Last night I had conversations with four of my oldest and most valued friends. I wish we didn’t have the reason that we all talked, but that we did made me feel better than I had in the twenty-four hours previous. I hope that was the case for all of us. Mostly for Denis, because on New Year’s Day he lost his dad.
I’d been feeling blue about it on a number of levels. Mostly because someone I love is torn up; he’s been hit, unexpectedly, with life’s cruellest circumstance. His dad was a really lovely man; a husband in a seemingly inseparable partnership, a good father and pépé and neighbour and respected teacher and now he’s gone.
If I’m not censoring (it’s a start, Lisa), I’ll tell you that this is one of the two situations in the past year that threw my own mortality in my face. Hard. It sounds so selfish. My heart is truly with my friend, but a feeling of scared came swift and forceful. A parent is only one generation away.
I have all my parents – and none seems like s/he is going anywhere soon. But I got scared about losing them. They’re still too young. Like Denis’s dad. He shouldn’t have gone yet; his family’s hearts shouldn’t be heavy now. And yesterday evening I was wondering how to move out of the sudden funk – how could I call my friend and be supportive and somehow make it a little better when I felt like I was teetering on some thin emotional wire; psychically a piece of shit?
And then after supper I talked to Debbie. And then Denis. And then Robbie. And then Lynn. And at the end of the evening I was back on terra firma. I’m sure it’s because each of them were part of the journey to now. Last night I'd got away from the moment and they brought me back to it.
We all exist here in this unstoppable march of time and we all have to face it, and most of us deal with loss when it happens and maybe we don’t get over it but we learn to move on and to be happy again even if there is a new hole in the family’s fabric. But then again, isn't the fabric richer and more beautiful for that person having been a part of it?
The fabric is precious and beautiful and it’s all any of us has. And I’m not that articulate, but I’m sure it’s pretty much the point of it all.
Believe in yourself and believe in love. Love something. We’ve got to learn to love something deeply. I think it’s love. It sounds sentimental as hell, but I really think it is. To paint a leaf, or a twig, or a piece of dung from a horse, it doesn’t matter; the shadow it casts can be wonderful.
Andrew Wyeth (the Wisdom project)
It’s thunder storming now. I’m glad my windows are sheltered because I’ve got them open wide to let in the smell and sounds of the rain hitting the street.
The thunder storm seems an appropriate accompaniment to what I’m thinking: that my life is continuing to shift around, shaken out of several years of a schedule, daily habits, complacency at the office. Yeah, me and my life are still adjusting to the new job and the new schedule; but we’re happy.
I couldn’t have imagined just how much the chopping out of two hours of daily travel would change that life, but the sense of relief as I put on my walking shoes every morning and afternoon – where less than two weeks ago I was moving amongst underground crowds and squishing onto trains and streetcars and buses – is palpable. And relief is the right word. Now going to and from work, it’s head up and smiling, taking my time getting home, walking different routes each day because that extra two hours seems like all the time in the world. Then, getting home and making dinner, deliberately and with pleasure, framed around an “I feel like eating this” instead of “I’m tired and starving and need something fast.”
Me and life are shifting around the job itself, too. New people, new ways of doing things, new ‘tools’ with which to do them; if starting a new job is less daunting than it was when I was younger, it’s no less consuming. I’m learning an industry I knew nothing about; reading and trying to grasp a lay person’s understanding of it at the same time I’m getting assignments to write about it. Well I guess is still rather daunting. But it’s all good. I feel supported and welcomed in my new gig, and I look forward to making my new job my own.
And then there’s summer. She’s a shy visitor this year – sticking her nose in the door a few times only to creep back out again. Mostly the last few weeks have been lovely, as summer came in, relaxed and kicked her shoes off. Especially over the weekend.
As did I. I’m finding it really hard to stay in.
And so I continue to be preoccupied by the shifting around of me and my life. But I’m starting to get my mind wrapped around all the change and new learning; thanks, I think, to the warm days and evenings calling me outside, telling me as only warm days and evenings do, to slow down and breathe.
At night I walk; when the changing air throws the smell of the lake across the road and into my windows. That same smell welcomes me home as I walk down into my street and it gives me comfort amidst the ruckus of the streetcars sailing by. Streetcars that I don’t have to worry about catching.
The smell of water, whether falling out of the sky or wafting off a lake – beautiful thing number forty-five.
I really dig some of the philosophies explored by the literary sets of the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly transcendentalism and romanticism. I absolutely subscribe to the notion that the individual locates any true spiritual experience within the self and experience, and that doctrines borne in religious or political establishments were not intended for the benefit of someone like me. I don't see how that has to be so far off from the general message promoted by every one of those doctrines, but then again, everything can be twisted around to say something else.
No doubt my arrival in the 20th century – starting in the sixties and coming of age in the seventies – has something to do with that questioning of establishments in general. But it's more than being anti-establishiment. It's about transformation; about finding those things that elevate my experience from its earthly hangout.
Sometime in the nineties, one of my more esteemed English professors, Eugene McNamara, was lecturing about one of the harbingers of transcendentalism and preeminent orators of his time, Ralph Waldo Emerson. He suggested that ol’ R.W. would not much appreciate finding his essays chopped up into quotes on fridge magnets and stationery on drug store shelves. I recall reaching into my bag and pulling out a small datebook and showing my friend Dale in the next seat the Emerson quote providing insight for the month of March.
I suppose Emerson didn’t anticipate the reduced attention spans of those who would inhabit the twenty-twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I'm afraid we like our ideas succinct.
But I sure would have loved to hear him express this [not succinct] idea aloud in a talk about living a successful life:
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson might hate it, but let's call him and his really big ideas beautiful thing number 44.
What if our religion was each other
If our practice was our life
If prayer our words
What if the temple was the Earth
If forests were our church
If holy water – the rivers, lakes and ocean
What if meditation was our relationships
If the teacher was life
If wisdom was self-knowledge
If love was the centre of our being
That, my friends, is the most beautiful thing I read all day, and thing number 26 of 101.
In the wake of the horrible happenings in Japan this week and a string of other recent natural disasters affecting New Zealand and Australia, this webcam of newly hatched hummingbirds reminds us of nature's resilience and brings some sense of hope, doesn't it?
Life continuing on in spite of it all: beautiful thing number twenty three.
To watch the live webcam, click here. (Subject to local daylight, and the period of time the fledglings live 'at home' in the nest.)
Other video preserved video on YouTube:
The gruff, drawly voice of one of my oldest and dearest friends, which I haven’t heard in at least five years, growling “Jenn-i-ferrr” when I picked up the phone the other day, was one of the most beautiful things I’d heard in a long time.
This week I’m staying at my cousin’s, caring for her son and dog. I feel as if I’m suspended outside my life, half living it, half living someone else’s. As I float here I reach toward those things that are mine – the activities that occupy me, my daily things that are normally at hand and now yesterday’s conveniences, and they suck back away from me like they might in a dream. As I fumble along through another person’s household, keeping another person’s life turning around through a week, my own life hangs out there in my consciousness – just out of reach. This week is like a merry-go-round that is just not going to stop until it’s ready; steady, slow, jerking, screeching around that turn again and again. And this part again – morning. The dog. The kid will need waking. Breakfast. Fit me in there between the kafuffle of the morning – waiting out in that hallway just there. No, out beyond the porch. My life is hanging just beyond in foggy images – luring me forward like a carrot on a stick.