The ghosts swarm. They speak as one person. Each loves you. Each has left something undone.
Today’s edges are so sharp
they might cut anything that moved. ~Rae Armantrout from “Unbidden”
The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are… Here is the world.
Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.
I am with you.
~Frederick Buechner in “Wishful Thinking and later” in Beyond Words
Seventeen years ago
a day started with bright sun above
and ended in tears and bloodshed below.
It is a day for recollection;
we live out remembrance
with weeping eyes open,
yet close our eyelids
to the red that flowed that day.
The day’s edges were so sharp
we all bled and still bear the scars.
… if you ran, time ran. You yelled and screamed and raced and rolled and tumbled and all of a sudden the sun was gone and the whistle was blowing and you were on your long way home to supper. When you weren’t looking, the sun got around behind you! The only way to keep things slow was to watch everything and do nothing! You could stretch a day to three days, sure, just by watching! ~Ray Bradbury from Dandelion Wine
Late summer is a time to slow down and just watch, to stretch the days out as long as possible.
I have a tendency to race through the hours granted to me, heedless of the sun settling low behind me; I don’t want to surrender the day to the advancing march of darkness.
So I choose for now to be observer and recorder rather than runner and racer, each moment preserved like so many jars of sweet jam on a pantry shelf.
The sun may be setting, but I want it to take its time.
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the green heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. ~Wendell Berry “The Peace of Wild Things” fromThe Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
When our young grandchild visits
and I watch her discover
the joys and sorrows of this world,
I remember there is light beyond the darkness we feel,
there is peace amid the chaos,
there is a smile behind the tears,
there is stillness within the noisiness,
there is grace as old gives way to new.
A pass of the blade leaves behind
rough stems, a blunt cut field of
paths through naked slopes and
bristly contoured hollows.
Once swept and stored, the hay is
baled for a future day, and grass’ deep roots
yield newly tender growth, tempted forth
by warmth and summer rain.
A full grassy beard sprouts
lush again, to obscure the landscape
rise and fall, conceal each molehill,
pothole, ditch and burrow.
I trace this burgeoning stubble with gentle touch,
fingertips graze the rise of cheek, the curve of upper lip
and indent of dimpled chin with long-healed scar, the stalwart jaw,
a terrain oh so familiar that it welcomes me back home.
The frugal snail, with forecast of repose, Carries his house with him where’er he goes; Peeps out,—and if there comes a shower of rain, Retreats to his small domicile again. Touch but a tip of him, a horn, – ’tis well, – He curls up in his sanctuary shell. He’s his own landlord, his own tenant; stay Long as he will, he dreads no Quarter Day. Himself he boards and lodges; both invites And feasts himself; sleeps with himself o’ nights. He spares the upholsterer trouble to procure Chattels; himself is his own furniture, And his sole riches. Wheresoe’er he roam, – Knock when you will, – he ’s sure to be at home. ~Charles Lamb — “The Housekeeper”
I like to think of myself as carefully self-contained and safe from whatever threatens – not dependent on others, able to bear my own burdens, completely sufficient unto today.
The reality is far different. As sturdy and solid as I may seem on the outside, I’m nothing but soft and a bit mushy on the inside. And I have a tendency to retreat and hide inside my shell when the going gets rough.
Yet even shells can and will be broken. I know it’s my home only for a little while.
So knock when you will: I’ll be here.
For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Hebrews 13:14
I find my greatest freedom on the farm.
I can be a bad farmer or a lazy farmer and it’s my own business.
A definition of freedom:
It’s being easy in your harness. ~Robert Frost in 1954, at a news conference on the eve of his 80th birthday
The past was faded like a dream; There come the jingling of a team, A ploughman’s voice, a clink of chain, Slow hoofs, and harness under strain. Up the slow slope a team came bowing, Old Callow at his autumn ploughing, Old Callow, stooped above the hales, Ploughing the stubble into wales. His grave eyes looking straight ahead, Shearing a long straight furrow red; His plough-foot high to give it earth To bring new food for men to birth.
O wet red swathe of earth laid bare, O truth, O strength, O gleaming share, O patient eyes that watch the goal, O ploughman of the sinner’s soul. O Jesus, drive the coulter deep To plough my living man from sleep…
At top of rise the plough team stopped, The fore-horse bent his head and cropped. Then the chains chack, the brasses jingle, The lean reins gather through the cringle, The figures move against the sky, The clay wave breaks as they go by. I kneeled there in the muddy fallow, I knew that Christ was there with Callow, That Christ was standing there with me, That Christ had taught me what to be, That I should plough, and as I ploughed My Saviour Christ would sing aloud, And as I drove the clods apart Christ would be ploughing in my heart, Through rest-harrow and bitter roots, Through all my bad life’s rotten fruits.
As happens every day, as she sang to me, her arm reached past my perch through the open cage door, to pour fresh water in my bowl. Just beyond her, overhead near the barn, were clusters of glistening red cherries bouncing in invitation in the morning breeze.
So I heeded, flapping clumsily over her arm as she spilled the water, her mouth an “O”.
I escaped my cage, my first time flying more than a few feet, awkward and careening. I made it to a high branch and grabbed hold tightly, staring down at her asking me to come back. Instead I listened to the cherries next to me, their sweet song of red juice pouring over the sides of my beak.
I ate more than my fill of freedom.
When the breeze picked up in the darkening hours, I missed the comfort of my indoor loft nest lined with cedar shavings and horse hair, with snug walls where I have spent many wintry nights, and soft summer twilights. My mournful evening anthem was hushed by the wing swoop overhead of a clicking owl, anxious for dinner. I listened to the chorus of coyotes nearby and tucked my head in fear, with no wire enclosure to protect me. I fell silent, barely sleeping.
At dawn, she found me picking at cat food in the dish near the back porch, with an ancient feline crouched a few feet away, tail twitching, ready for instant breakfast. I fluttered off, returning to relative safety of the orchard treetops, alert for hawks. For two days I explored the trees surrounding my little home, its door still open as a standing invitation. She filled my water bowl and brought my seeds just as she always did, singing. I listened carefully to the familiar tune, twisting my neck one way and then another to hear her better.
The cherry song no longer seemed as sweet.
The next morning, she found me in my little nest inside my dove house, the door still wide open. She filled my bowl with fresh water and brought me new seeds, closed the door, latching it snug and safe.
The cherries still beckoned but not to me.
Today, joyful at dawn, I woke her with my mourning song.