Our fates entwined, I am carried along her wandering course.
Only the river has changed.
Here, within my canoe, I remain the same.
Now looking out at a different landscape.
Everyone can do something.
Seek peace and stay well,
“I learned to look more upon the bright side of my condition, and less upon the dark side, and to consider what I enjoyed, rather than what I wanted: and this gave me sometimes such secret comforts, that I cannot express them; and which I take notice of here, to put those discontented people in mind of it, who cannot comfortably enjoy what God has given them, because they see and covet something he has not given them. All our discontents about what we want appeared to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have.”
– Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
“There is something sacred about stillness. The world has not changed outside our bounds, we just realize peace and tranquility are possible, if we make space for it.”
– Ed Lehming, From Where I Stand
“If your environment is poor, blame yourself. Tell yourself you are not poet enough to call forth its richness.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke
Horas non numero nisi serenas.
“I count only the happy hours.”
Crocuses are blooming now, and Canada geese migrate northward. The air each day hints more of spring. The song of the red-winged blackbird fills the yard. Sunsets are lavender then orange. Mornings sport foggy patches, and the deer have come down out of their winter yards.
The beautiful world has been busy being beautiful for a long, long time. Make that a very, very, very long time. Nothing to date has affected her all that much. The sky is still aquamarine blue, and clouds in the sun will reveal rainbow colors if you look closely.
The grass is greening as green as any year, and dandelions have wasted no time getting started. The trail greets Sassy and me with the same joyous embrace we have come to know, and the air smells as sweet as any spring I can remember.
Mankind has always sought out and marveled at beauty. Nature and the arts. Throughout recorded history we have breathlessly described new frontiers. We have written ballets devoted to the seasons, composed and choreographed the essences of life’s beauty to be displayed upon the stage. We have written books of adventure, love, poetry. Songs that embrace light and love, devotion and bravery. We have painted and drawn and sculpted masterpieces attempting to convey our overwhelming joy to be witnesses to this marvelous world.
These things have never tired, never faded: the world’s beauty and humankind’s appreciation of it.
Humans have observed and recorded beauty at all times. All times throughout history.
During bountiful years and seasons of drought.
During times of enlightenment and growth as well as times of darkness and evil.
During plentiful times, and times of starvation and death.
We can hope and dream with all our might, yet we must bow to the unwavering truth that there will be some dark days for most of us during the courses of our lifetimes. That there will be dark times for our world.
Humankind has harnessed the power of light. It began long ago with a fire in a cave. It continued as gaslights recorded in the stories of O. Henry and Charles Dickens. It entered modern times with Mr. Edison’s curious invention. It has followed us into the future with lasers carrying our telecommunications, and solar farms gathering the power of the sun for our use.
And so it is the power of beauty and light that I will embrace now.
There will be lilacs in May.
There will be peonies in June.
There will be raspberries in July.
There will be morning glories in August.
You have plenty of places elsewhere to read about the darkness.
Let’s keep our eye on the lighthouse, and keep the lamp lit.
Let’s marvel at the sweep of the beacon through the fog.
Until the storm has passed.
I don’t remember exactly how long ago it happened, but I remember the moment quite clearly. I was opening the cupboard door, probably browsing for a snack, and Chuy sat down and looked up at me. His snacks come from the same cupboard.
Likely I had reasons for my intention to skip the dog snack. We go through plenty, as they are given generously. There is a regular wholesome meal at supper time, so there’s that appetite thing. Also, we can just get carried away sometimes and overdo it.
Then my imagination leaped ahead 12 seconds, to the moment I would retrieve something for myself and close the door. Chuy’s dog voice said, to himself or perhaps the cat beside him, “Oh.” a disappointed frown, “He’s only getting something for himself.”
You go ahead and call it guilt, or call it spoiling or call it Shirley or call it awakening. Call it what you will, it made my stomach sink and my heart skipped a beat to imagine being seen this way. To imagine being a creature without the means to get up there and open the door and grab a snack, as I can do without second thought.
In an instant I was changed. If I have no intention of giving the dog a snack, I will not have one for myself in front of her. If she skips it, so do I. (Yes, you are reading that correctly, above was the past, and Chuy was a he, but it’s she-girl Sassy now).
That was just the dog and the pantry. Sure enough, didn’t I come to see shortly how this applied to a thousand places in my life and my day.
It has helped me develop a total immunity to marketing of goods. That $20 for a shiny gadget will pay for half a corrective surgery on a Mercy Ship. The $35 for the other thing I really don’t need will go to my kids in Memphis. Maybe research or maybe treatment or maybe Band-Aids with colorful characters on them for children fighting cancer at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
Even the half of a peanut butter sandwich on the console of the FunBus, saved for later. How do I explain “later” or “mine” to these sparrows and starlings that alight before me, and look up at me the same way Chuy did?
I went to lunch and drove past the old guy who is always walking on the sidewalk, winter and summer, and looking homeless and about 70 years old. It was cold and windy that day. I got a hot meatball sandwich and a cup of hot chocolate and I stopped and gave it to him. I could have wasted my time wondering if he liked meatball sandwiches, or if he was diabetic and couldn’t drink hot chocolate. I don’t know if he has a perfectly nice apartment and Meals On Wheels brings him lunch every day. What difference would that make anyway?
The Great Cosmos smiled on me. He looked at me with the sweetest face, with blue eyes as beautiful as my daughter’s. He spoke softly and kindly and smiled, and then he uttered the very words I’d heard my sainted mother say, so many times, to so many people.
“God bless you.”, he said.
In retrospect, perhaps I have failed in my Armchair zen Mission. Perhaps I am still studying Chuy’s lesson.
For after all was said and done, in the end, didn’t I end up getting something for myself anyway.
I stopped my compulsive counting of the geese in the flocks that fly above me,
and instead admired their beauty.
I stopped foretelling the weather in these clouds that pass over me,
and instead enjoyed watching them sail.
I stopped thinking of those places where we don’t meet eye-to-eye,
and instead embraced those where we do.
“How can we enact our Devine Comedy without the proverbial Village Idiot?
Who will play The Fool?”
“I will! I will!” I heard myself exclaim without hesitation. I jumped for joy to be working again.
To have a clearly defined roll within this cast of characters that is my life.
This grandiose and grand production.
This particularly ponderous performance.
This perfect play.
Flames and thick, acrid smoke. Putrid stench, fear, agony and death. A desolate place, inhospitable to life.
No, it’s not Hell. It is the Cuyahoga River in the middle of the United States, in Cleveland, Ohio.
It’s a hundred and one years after the first fire on the river was reported in The Plain Dealer, in 1868.
We think of Pittsburgh and Detroit when we think of our Industrial Revolution cities, but Cleveland ranks right up there with a healthy population of steel mills.
Rivers had been natural sewers as long as humankind has lived in densely populated communities. Ancient Rome is praised for its advanced civil engineering and the first public sewer system. (Perhaps premonition of humankind’s future, they also had indoor plumbing and running water. Unfortunately, the public water supply was delivered through lead pipes.)
As time marched on, the numbers of people using the waterways for waste increased a million fold. Add now the poisonous elements of our burgeoning “Chemical Revolution”; DDT, PCBs, waste oil, asbestos, mercury, household cleaners and industrial ones.
In 1969, TIME magazine featured the story of the June 22nd fire on the river that “oozes rather than flows”. River Of Fire.
That’s what it takes to convince people that things are really bad.
This is not far from the publication date of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”, where numbers and facts were needed to convince people that all the dead fish are really dead and you won’t be seeing any bald eagles anymore.
If I was an adult writing this in 1969 (I was 10), I would be declaring the end of the world as we know it. Actually, that statement would not have been far from the truth. When finally we had trashed the planet so badly that the water burned, folks began to wake up.
Maybe they didn’t care about the bald eagle, the official emblem of our country. Maybe they were unconcerned that no fish or water bird existed or could exist in that canal of contaminants. Maybe no one cared that the same things killing eagles and fish, waterfowl and mussels would do the same for us. Maybe they just wanted the fires on the river to stop.
We can fix these things, given time, effort and commitment to them, a concept I have often doubted.
We are unlikely to see again the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker or the Carrier Pigeon. We can, however, now see bald eagles. And ospreys, who were right behind the eagles heading for extinction. We have returned Trumpeter Swans and the native Yellowstone Trout to that preserve for which it is named.
And that filthy river in Cleveland, Ohio?
In 2019, the ban was lifted on consumption of fish taken from the Cuyahoga. One hundred fifty one years from the first reported fire. Fifty years since “Silent Spring”.
So don’t give up on our hopes for our planet’s future and that of its living occupants. Patience will be required.
I don’t have another fifty years ahead of me. I won’t know what progress we’ll have made by then.
With habitat loss. With carbon emissions. With lead and plastics.
But my hopes and dreams for my grandchildren and theirs are renewed and reinvigorated with the reclamation of the Cuyahoga River.
Humans have proven they can do many amazing things; learn to fly, wipe out polio, split the atom, land people on the moon.
With some perseverance, some devoted labor, given another hundred years, perhaps we can add one more amazing achievement:
“Someday” is an essential part of a long, healthy life that ends peacefully.
Always working, the mind must always have a dream. It’s not natural to live only in the “now”, but also in the “next” at every waking moment. Where to take the next step. Where to find the next meal. What comes next after the shadow passes overhead, or the footfalls rapidly approach?
Who says delusion and denial are anything but good for you?
Fantasy, imagination, fiction, dreams, books, the stage and screen, pretend and play.
Every amazing invention we know of (including this written language) began as an unseen image inside a mind.
How could we choose at what point we stop thinking of, imagining, dreaming our “somedays”?
After my last child is born? After they are grown? After I achieve “success”?
When I reach XX age? When I retire? When I check off the bucket list?
I myself have many irons in the fire as I cross the crest of 60 years of age.
I imagine for myself a billion someday things I want to do; finishing this novel and starting the next, publishing something. There are a dozen ideas for oil paintings, a hundred ideas for poems to be written, a thousand ideas for blog posts, a million opportunities to shoot that contest-winning photo.
There are grandchildren that need to be shown how to properly tie an improved cinch knot in monofilament line, how to Texas-rig a rubber worm, how to fillet a bass. How to tie off to a cleat, how not to trailer a boat. There are holes that need to be drilled through the ice to set tip-ups. Hot chocolate to be poured from the green thermos. Stands to occupy during dear season, streams to wade for trout in the spring.
There are a thousand miles of trails to be walked, billions and billions of autumn leaves to view in awe, wet dog kisses to be received.
There are philosophies to be shared, great books to be read, a whole planet to save…
Thirteen billion prayers to be said.
There are grown children that need to witness lifelong commitment, unwavering loyalty, unconditional love, unbreakable will.
I must always be filling my heart to overflowing, and seeking out vessels to fill with the excess.
The last thing I want is for a single day to be boring and unfulfilled.
I’m glad to know my list of someday things will not run out before I do.
Inspired by a reply to “Someday Is A Disease” on TheEnlightenedMind622 – http://www.theenlightenedmind622.wordpress.com