From time to time I will be moving from up-front and present posts to entries from past years that speak to a day, a time, a story to explore, the bones of a poem. Sharing these publicly lets me see them differently, explore the times, places, and people that populate my world, see what’s changed, what’s still or always true. I hope you’ll join a conversation now and then. gh
November 13, 2020 (Oh, my…pre-Covid)
What is at hand? This day. Just this day. This one thing. I sat at my desk, intending to work with words, to write something fine, to make or to edit, and could not. I read the last of the wonderful collection of short stories by Caitlin Hamilton Summie (To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts), followed her gentle weaving of “the story and the other story,” as Tony Earley once described the structure in a workshop. I wept within at the human array of emotions she displayed so truthfully and respectfully, honoring her characters in their angers, confusions, uncertainties, and too-certainties, self-righteousness, guilt. And I napped. I woke after only minutes, as I do, and rose to make tea and attend to some chores while it steeped. Carly fussed to go out; surely not a walk, as we took her for a long one this morning, all necessities accomplished. Yes, however, she required a walk, and as we trotted around the block in the golden mid-afternoon, I thought, “This is right; this is the place to be today. This is what feeds today, heals now; sorts the cross-tangled desires and goals and expectations I’ve been bringing onto the battlefield of my days.
Now I’m sitting on my patio. It’s feeding time for the birds, and they are making test flights to ascertain my trustworthiness. I raise my head. They skitter off the feeder, off the fence, and light in the hemlock and the holly tree, bright berries surely an attraction, too. Carolina wren. Nuthatch. Cardinal. House finch. This is where to be, watching this other life in its many-layered, orchestrated movements. The wood stack stares at me, awaiting its turn of the season, its own transformation, its next mission, just like me. Hosta and creeping Jenny sag with the weight of change, slip, slowing, into earth; the ornamental grasses wave their plumes—perhaps they’ll travel on in another week. This has been a long, warm fall, wet enough for them to flourish and now, to go gracefully. I trust the herbs to keep with me through winter: rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley, lavender—and trust the others to return, come April.
Bless, I whisper, through our collective, shared, conversant heart, those people who grow ill with virus in the interim winter, and those who grieve their losses.
I’m making a catalogue of birds, their colors and stripes and their chirps and songs. I have known them all at times, known them well, when I hiked in their own territories and when I had feeders at a different kitchen window, over the sink, and I named them as they appeared. I’m reminding myself and will pull a chair to the patio door this winter, with a fire in the fireplace to my right, a shelf of books on the table to my left, and take note of the visitors to the one feeder. They seem to love the cover we’ve given them under the holly and the hemlock; yesterday I think I made them nervous. They poked and flitted away, as if on a dare, not lingering to feed. The kitchen window is at a right angle from my sink in this house, but I think I’ll try a shepherd’s crook there if I can fit it in among the machines that warm and cool and the one that measures our water usage. I miss the cardinal appealing to me, wet and disarrayed on snowy days, at my window. We humans crave these connections—to find them, we must look up, look out, even down—but not at our own shoes. There’s so much more to see. Mr. towhee in his tuxedo ruffles the dry fallen leaves. The junco will join him with the first snow.
November 22, 2020—Sunday, a bit of grousing?
I did not go to church today. I’m averaging every two or three weeks. It’s comfortable to stay home in the quiet, in old clothes, taking it easy. So, I ask myself: What am I leaving if I leave my rituals? What am I gaining? The Covid effect gives rise to questions about what is worth giving ourselves to: our hours, our efforts, our precious lives. Religion holds a place, historically, and often for me, as a prime ritual-bearer, but other occupations and duties order my daily living, as well. They make the invisible visible and therefore real to me. Rituals keep me present and attentive on my journey, with a continual probing and developing and practice at accessing my best self as I stumble along. They lead me to my quiet self, the self to whom I am responsible, and the self I believe my particular pursuits require. But what about the accustomed rituals of community? Church. Marriage. Family. Friends. The question of rituals is two-edged. I see that there are personal rituals on an inward path –walking, reading, writing, sitting–and outward rituals, which support home life, friendship, the back-and forth toss of ideas, and people in need, as well as myself in need. These inner and outer practices can overlap, but I get stuck in either-or.
Saying no to community for the sake of the personal is to isolate, to be both self-serving and alone: what is lost is that mutuality of support. Yet, to say yes to the practices of community can limit the practice of personal pursuits that fire the imagination and might produce a word or image that will support, readjust, maybe save, something important on the other side of the silence that formed that word, that image, that story. What is gained by leaving the musts and oughts of the establishment is the possibility of just that. Presence for the thrill of an unexpected electric spark.
A solution? Balance. Courage. Say yes to this, no to that. Save one day for community, one day for friends and service to others. That leaves five days to wander alone in the thickets of my work, in the joy of discovering new ways of looking at the world before my eyes. Up to now I’ve saved mornings for inner life, afternoons for outer life, but haven’t always respected this schedule. Something often “comes up.” Discipline is essential; and isn’t discipline a synonym for ritual? A thing done in the order and way prescribed and established? In the silent, ordinary moments of the rituals of living (showering, grooming the dog, pulling weeds) come the most enticing ideas. And it’s up to me to be present.
I may be adjusting and re-defining my rituals, for I see that they are not meant to be obligations, but without them, at home or abroad, I am no one I recognize.