Wednesday, October 23, 2013

the world spins

It gets to a point where so much matters so much that nothing seems to matter at all. It’s not that it doesn’t matter any more, but one ceases to consider its mattering in a way that could possibly matter.

I took a class in college called Contemporary World Affairs. Professor Frank wanted to challenge our young minds past the soft white light of our existence in that small Christian college on the affluent north shore of Chicago. During that semester Haldeman, Erlichman and Mitchell were convicted and sentenced to prison, the grizzly bear was declared a threatened species, and thousands of Vietnamese refugees fled from Quang Ngai province. We had to report on something in the news every week. After class one day I told Dr. Frank that I was getting overwhelmed by it all and felt that one person couldn’t make a difference.

Was I feeling sorry for myself? I knew that my existence was privileged, and I had nothing to complain about. But a human being wants to do something, fix something when it’s wrong. When the wrongness takes control, victimhood extends even to the comfortable.

But I was on the wrong track. I listen to myself feeling sorry for myself then, when I believed I was truly sorry for someone else. Yet I joined the ranks of the informed-without-change. Like a sandpiper living at the edge of the shore, I picked at meaning for daily sustenance and have done so ever since. There were times I dove in and went to great lengths to be part of change. But I hit a wall of my own discomfort and turned back.

I have asked myself, how is Wendell Berry one of the biggest influencers of environmental activism, yet he does not own a computer? He pushes a plow behind a horse to cultivate his land. He works health into and out of the soil for the long haul. In some way he is timeless, yet everything I have read of or about Berry has been on a computer. In fact, most of what I learn about the world is washed ashore right here in my lap, and I am frantically skittering through the surf with fingers and eyes picking at meaning to gobble up.

My professor wanted me to be informed. Gradually, exponentially even in the nearly 40 years since my college class, we have become the most informed human beings in the history of the planet. What has this done for the planet?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

forever — is composed of nows —

I've just listened to artists describe what they have created out of inspiration from Emily Dickinson's poetry. I think of her, writing in solitude and isolation, and what this meant to, and for, her. I think of what we try to say, with difficulty, but are still compelled to say. Just as life goes on birthing life, we've no idea how this works, really, but it does, and it must.

Words pencil-written
to the very edge
of an envelope 
veins in a leaf
pointing to the bright
rim at leaf’s edge —
that green life
not ending but giving
its own light to the air 

Title is from Dickinson's poem.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

smaller still

Who is to say what a human being
should take from this world?

This as I sit in a tiny cottage
on a weekend getaway with my husband
on rolling hills, in mist. Ground
growth is green and wet,
cut stubble golden, trees
orange, yellow and tawny.
Farm buildings unpainted, weathered black.
The big lake a mile away, sapphire
at the horizon, turquoise to the sandbar,
silver and clear where waves
fold over the shore’s stones
like tattered lace curtains, blowing.

Enormous summer homes
dwarf the narrow snaking road
through trees along the lake.
They, too, are built from
small stones.

We wonder
at ourselves
and why we don’t live
smaller still than this.