Some thoughts don’t go away. They just fly like a boomerang, over space and time, and return a little more ripe with experience. The deep, humming green of this Spring has led me into contemplation of our human senses – mundane and profound, simple and complex, light and deep. Come ride along with me, please.
I went to college in Sarasota, Florida. When I was there, in the nineties, it was a lovely mid-sized city. I could get wherever I wanted to go on bicycle, and the Gulf beaches were just beautiful. Our biology professor took us canoeing and wading out in the lakes and swamps, looking at native and invasive plants, not to mention some rather stunning alligators.
But it was hot. Our small campus sat right on the Sarasota Bay, which was a fortunate location. There was a breeze. Venturing downtown during the hotter months was an exercise in melting, though. Pavement shimmered with radiant heat. It was miserable.
I remember thinking how strange it was that so many buildings in South Florida were kept freezing cold, when the outside weather was so hot. We carried sweaters to class and to the library, in order to not catch a chill from the extreme transition.
After awhile, I developed a notion that the less people LIVE outside, the less liveable the outside becomes. The more people stay inside and run the air conditioning full blast, the hotter the outside will be. Same goes with stars. In ages past, all people knew about the movement of the planets and placement of constellations through the seasons. There were no lights at night, and no televisions or computers to take our attention in the evening. The moon and stars were the brightest things around, the best entertainment and education to be had. But not many people stay out to watch anymore, and, as if in response to the shrinking demand for their presence, there are fewer and fewer places where the night sky can be seen in its fullness. As my friend Cher said lately, it’s not a simple equation, but there’s a correlation.Those sweaty, star-gazing revelations returned in a sort of a mental avalanche last week. In the thick of hard work before what was predicted to be a violent thunderstorm, I was deeply engrossed with the signs of life all around the garden and the woods. Then, there was some bad news about the melting polar ice caps, which set me in mind of the hot Florida pavement. Then, I went to town and had trouble interacting with our fellow people-at-large because they tend to be connected at all times to a hand-held device without turning a head to the sky, to one another, to much of anything. The icing on the proverbial cake was when Lulah and I read The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. I was tired beyond reason that night, but one chapter caught my mind and hasn’t let go. Milo, the bored schoolboy who finds himself whisked into a strange allegorical land and a desperately impossible mission, stumbles into the city called “Reality.” All he can see are crowds of people, cars and buses, rushing around as fast as they can, going about their very important business, in the middle of nowhere. No streets. No buildings to be seen.
“I don’t see any city,” said Milo very softly.
“Neither do they, ” Alec remarked sadly, “but it hardly matters, for they don’t miss it at all.”
It turns out that the inhabitants of Reality once lived in a stunning city with many inviting spaces, and they enjoyed them on the way about their lives. But someone figured out that if you simply walked as fast as you could and looked at your shoes, you could arrive at your destination faster, so that’s what they all started doing, and then their whole city faded away around them, and they never even noticed.By not looking, we cease to see. Then, the whole world suffers, but I believe the largest loss is ours, whether we know it or not. I don’t fear for nature on our account, any more than I fear for the well-being of the stars. I believe that this living world will right itself. I do fear for us. We have a lot to lose.
I can’t describe the songs that are created in my chest when I hear the morning bird songs, and watch the life of the garden emerging from the throes of winter. There are countless moments that cause my heart to soar with appreciation, even when I’m tired and nothing else lines up right. Appreciation somehow echoes. Maybe because it’s a form of love, it feeds back on itself, and nourishes the giver as well as the receiver. As I allow myself to appreciate whatever beauty I can see around me, I have energy to create more beauty.We are not just occupants of this planet. We are members of it, like the cells of our body are a part of us. We are not separate, and will not ever be. No other part of the world will ever believe us to be separate, except ourselves.I know that my family is exceedingly fortunate to live in a place with so much life all around us, and I’m grateful. But you don’t have to live in the middle of nowhere to feel yourself a part of Creation. Even if it’s only a breeze, the smell of a random blossom, a glimpse of clear sky between tall buildings, the murmur of a fellow human being, or even your own heartbeat, it is a reminder of where you are and who you are within the magnificence of it all.
When you walk into your day, I hope you take it all in. Even if it’s a bummer of a day, and you live on a crowded city street, let the life of it into your senses. Try to love it even just a little, if only for being the place where you live. Love may not be the entirety of the forces that make the world spin, but it sure makes the ride worthwhile.