The light-hearted, nostalgic post I had written for the second week of January, hoping to ease the sadness of a very limited, lonely Christmas, will not be published after all. It will have to wait for January 2022, when I hope the events and images of the last week will have receded in the rear-view mirror.
Never mind that I don’t want to turn this blog into political commentary. Ignoring recent events in Washington, DC, is impossible. I have, like many of you, no doubt, spent too many hours online, trying to comprehend what was happening on Jan. 6: commentators aplenty have since spoken out; reporters have recorded details; political analysts have weighed in; talk show hosts have called out the willfully blind and the deliberately violent with equal censure; news sites have played videos over and over. There is no need for me to add words to the unspeakable.
Instead, may I share some small moments of beauty and quietness as anchors for sanity?
In between reading Anne Perry’s mystery novels as escape, I have been paying attention to little things: the beauty that can be found in ugliness and ruins; the resilience of growing things, that “force that through the green fuse drives the flower” (Dylan Thomas); the quietness to be found within and from without; glimpses of transcendence in the quotidian. None of which are momentous in themselves – yet they are not nothing.
The tree that graces the beginning of this post has been my computer background since I took its photo in early November. It’s dead, its bark scorched black by fire. Yet its stark lines exude power, as well as silence. It’s exactly the kind of tree that Bill Peet, children’s author and illustrator, would turn into an image of strength, love, and laughter.
Although buildings and railway tracks are inorganic, they can evoke a similar kind of rueful, sad-hopefulness, especially when–as always happens–that indomitable “force” in the “green fuse” takes over the territory again.
Both the railroad track and the former CPR hotel are now mere ruins along good hiking trails. There was a time when the first wealthy tourists were proud to travel there, proud to be the first (in their minds anyway) to be awed by the vast icy expanse of Illecilliwaet Glacier. I do not regret the absence of the hotel; the abundance of wild flowers and grasses that now fill the former foundation are lovely. They testify to their own resilience, growing through whatever obstacles there are, reclaiming their space. I loved them when I took the photos, years ago; now, in the dead of winter (in every sense of the word), they comfort me.
Indoors, my jade plants offer me similar comfort and hope. They remind me that persistence and organic strength does not have to be dramatic. Even barely noticeable will do.
As if I needed yet another lesson from tiny, stubborn growing things, our live Christmas tree, now facing its last days in our house (indeed, it should already have been denuded of its ornaments and banished outside to await recycling) will not give up its fight to live, to be beautiful, to reach out for tomorrow’s light.
And, occasionally, there are the blessed stumbles into thin places, where the reality of this world opens into the weightlessness of knowing – for certain – that this world is not all there is. To become open to those thin places is not necessarily a matter of travel, although some of my profoundest experiences of transcendence have come when I was away from home.
What is required most of all, I think, is silence, and attention, whether the turning away from the fever of activity occurs on vacation, or close to home.
As American novelist Marilynne Robinson wrote, “Wherever you turn your eyes, the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see.” Indeed. A mere afternoon’s walk along the river in Saskatoon was enough to bring stillness.
The basic condition for us to be able to hear the call of beauty and respond to it is silence.”Thich Nhat Hanh
Even that which is broken and dead contributes its pattern of meaning, whether we see it or not.
“In difficult times, carry something beautiful in your heart.”Blaise Pascal