Somedays, figuring out what the day had to say is like putting together a puzzle or breaking a code. Sometimes, on days like today, assembly is not required, only watching and listening, the way you watch a sunset or listen to a mourning dove.
I learned something new today: NPR picks a Song of the Day on their web site. I found some wonderful things, but none more enchanting than the song for today, “All the Time in the World” by Gregson and Collister. It is a beautiful and melancholy story of the ending of a relationship, What’s amazing about it is it was recorded live over twenty years ago on an impulse and is just now making its reissue on CD. I’d never heard of the two singers before (my loss) and did not recognize much about them other than they were proteges of Richard Thompson. (Here’s a wonderful interview with him, including a Britney Spears cover.) The song captures a moment of magic in a night full of possibilities that were never fully birthed.
One of my other almost daily stops is one I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions: The Writer’s Almanac, Garrison Keillor’s daily dose of poetry and interesting historical tidbits, which I turned to tonight after hearing the song. Today’s poem by Deborah Cummins describes a grown child looking at a picture of her mother before she was married and realizing she could have lived another life — perhaps one happier and less painful than the one she did live.
My mother, 18, the summer before she married,
lounges belly-down in the sun,
books and grass all around, her head on her hands
propped at a jaunty angle.
She smiles in a way I’ve never seen
at something beyond the camera.
This photograph I come back to again and again
invites me to re-write her life.
I keep resisting, certain
I’d have no part in it, her first born
though not exactly. A boy first,
two months premature, my brother
who lived three days, was buried in a coffin
my father carried. “The size of a shoe box,”
he said, the one time he spoke of it.
And my mother, too, offered only once
that she was pregnant and so they married.
Drawn to this saw-edged snapshot,
I’m almost convinced to put her in art school.
Single, she’d have a job in the city,
wouldn’t marry. There’d be no children
if that would make her this happy.
But I’m not that unselfish, or stupid.
And what then, too, of my beloved sister,
her son I adore?
So let me just move her honeymoon
from the Wisconsin Dells to the Caribbean.
Let the occasional vacation in a Saugatuck cabin
be exactly what she wanted. The house
she so loved she won’t have to sell.
Winters, there’s enough money to pay the bills.
There are no cigarettes, no stroke, no paralysis.
Her right hand lifts a spoon from a bowl
as easily as if it were a sable-hair brush
to an empty canvas.
And the grass that summer day
on the cusp of another life
is thick, newly mown, fragrant.
In the historical notes that follow, Keillor points out that today is the birthday of Vaclav Havel, the Czech poet and playwright who became president of his country and who is one of my political heroes right up there with folks like Mandela and King. A couple of clicks later and I came across these words of his from a speech entitled, “The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World.”
Yes, the only real hope of people today is probably a renewal of our certainty that we are rooted in the earth and, at the same time, in the cosmos. This awareness endows us with the capacity for self-transcendence. Politicians at international forums may reiterate a thousand times that the basis of the new world order must be universal respects for human rights, but it will mean nothing as long as this imperative does not derive from the respect of the miracle of Being, the miracle of the universe, the miracle of nature, the miracle of our own existence. Only someone who submits to the authority of the universal order and of creation, who values the right to be a part of it and a participant in it, can genuinely value himself and his neighbors, and thus honor their rights as well.
It logically follows that, in today’s multicultural world, the truly reliable path to coexistence, to peaceful coexistence and creative cooperation, must start from what is at the root of all cultures and what lies infinitely deeper in human hearts and minds than political opinion, convictions, antipathies, or sympathies – it must be rooted in self-transcendence:
- Transcendence as a hand reached out to those close to us, to foreigners, to the human community, to all living creatures, to nature, to the universe.
- Transcendence as a deeply and joyously experienced need to be in harmony even with what we ourselves are not, what we do not understand, what seems distant from us in time and space, but with which we are nevertheless mysteriously linked because, together with us, all this constitutes a single world.
- Transcendence as the only real alternative to extinction.
The Declaration of Independence states that the Creator gave man the right to liberty. It seems [one] can realize that liberty only if he [or she] does not forget the One who endowed him [or her] with it.
I went to get something out of the car tonight after supper and the night sky took my breath away. The clouds that came in this afternoon were rolling back like the ceiling on a giant stadium and the moon was already shining through the quickly dissipating veil. On the clear side of the sky, the stars shone in formation, marking the night as they do every evening. All I could think about was Psalm 8, which is Ginger’s text for Sunday:
I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,
your handmade sky-jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us?
Why take a second look our way? (The Message)
Yes, there is a real alternative to extinction.