"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Cyber Monday

Gorgeous hand - crafted card from
my multi - talented sister - in - law Tina

A week ago, I had one of those life - affirming Monday - morning coincidences. You know. The kind that makes you believe in the whole Universe at once . . . that amazes and surprises and suggests a pattern. I was looking at my pre - Thanksgiving "to do" list and decided that even more importantly than grocery shopping and housecleaning, I should finally look up the poem that had been recommended to me several months ago when I was having lunch with a few friends. I googled what I had scribbled on a post - it and discovered this truly transporting poem:

What To Remember When Waking
~by David Whyte (Dec 30, 2013)

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?

At first, I was feeling bad that it had taken me over three months to finally follow - up on this reading suggestion; but then, when I thought about what a perfect poem it was for a Monday morning, and what a perfect poem for Thanksgiving week, it seemed that the delay was meant to be and the poem had come into my life at exactly the right moment.

I knew I should write a note that instant to thank all my lunch companions -- since I couldn't remember which one had recommended the poem back in August. But first I went to run some errands -- and who should I run into but one of those very friends, in the greeting card aisle at CVS! I told her the whole story about the poem, but she was unfamiliar with the author and said she couldn't take credit for the suggestion but would, of course, love to see it. So, as soon as I got home, I sent an email of thanksgiving, including the poem, to the entire group.

As an added bonus coincidence, another friend wrote a week later (yesterday, to be exact) with the perfect message to conclude this anecdote:
"For some reason I’m only seeing this tonight. This is a lovely poem to choose as my Cyber Monday gift for those special to me this season. No deep discounts; just deep gratitude for all my loved ones."
What a beautiful sentiment! And yet another timely coincidence that her viewing was delayed -- as mine had been -- until the very day that she needed to discover this poem!

I particularly love this line for Thanksgiving:

"You are not a troubled guest on this earth . . .
you were invited . . . "

Whyte writes similarly, in his Letter From the House: Autumn/Winter 2017 - 2018:
We are invited into the great sense of the now to understand that we are a living conversation between what we thought was the past and what we could only imagine as the future. We are creatures made to live in all three tenses at once, to hold past, present and future together . . ."
And how about this line for any morning, such as the Monday before Thanksgiving or the Monday after Thanksgiving, when you wake up with a "to - do" list that is already out of control before you even open your eyes:

" . . . there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live. . . . "

Thankfully, Whyte reminds us that relinquishing all -- or at least some -- of our big plans might allow us to intuit the even bigger and better plan that the world has in store for us on any given day.

" . . . a small opening into the new day . . . "

Previously from Tina

My friend Katie also recommended John O'Donohue's interview, "The Inner Landscape of Beauty." Some favorite passages:

Well, I think it makes a huge difference, when you wake in the morning and come out of your house, whether you believe you are walking into dead geographical location, which is used to get to a destination, or whether you are emerging out into a landscape that is just as much, if not more, alive as you, but in a totally different form, and if you go towards it with an open heart and a real, watchful reverence, that you will be absolutely amazed at what it will reveal to you.

But I do think, though, that it’s not just a matter of the outer presence of the landscape. I mean the dawn goes up, and the twilight comes, even in the most roughest inner-city place. And I think that connecting to the elemental can be a way of coming into rhythm with the universe. And I do think that there is a way in which the outer presence, even through memory or imagination, can be brought inward as a sustaining thing.

. . . the world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach. And that’s the mystery of poetry. Poetry tries to draw alongside the mystery as it’s emerging and somehow bring it into presence and into birth.

. . . everyone is involved, whether they like it or not, in the construction of their world. So it’s never as given as it actually looks. You are always shaping it and building it. And I feel that from that perspective, that each of us is an artist.

. . . every night when we sleep, we dream. And a dream is a sophisticated, imaginative text full of figures and drama that we send to ourselves.

. . . there is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there is still a sureness in you, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you.

And the trouble is, though, for so many of us, is that we have to be in trouble before we remember what’s essential.

. . . there is an evacuation of interiority going on in our times . . . there is very little time or attention given to what you could almost call learning the art of inwardness, or a pedagogy of interiority.

[See also "The Wire Brush of Doubt"]

Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, December 14

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Water in Every Wine

Hey Trump, clean up your trash!

You might notice in this photograph that I have cropped out the flag flying above the White House, so you don't have to put your hand over your heart or anything. Just go ahead and take the knee in mourning for the grievous plight of our federal government.

I guess if I'd been feeling more ennobled that day, I could have been a pro - active citizen and picked up the litter myself. Heaven knows I did it plenty of times in Philadelphia, as my family can well attest. But right there in front of the White House, it seemed symbolic, so I just left it lay.

For me, "taking the knee" is a metaphor, a gesture of lament for the deplorable state of our federal government -- not just for professional athletes in the public eye but for all citizens at any time in the privacy of their hearts. I can hardly think of a gesture more respectful than taking the knee -- as in prayer. And not just when the National Anthem plays, but at anytime when things don't seem to be as they should -- such as seeing a pile of nasty litter in front of the White House, or realizing that our elected officials have sold their souls and are not representing our interests.

Maybe we don't even need the anthem at sports games -- we might call them national events, but they're not. The players are paid professionals who work for private clubs. But I digress, my post is not about the NFL. It's about the disgust and sadness that have washed over our country in the Aftermath of last year's Election.

I believe it when my brother Bruce asserts -- much as he did last year -- that "this man has ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE what it means to be president." A president, for example, does not declare: "I'm the only one that matters." As Bruce suggests, "Someone needs to explain our Constitution to the man, explain how divided branches of government work, explain the difference between a president and a despot. Listening to him makes me physically ill. I am ashamed and embarrassed every time I think about him, dishonoring and disgracing the office of the presidency."

I concur.

It has been a year of high blood pressure, attributed by many, including my friend Olynn, to Trump's incivility, cruelty, and inhumanity. It has been a year of daily lies and serious scholars asserting with straight faces that "The right wing’s disregard for facts and reasoning is not a matter of stupidity or lack of education."

Hmmmm. How can this be, unless we are recalibrating what we mean by "stupidity"? Personally, I still consider a "disregard for facts" to be a kind of stupidity. Is that no longer part of the standard definition? Author and psychologist John Ehrenreich insists that he is not condoning "alternative facts," but it sure sounds like he is, leading some of his less astute readers to such inane conclusions as "after all, what is a fact?" or "how do we verify facts?" Verifiable facts may elude the grasp of some, but contrary to popular opinion, they do exist; and to suggest otherwise is just plain embarrassing.


Some Words to the Wise
for these Troubled Times
1. As Oscar, from "The Office" warns us: "It's a very dangerous time. The coalition for reason is extremely weak."

2. As Samuel Beckett observes in his novel Watt: "Times are hard, water in every wine" (27).

3. As Woody Allen cautions: "Mankind is facing a crossroad -- one road leads to despair and utter hopelessness and the other to total extinction -- I sincerely hope you graduates choose the right road."

4. As the school principal tells Billy Madison: "what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

5. As poet Philip Booth reminds us:

As long as you
know you don't know,
not knowing's not
what hurts,

;it's what

you don't know you
don't know that
finally gets
to you, right
in the old
solar plexis.

First Lesson
Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man's float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

I fear it might be true that listening to the political discourse of the current administration has indeed made us all stupider. Thanks to Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and their deplorable retinue, reason is extremely weak in our country now; there is water in every wine; despair, hopelessness, and -- yes -- even extinction are daily concerns. A punch in the gut, a cramp in the heart -- I hope the poet is correct that the sea will hold us up, that we will survive.


One of the Best Antidotes So Far

Also from Philip Booth:
“I think survival is at stake for all of us all the time. . . .
Every poem, every work of art, everything that is well done, well
made, well said, generously given, adds to our chances of survival.”

Which is precisely what this blog strives to provide,
in accordance with Goethe's admonishment:

"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem,
see a fine picture and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words."


In this picture,
later that same day,
our Nation's capital looks as pretty as Paris!

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, November 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading