Kathleen Hirsch | Imagination
Writing and musings by author Kathleen Hirsch.
kathleen hirsch, writer, spiritual director, boston, ma, spiritual writing
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Imagination

On Election Eve: The Tree of This Moment

Tonight I will bake apples, light candles, break bread, knowing that this tree, this day, will never be repeated.  Alongside our anxious hearts, our canvassing and postings, our prayers, miracles not to be believed flare into the cracks of our man-made world.

Things not to be believed stop for just an instant the sound tracks of our heavy hearts.

Believe.  Imagine.  Tomorrow we will need both.

Burning Bush

 

Today at dusk red tongues

appear along the dripping boughs

so vivid that

even I, in my distraction

am forced

to stop.  Here you are

in a burning bush

at the edge of a park at rush hour.

Horns, and hankering for a drink,

an end to measured day,

the yen for something more.

 

Precisely, you, where I least expect you,

tethered strength

in a wandering time.

Here on a dying day

at the dawn of a dying season

you offer

a scrap of scripture

such as I found at every turn

in childhood,

a robin, a green frog, the crook of an elm

in which hide with a book.

 

Here you are

beyond the carnival

of cant and apprehensions,

abiding in the old story,

stopping us in our tracks,

that we might wake

to the real life around us,

see past our present doubts

the voice of truth,

a quiet flame, calling.

 

Guides for a Dark Time

Guides are good.  I learned this when I was nine, lost in a downpour in the southern hills of New York State.  Were it not for one counselor, and her confidence in the few   green blazes barely visible through the drenched woods, I would be tramping still.

I am rereading May Sarton’s journal, At Seventy.  Her almost religious devotion to her annuals garden and the daily reinforcements that arrived in spring for her to plant, would make a green thumb out of an armadillo.  Her labors, punctuated by asides from Emerson, Virginia Woolf, or Camus, is seductive.  Reading it, I want her life, with its stream of visitors, its letters, its amplitudes.

One entry has lingered with me.  Sarton describes a friend just turned fifty as “imaginatively kind.”

The phrase throws a gauntlet to the reader.   Imaginative kindness.  It has an entirely different quality than the ordinary, dutiful, run-of-the-mill.  It is kindness that anticipates.  It strives to go deep towards the well-being of another – looking for occasions for surprise, delight, for hitting the mark, instead of just glancing the periphery.

We know it when we see it.  The considered gift, the innovative reading program, the art class where last year there wasn’t one, using recycled materials.

In these days of disastrously crude public discourse, and the waves of almost equally bad reactions with their rhetoric of accusation, victimhood, and anger, kindness can easily seem too frail and meager a thing to matter.  Care lives in the small details of attention – and who has time for that when the country is imploding?

We do.  And we must.

I cherish the memory of a neighbor’s “imaginative kindness” on a day long ago when, like a scorched-earth patch of earth, I was sorely in need of tending to.   Recently retired, she spent many hours of every day in her extensive gardens, replanting, raking, weeding.  They were so lovely that cars would slow to admire her handiwork.

It was a time in life when I was overwhelmed with child-rearing, more work than I could reasonably manage, and a busy husband.  I had neither the time nor money to do anything about my weed-ridden, depleted yard.  One summer day, without a word, she disappeared into the jungle behind my house with her tools — a rake, an edger, and a hoe — and set to work.  She edged the beds, raked away moss and leaves, pulled out weeds.

I hadn’t realized how low I’d been until I felt the lift of her amazing transformations.  It was as if someone had changed my sheets, opened the windows, and let in a whole new season.  It was a gift, imaginative and incredibly kind.  Easy to say that it didn’t change history, but I disagree.  It changed my day, my month, and probably my year, with its ripples.  It is changing things, even now; like all acts of kindness, it is a gift that keeps on giving.

For her 50-year-old friend, Sarton composed a poem, because her friend’s journey was, she writes, “partly about coming to a place where life has grown more important than ambition…”

I suspect that this is precisely the change required of us if we are to be “imaginatively kind.”  And it is perhaps why such kindness is in such short supply.   Ambition blinds.  It is a distraction that, for years, we mistake for the main event.  Kindness sees.

And seers are the guides we need now.  They aren’t household names, most of them, or people we recognize from the news.  Most of them are poets and gardeners of one ilk or another, pottering away in classrooms or clinics or in forlorn places somewhere very near us, shaping life in a vision of hope for those too burned out or too far underwater to be able to do so for themselves.

It is a good exercise in awareness to think about who these guides have been, or who they may be, in our lives today.  Then to learn from them to slow down and pick up our own rakes or paint brushes, write our own poems, paint our own canvasses, practice a kindness that stretches the frame of us.

 

 

Carte Blanche

A Meditative Summer Find

My friend, the sculptor and paper artist Julie Levesque, has given us a summer gift:  her one-woman show at the Rice/Polak Gallery in Provincetown, MA.

Her quiet, white and shadow pieces, composed of the materials we find around us every day — sand, bits of flown paper, salt and dust — give me pause, which is just what we should be doing before those foggy mornings draw us back to desks and monitors and to-do lists.  The subtle tonal shifts and play of light are as thought-provoking and restorative a walk on the beach at dawn.

Take a virtual look, if you can’t make it to P’town.  It’s worth the time.

http://ricepolakgallery.com/artist/julie-levesque/

Simple Attention

My friend Anne, who lives in South Carolina, recently undertook a major simplification project.  She and her husband downsized from a vast antebellum home in which they’d raised their family to a sleek and simple house on the beach, complete with meditation room and art studio.

Her aim was radical attention.

It took her two years.  But in many ways, I think of it as a project of a lifetime.

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Hidden Away for a Season

This weekend, my street is hosting a yard sale.  Nearly every household up and down the lane is contributing old rockers, and mismatched sets of glasses, mini-fridges and used rugs.  Once this extravaganza of purging is over, most of us will retreat for a season — to lake or simply to our backyards — to weed rows of peas, watch for the red-tailed hawk, read a novel.  We will ease up, even if our lives don’t conform to academic schedules.

I tell friends that once I have submitted my grades and ordered my books for the fall, I look around for the nearest invisibility cloak.  An acquaintance used to refer to her “bubble” — the necessary month of detachment from school friends and gossip and subtle, omnipresent competition, in which she could remember the sound of the ocean, and think long thoughts by herself without smiling into the school years’ endless pick-up lines.

Summer has always promised a hiddenness that I value beyond measure.  In a beautiful new book by the poet, David Whyte, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, the author offers delicious and wise reflections on words we use often without appreciating their laden-ness — the richness of nuance and suggestion that are there for the picking.

In his entry on “Hiddenness,” he writes this:

“We live in a time of the dissected soul, the immediate disclosure; our thoughts, imaginings and longings exposed to the light too much, too early, and too often, our best qualities squeezed too soon into a world already awash with ideas that oppress ours sense of self and ours sense of others.  What is real is almost always to begin with, hidden, and does not want to be understood by the part of our mind that mistakenly thinks it knows what is happening. What is precious inside us doesn’t not care to be known by the ind in ways that diminish its presence.”

To this, I saw, Amen, and thanks.

Beneath the cloak of summer, I plan to let what is real unfold at its own pace.  I invite you to do the same.