Lest We Forget

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Let me remember you, voices of little insects, 
Weeds in the moonlight, fields that are tangled with asters, 
Let me remember, soon will the winter be on us, 
Snow-hushed and heavy. 
Over my soul murmur your mute benediction, 
While I gaze, O fields that rest after harvest, 
As those who part look long in the eyes they lean to, 
Lest they forget them.
~Sara Teasdale from “September Midnight”
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If I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again:
Men have forgotten God.
~Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn from his 1983 acceptance speech for the Templeton Prize
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Lest I forget…

I look long in the eyes I lean to

whether loved one, or mountains,  or garden, or flower

or the face of God Himself.

I cannot risk forgetting what must be remembered — encased in my heart
like a treasured photograph, like a precious gem, like a benediction that soothes me quiet when anxious.
It is His ultimate promise: He won’t forget me either –
looking long in my eyes that lean in to Him.
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How Light Transfigures

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A sudden light transfigures a trivial thing,
a weather-vane,
a wind-mill,
a winnowing flail,
the dust in the barn door;
a moment,
– -and the thing has vanished, because it was pure effect;
but it leaves a relish behind it,
a longing that the accident may happen again.

~Walter Pater from “The Renaissance”

 

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The accident of light does happen, again and again, but when I least expect it.  If I’m not ready for it, in a blink, it can be gone.

Yet in that moment, everything is changed and transformed forever.  The thing itself, trivial and transient becomes something other, merely because of how it is illuminated.

So am I, trivial and transient, lit from outside myself with a light that ignites within. I’m transfigured by a love and sacrifice unexpected and undeserved.

I need to be ready for it.

 

 

 

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The Vague Sweetness of Sloth

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Broad August burns in milky skies,
The world is blanched with hazy heat;
The vast green pasture, even, lies
Too hot and bright for eyes and feet.

Amid the grassy levels rears
The sycamore against the sun
The dark boughs of a hundred years,
The emerald foliage of one.

Lulled in a dream of shade and sheen,
Within the clement twilight thrown
By that great cloud of floating green,
A horse is standing, still as stone.

He stirs nor head nor hoof, although
The grass is fresh beneath the branch;
His tail alone swings to and fro
In graceful curves from haunch to haunch.

He stands quite lost, indifferent
To rack or pasture, trace or rein;
He feels the vaguely sweet content
Of perfect sloth in limb and brain.
~William Canton “Standing Still”

 

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I admit I flunked sloth long ago.  Perhaps I was born driven.  My older sister, not a morning person, was annoyed that even as a toddler I awoke chirpy and cheerful, singing to myself and ready to conquer the day.

I can’t say that is still the case but it’s close and still annoying to those who have to put up with me.

Even so, I’m not immune to the attractions of a hot hazy day of doing absolutely nothing but standing still switching flies. I envy our retired ponies in the pasture who spend the day grazing, moseying, and lazing because … I work hard to make that life possible for them.

August was invented for lulling about.  Maybe if I try hard enough, I’ll get a passing grade.

 

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Stop and Do Nothing For A While

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You see them on porches and on lawns
down by the lakeside,
usually arranged in pairs implying a couple

who might sit there and look out
at the water or the big shade trees.
The trouble is you never see anyone

sitting in these forlorn chairs
though at one time it must have seemed
a good place to stop and do nothing for a while.

Sometimes there is a little table
between the chairs where no one
is resting a glass or placing a book facedown.

It may not be any of my business,
but let us suppose one day
that everyone who placed those vacant chairs

on a veranda or a dock sat down in them
if only for the sake of remembering
what it was they thought deserved

to be viewed from two chairs,
side by side with a table in between.
The clouds are high and massive on that day.

The woman looks up from her book.
The man takes a sip of his drink.
Then there is only the sound of their looking,

the lapping of lake water, and a call of one bird
then another, cries of joy or warning—
it passes the time to wonder which.
~Billy Collins “The Chairs That No One Sits In”  from Aimless Love

 

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I don’t take enough time
to do nothing.

I think about doing nothing all the time
but then do nothing about it.

Too many lonely benches
too many empty chairs
too many vistas unappreciated
that deserve the sound of my looking.

Maybe today.
Maybe, just maybe.

 

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The Presence of Stillness

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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” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

 

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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.

 

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Lifting a Veil of Gauze

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Veil after veil of thin dusky gauze is lifted, 
and by degrees 
the forms and colours of things are restored to them, 
and we watch the dawn 
remaking the world in its antique pattern.
~Oscar Wilde from The Picture of Dorian Gray

 

 

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Dawn is the time when nothing breathes, the hour of silence. 
Everything is transfixed, only the light moves.
~Leonora Carrington from The Hearing Trumpet

 

 

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Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world,
and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.

~Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

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Too much of my life is lived behind a gauzy veil, hiding my face and feelings so my flaws and foibles are not so obvious to the world.

Yet God lifts my veil as a groom does his bride’s;  He reminds me I’m made in His image and He wants to see me wholly to make me holy.

Just as the dawn restores with light what has dwelled in darkness, God removes our shroud of hiddenness to tell us: “You, my child, are beautiful because I made you.”

 

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When Flesh and Heart Shall Fail

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(Ten years ago this week, this healthy young college student came to our clinic stricken with seasonal influenza complicated by pneumonia.  His family gave permission for his story to be told.)

 

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Nothing was helping.  Everything had been tried for a week of the most intensive critical care possible.  A twenty year old man, completely healthy only two weeks previously, was dying and nothing could stop it.

The battle against a sudden MRSA pneumonia precipitated by a routine seasonal influenza had been lost.   Despite aggressive hemodynamic, antibiotic, antiviral and ventilator management, he was becoming more hypoxic and his renal function was deteriorating.  He had been unresponsive for most of the week.

The intensivist looked weary and defeated. The nurses were staring at their laps, unable to look up, their eyes tearing. The hospital chaplain reached out to hold this young man’s mother’s shaking hands.

After a week of heroic effort and treatment, there was now clarity about the next step.

Two hours later, a group gathered in the waiting room outside the ICU doors. The average age was about 21; they assisted each other in tying on the gowns over their clothing, distributed gloves and masks. Together, holding each other up, they waited for the signal to gather in his room after the ventilator had been removed and he was breathing without assistance. They entered and gathered around his bed.

He was ravaged by this sudden illness, his strong body beaten and giving up. His breathing was now ragged and irregular, sedation preventing response but not necessarily preventing awareness. He was surrounded by silence as each individual who had known and loved him struggled with the knowledge that this was the final goodbye.

His father approached the head of the bed and put his hands on his boy’s forehead and cheek.  He held this young man’s face tenderly, bowing in silent prayer and then murmuring words of comfort:

It is okay to let go. It is okay to leave us now.
We will see you again. We’ll meet again.
We’ll know where you will be.

His mother stood alongside, rubbing her son’s arms, gazing into his face as he slowly slowly slipped away. His father began humming, indistinguishable notes initially, just low sounds coming from a deep well of anguish and loss.

As the son’s breaths spaced farther apart, his dad’s hummed song became recognizable as the hymn of praise by John Newton, Amazing Grace.  The words started to form around the notes. At first his dad was singing alone, giving this gift to his son as he passed, and then his mom joined in as well. His sisters wept. His friends didn’t know all the words but tried to sing through their tears. The chaplain helped when we stumbled, not knowing if we were getting it right, not ever having done anything like this before.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

And he left us.

His mom hugged each sobbing person there–the young friends, the nurses, the doctors humbled by powerful pathogens. She thanked each one for being present for his death, for their vigil kept through the week in the hospital.

This young man, now lost to this life, had profoundly touched people in a way he could not have ever predicted or expected. His parents’ grief, so gracious and giving to the young people who had never confronted death before, remains unforgettable.

This was their sacred gift to their son so Grace will lead us home.

 

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