Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

There’s time for everything except the things worth doing. Think of something you really care about. Then add hour to hour and calculate the fraction of your life that you’ve actually spent in doing it. And then calculate the time you’ve spent on things like shaving, riding to and fro on buses, waiting in railway, junctions, swapping dirty stories, and reading the newspapers.

George Orwell, from “Coming Up For Air


Quote: Alive on All Channels. George Orwell portrait.

Sunday Morning

My father had died in a single-vehicle accident in California, far from those who knew and loved him. As I grieved, my father’s death brought a certain clarity about my calling as a husband and parent. If my relationship with my dad had been marked by brokenness, I wanted my relationship with my wife and children to be marked by healing. It also forced me to re-evaluate my career. Impressing other writers and academics ceased to be my goal. Instead, I would focus on using my words to find beauty and hope. I couldn’t write a different ending for my father’s story, but I could show that a different ending was possible for others.

Over the past year and a half, many people have experienced something similar to what I did when my father died. I am not the only one who has received a terrifying call that wakes us from our slumber and changes us forever. It may have been a notification about a loved one going on a ventilator rather than dying in a car crash, but the trauma is the same. This pandemic has left conversations and lives cut short…

All these changes that people are embarking on during the pandemic make me think that we weren’t that happy before the pandemic. What about our lives prevented us from seeing things that are so clear to us now? When I talked to friends and neighbors about this, two themes emerged. The pandemic has disabused us of the illusion of time as a limitless resource and of the false promise that the sacrifices we make for our careers are always worth it.

Before the pandemic, we knew we were going to die, but we did not believe it. Maybe we believed it, but considered it a problem to be dealt with later. In the meantime, exercise and a reasonable diet was the tithe we paid to our fears. We believed we had time…

We have had to consider our collective mortality. And we are now faced with the question of meaning. Like the biblical psalmist says, “We have escaped like a bird from the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.” (Psalm 124:7). Covid-19 threatened to capture us in its snare, but thus far we have eluded it.

What shall we do with this opportunity?

Dr. Esau McCaulley, from “We Weren’t Happy Before the Pandemic,Either.” Dr. McCaulley is a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois., (NY Times, August 21, 2021)

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

But now, Dorothy wondered: What was failure? What was success? Ribbons swirling in a cold tank. Life was not a story that ended on a resolution or a revelation. It was like this puppet show—a gentle, ongoing state of ups and downs that contained moments of illusory transcendence and ultimately built to nothing, no epiphanies, or so many epiphanies that they ran together and were forgotten. Maybe it breathed like a paper flower, expanding and contracting. Maybe it was something you did just to pass the time.

Christine Smallwood, The LIfe of the Mind (Hogarth, March 2, 2021)


Photo: Lily

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

When stumped by a life choice, choose “enlargement” over happiness. I’m indebted to the Jungian therapist James Hollis for the insight that major personal decisions should be made not by asking, “Will this make me happy?”, but “Will this choice enlarge me or diminish me?”

Oliver BurkemanOliver Burkeman’s last column: the eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life (The Guardian, Sept 4, 2020)


Notes:

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

How much space for remembering is there in a day? How much should there be? I think about this in my poetry. I don’t want to be a nostalgist. Yet I feed on memory, need it to make poems, the art that is made of the stuff I have: my life and the world around me. I am grateful for the tug of the day that gets us out of bed and propels us into our lives and responsibilities; memory can be a weight on that. And yet, in it floods, brought willfully, or brought on by a glimpse, a glance, a scent, a sound.

Elizabeth Alexander, “The Light of the World: A Memoir.

 

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

You have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all your life … All the things that have deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it–tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest–if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself–you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.’

— C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain


Notes:

  • Quote: Thank you Vale of The Soul-making
  • Photo: Today, 6:34 a.m. Cove Island Park, Stamford, CT. 28° F feels like 24° F.

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:

What ‘moved’ you today?

Short story.

How did we get here with this random, mid-day post.

Ray, a fellow wordpress blogger, who must be beyond fatigued with my photo hobby posts across social media and my incessant sharing of book passages and quotes, said “ENOUGH already” and asked for a story.  And when Ray demands, I move.

So, I’m giving him one.  And it aligns with the spirt of this blog — if it moves me, it goes up.

My youngest Brother recently passed away.  I am the Personal Representative of his Estate. It has been a journey in this COVID-19 environment to settle his affairs, and we’re far from done. Let’s leave this at that.

I’m sitting in a bank branch this morning waiting to get help. I’m holding my smartphone in my hand, and a file folder with my Brother’s paperwork on my lap.

And I’m waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting.

My Gear is on. (Face mask fully covering nose and mouth.)

I’m looking down and paging through screen after screen after screen after screen on my smartphone.

Twitter, Tumblr, work emails, FB, WP, LinkedIn.

And I get vertigo. Eye strain. Mask inhibiting breathing. Feeling woozy. 

Normal functioning Humans make adjustments.

I keep flipping through web pages. And flipping, and flipping.

Wooziness doesn’t let up.

I come to a post on LinkedIn. And stop.

I read the post again.

And as Sawsan would say. “No, I’m not crying.” Not here. Not now.

Air under the mask is getting thin.

Eyes well up.

My glasses fog up, the face mask pushing air straight up.

And just at that moment: “Sir, I’m sorry to keep you waiting. I’m ready for you now.”

I can’t lift my head.

Glasses are fogged up. Floor is spinning.

She sees I’m struggling.

Sir, let me give you a moment: “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

I thank her, and take a moment to gain my composure, and then walk into her office.

Here was the LinkedIn story.

[Read more…]

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:

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

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