Remembering What Matters
The velocity of events in our public life feels like a low-grade form of violence some days. I notice this when I am alone, in the early morning, on walks in my neighborhood or writing in my journal. Then, I become aware of how defended I am, ready for the next blow. Without my wishing or willing it, my better, deeper capacities for empathy and insight have gone into hiding.
How much of our life is lived like this?
Last Sunday was a time to look again. It had snowed during the night. The roads were wet, the skies low and very dark, when I set out. Crows darted out of trees, sharing a secret.
The week had delivered its payload of appalling accusations, rebuffs, and retreats on the part of our so-called leaders, with no sign of any accountability in sight.
As I walked, I began to think about how this works on us. What seems to happen is that moral repugnance festers. It takes on a life of its own. We get caught up in argument, labyrinths of justification. The urge to have the last word. And reaction robs the essential self of its freedom.
The price is a blindness to my own heart, a total white-out of what’s Real, what is right before my eyes.
It wasn’t yet 7. I walked past the local hospital, down a street of few structures, a farm, and a nursing home. I enjoy walking the grounds of the nursing home – the “Independent Living Facility” — because they back into woods, and sometimes I see deer, or rabbits, or hawks and remember the existence of all that doesn’t participate in our sorry human constructs.
This morning, I happened to look up at the five-story high complex, where the residents’ windows were still dark and sleep still held peaceful sway. Directly in front of me, on the fourth floor, a reading lamp was on. By its light, I saw an old man, alone, bent over a book.
I wanted to believe that he was reading Scripture, or poetry. His intent gaze and bent head had something of reverence to it. In a grey dawn, in his dwindling days, he sat studying the mystery of his life’s journey. Its wonder and magnitude.
There is, still, this, I realized. This is still available to us. Reverence, wonder, a kindness of the self to the self. How could I have forgotten so completely that it is this that we most profoundly need?
Then I noticed the black women who were driving round to the back of the facility. Women who had left their families on a Sunday morning to start their work days, tending to these frail lives. They park at the rear and enter through the service door. They prepare to be the face of kindness and hope for another day.
We need these glimpses of our better selves, every day, not just on Sundays. Especially now. Go out and look for crows. Embrace rainy mornings. Take solitary walks. Thank your chances to be with children, and to observe the slow unfolding of the daffodils.