If your everyday life seems poor to you, do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon up its riches; since for the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place. ― Rainer Maria Rilke
Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. ~Mary Oliver
As a child, I would sometimes spend long rainy afternoons languishing on the couch, complaining to my mother how boring life was.
Her typical response was to remind me my boredom said more about me than about life– I became the accused, rather than the accuser, failing to summon up life’s riches.
Thus convicted, my sentence followed: she would promptly give me chores to do. I learned not to voice my complaints about how boring life seemed, because it always meant work.
Some things haven’t changed, even fifty-some years later. Whenever I am tempted to feel frustrated or pitiful or bored, accusing my life of being poor or unfair, I need to remember what that says about me. If I’m not poet enough to recognize the Creator’s brilliance in every slant of light or every molecule, then it is my poverty I’m accusing, not His.
So – back to the work of paying attention and being astonished. There is a life to be lived and almost always something to say about it.
A silence slipping around like death, Yet chased by a whisper, a sigh, a breath, One group of trees, lean, naked and cold, Inking their crest ‘gainst a sky green-gold, One path that knows where the corn flowers were; Lonely, apart, unyielding, one fir; And over it softly leaning down, One star that I loved ere the fields went brown. ~Angelina Weld Grimke “A Winter Twilight”
I am astonished at my thirstiness slaked by such simple things as a moment of pink, a burst of birdsong, a cat balancing on a fence rail, a focal fir that stands unyielding on a hill top, a glimpse of tomorrow over the horizon of today.
When I lay these questions before God I get no answer.
But a rather special sort of “No answer.”
It is not the locked door.
It is more like a silent,
certainly not uncompassionate,
As though he shook his head not in refusal but waiving the question.
Like, “Peace, child; you don’t understand.”
Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable?
Quite easily, I should think.
All nonsense questions are unanswerable.
How many hours are there in a mile?
Is yellow square or round?
Probably half the questions we ask –
half our great theological and metaphysical problems –
are like that. ~C.S. Lewis from A Grief Observed
I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. ~C.S. Lewis from Till We Have Faces
And now brothers, I will ask you a terrible question, and God knows I ask it also of myself. Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him the only life?
~Frederich Buechner from The Magnificent Defeat
And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?” ~Mary Oliver from Long Life
Some mornings it is impossible to stay a silent observer of the world. I demand answers to the unanswerable.
Overnight, wind and rain have pulled down nearly every leaf, the ground carpeted with the dying evidence of last spring’s rebirth, dropping temperatures robing the surrounding foothills and peaks in a bright new snow covering.
There can be no complacency in witnessing life in progress.
It blusters, rips, drenches, encompasses, buries.
Nothing remains as it was.
And here I am, alive.
Called to comment.
Dying to hear a response.
Vast whisp-whisp of wingbeats awakens me and I look up at a minute-long string of black geese’ following low past the moon the white course of the snow-covered river and by the way thank You for keeping Your face hidden, I can hardly bear the beauty of this world ~Franz Wright from “Cloudless Snowfall”
A psalm of geese labours overland
cajoling each other near half…
The din grew immense. No need to look up.
All you had to do was sit in the sound
and put it down as best you could…
It’s not a lonesome sound but a panic,
a calling out to the others to see if they’re there;
it’s not the lung-full thrust of the prong of arrival in late October; not the slow togetherness
of the shape they take on the empty land on the days before Christmas:
this is different, this is a broken family, the young go the wrong way,
then at daybreak, rise up and follow their elders again filled with dread, at the returning sound of the journey ahead. ~Dermot Healy from A Fool’s Errand
We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house. ~Annie Dillard from The Meaning of Life edited by David Friend
I am overwhelmed by the amount of “noticing” I need to do in the course of my work. Each patient, and there are so many, deserves my full attention for the few minutes we are together. I start my clinical evaluation the minute I walk in the exam room and begin taking in all the complex verbal and non-verbal clues offered by another human being.
How are they calling out to me as they keep their faces hidden?
What someone tells me about what they are feeling may not always match what I notice: the trembling hands, the pale skin color, the deep sigh, the scars of self injury. I am their audience and a witness to their struggle; even more, I must understand it in order to best assist them. My brain must rise to the occasion of taking in another person, offering them the gift of being noticed and being there for them, just them.
This work I do is distinctly a form of praise: the patient is the universe for a few moments and I’m grateful to be watching and listening. When my patient calls out to me, may they never feel they are playing to an empty house. May I always look for the beauty in their hidden faces.
These sudden ends of time must give us pause. We fray into the future, rarely wrought Save in the tapestries of afterthought. More time, more time. ~Richard Wilbur from “Year’s End”
For some time I thought there was time and that there would always be time for what I had a mind to do and what I could imagine going back to and finding it as I had found it the first time but by this time I do not know what I thought when I thought back then
there is no time yet it grows less there is the sound of rain at night arriving unknown in the leaves once without before or after then I hear the thrush waking at daybreak singing the new song ~W.S.Merwin “The New Song”
Time sweeps me along,
takes me where it wishes,
even gets the better of me
until I clutch it for a moment
to see and hear and hold it close
to never forget~~
the multi-faceted tapestry of the past
fraying into the future
forever restless, time escapes my grasp
and so it shall ever be.