it?- walks out of step, hears another drum.”  Me and Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

The Lav drum beats.

JFK to Phoenix. Wide body Airbus.  My usual seat. Exit Row. One seat back from Lav, and clear shot of incoming and outgoing Lavatory activity.

5+ hour flight.  300 minutes of Showtime.

Game time.

  1. Occupant. Male. Boomer. In. Out. Leaves door open. Looks back down aisle, notes door is open, keeps walking.
  2. Occupant. Male. Millennial. In, with Smartphone in right hand. Out, with Smartphone in left. Can’t be without a connection at all times. Helps bowel movements.
  3. Occupant. Female. Boomer +. Waiting in aisle for Lav to free up. Slides into our row to let another passenger pass by. Backs her toosh right into my seatmate’s face.
  4. Occupant. Female. Blonde. Gen X. First in line of 3. “Stinks really bad. I can’t go in there.” Nose scrunched up. Walks to back of plane to find another lav.
  5. Occupant. Male. Millennial. Was standing behind Occupant #4 above. Looks around to see if anyone heard previous occupant. Dips nose in, concludes: Toxic.  Line stretches out.
  6. Occupant. Flight Attendant. Comes by to check the root cause of ruckus. Toilet not flushing.  Accumulation backing up. Steps in. Repairs malfunction. “This was not in the damn training manual.”
  7. Occupant. Millennial. Female. Bose wireless over-the-ear headphones. No point in skipping a tune while conducting your bus-i-ness.
  8. Occupant. Retiree +. Male. Cardigan. Jacket over the top of cardigan. He is pushing, pushing, pushing on door. Passenger taps him on shoulder and points up to the Occupied sign. He shrugs his shoulders and shuffles down the aisle to the Lav in the back of the plane. Occupant inside at the time comes out with “WTH is going on?!?” look. Lady waiting in line lip syncs: Not me!
  9. Occupant. Mom. In 20’s. Holding diapers. With Toddler. Little boy, blond hair, sucking on lollipop, runs back down the aisle. “Poopy Mommy. Poopy.”
  10. Occupant. Man. Early 30’s. Grey Hoodie. Faded blue jeans rolled up to show ankles +. (That’s still in style?) Neck pillow, around his neck. Never know when you’ll need your neck pillow in the Lav when it gets rockin’ in there.
  11. Occupant. Man. Gen X. Face covered with Face Mask, Coronavirus protection?
  12. Occupant. Woman. 50’s. Wearing dark blue, down puffer jacket. Buttoned up to the neck. She comes out, red faced, forehead glistening.  Puffer Jacket in Lav? Really?
  13. And let’s close with the Finalist and Award Winner.  Occupant. Man. Middle Aged. Sport coat. Slacks. Silver pin in lapel. Stripped socks. No shoes. No Shoes. No Shoes. No. No. No.  Can’t be possible. No. No Way!

Photo: View from the Wing

Miracle. All of It.

 Human beings are creations more profound than human beings can fathom…

That’s one of the proofs of God…

there’s no other explanation.

Niall Williams, “This Is Happiness” (Bloomsbury Publishing; December 3, 2019)


Notes:

  • Art.  Finger painter (by default). Artist Mary Jane Q Cross (New Hampshire) with “Breath of Heaven” (via Mennyfox55)
  • Post title Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
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