The faintest, mildest, least-noticeable of all things can still have tremendous impact. Take lichens, for example: the most wonderful of flowers, even gardens, on a microscopic scale. Strong enough to wear down stone itself over time, but so delicate and dainty and fairylike that they are rich and glorious even in their seeming fragility.
May you find the wisdom to untangle whatever vexes you and revel in what you love…
May you find companions who give you comfort, elevate you, and fill you with laughter both in the moment and through the years…
May you find kindness embracing you, erasing your pains, and softening all sorrows…
May you be so enriched by the beauty and goodness around you that you find you can’t help but pass it along and share your gifts with others…
Under cedars, in the beeches
in the garden’s deepest reaches,
sing the crickets and the sparrows,
robins, and the draught that harrows
every hollow of the windy, wooded hill…
Where those sleepers are reclining,
and above their tombs, repining,
kneel the loves they left behind them,
who return here yet to find them
and commune again together, sweetly, still…
As the honeysuckle flowers
lull away the weary hours,
here all spirits, in communion
so with nature, find reunion
in the waning light of afternoons at ease…
With the daylight, sadness dimming
like this lake where swans go swimming
through the lilies as its silver
mirror dims, goes dark forever,
Winter lends itself, more than any other time of year I think, to the welcome sort of solitude and melancholy that fills me up with meditative calm. It can feel bleak and beautiful at the same time, as long as I’m not in a particularly dark place emotionally. The kind of cold and emptiness that sear the lungs and sting the eyes can sometimes set the soul on fire with inspiration and, concomitantly, a sort of scraped-clean elation.
Daydreaming is amazingly useful. No matter what teachers and bosses and impatient parents may have said over the years (never to me, of course, wink-wink), that pleasant fugue state of seemingly purposeless internal wandering is where a great deal of terrific, very purposeful invention and problem-solving happens. It takes us to inner regions where we are unencumbered by rules, editing, and logic, and can let the what-ifs of experiment and hope play together until, sometimes, they produce brilliant results that endless hours and years of study and labor might never have fostered. How can we expect to engender anything grand if we don’t aim for the seemingly impossible?
Consistent study and labor are, of course, quite necessary if we are to be able to even conceive of what exists and how we intend to alter it; to begin with no facts, no tools, no notions of probability or potential will inevitably leave us puzzling fruitlessly for ages before we ever approach a fantastic and outlandish idea, let alone a useful one. But once the seeds have been sown, we can’t assume that there would be no purpose in additional time and imagination spent on divining what to do when they begin to grow as well. The dreamers of the world have nurtured at least as much meaningful and helpful stuff as the mere scientists and scholars and brawny-brained geniuses have done, but with less hoopla, and it seems to me that we should be wary of working too hard to bring fantasists down to earth too soon.
Assume, when you see me in an apparently abstracted slide toward the comatose, that I am in fact inwardly journeying toward a dazzling insight or earthshaking invention or two, and leave me in peace. I shall emerge, in due time, bearing the harvest of this grand exploratory trip. Or at least I’ll have had a refreshing nap. I’ll happily leave it to you to determine the value of the difference, if any, between the two eventualities.
When I opened my eyes, I saw a cedar boat ahead, a craft of sleek and patinated wood; I was ashore, looking, watching without knowing why, standing on the verge with the clear salt sea touching my feet and on its cold breath casting up an offering of tide-polished stones and shells moved into patterns like a prayer shawl.
The cedar boat drew near, and in the boat, a man whose solemn joy preceded him and made my thoughts lie still.
Only the scent of cedar broke the salty air. I waded out to catch the prow and saw the oarsman watching me, and I was humbled but not afraid. He said nothing. I didn’t think to say a word, myself, but caught the boat and slowly pulled it ashore.
The oarsman wore a long superlative braid that rose and fell on his breast; I made fast the boat to a spike of driftwood at the verge, tying the painter in a braid as like his own as I could make it.
The measure of a human is not in her wealth, or success, or any of those worldly attainments to which we so happily ascribe great value in the popular realm, but in her simplicity. So much can be accomplished by the reduction of focus on unimportant things, the removal of distractions, and reverence for the smaller and more ephemeral stuff. This, this is how we shine.
I grew up pretty near the Pacific Ocean. It was a matter of a couple of hours to get to its shores from home, and mere minutes’ drive to Puget Sound, and I have always loved any chance to spend time along the water. At home in Texas, it’s not so easy: there are a few man-made lakes within a short drive, with a few public beach spots along the edges of each, most of the time too hot for strolling, and that’s about it. So that recent trip to Puerto Rico was a brief but lovely reminder of what pleasure I find in wandering the beach when I can, absorbing not only a bit of salt water through my happy bare feet and the tangy air through my expanding lungs but also the great sense of history and adventure inherent in all of the findings strewn along the tidal brink.
Despite being so much a water-baby at heart, I’ve never so much loved open water swimming—after all, my people are the pale, easily fried folk of Norway who transplanted to the familiarly brisk spank of the coastal waters to fish and farm and forest-hunt as they’d done back in the old country. But I’m drawn all the same to explore the tide-pools and comb through the heaps of hidden-and-revealed treasure that line the beach, sucking deep breaths of sea breeze happily right down to my soul. I love to see all of the bits of shell and bone and stone piled up and intermingled with molted feathers, ship detritus and the petrified lace of corals and seaweed. Every tiny piece seems to hold such a storied past that I can stare and sift and dream endlessly.
What caused that lone shoe to wash up here from unknown shores? Why are those pieces of sea-soaked driftwood burnt but not in the fire pit, rather appearing like a dragon-singed skeleton in a distant heap down the shore? How did so many colors of ghostly and sandblasted beach glass come to bejewel the line of the tide together? Who were the creatures that fished the shore and left bleached fish bones here, a crab shell there? When did the storms kick up such a foment of foam that the inland side of mean high tide has a gloss of it lacquered firmly across the surface of its sand? Where are the children whose sandcastle ruins are still tucked behind the biggest boulders on the beach, waving flags of leaf and kelp from their stunted battlements? And most importantly, when can I return to the beach to stroll and dream of such things again?
There’s that old saying about how ‘it never rains but it pours,’ and while I often think it’s true that troubles and trials seem to come in number rather than singly, I also tend to think that’s the sense we get because everything subsequent event’s difficulty is magnified by the one that preceded it. And of course, in a more literal sense, since moving to Texas five years ago during a period of general drought in the region, I would be inclined to say that it seldom rains enough here, let alone pours. Much as I might find minor inconveniences and even annoyances brought on by a rainy day, the more so if it’s stormy, I am glad enough of the needed moisture that I don’t hang onto any grudges against nature’s outpourings. Even on that persistently blinding, bleary day of storms when I took my turn driving toward home at the end of last year’s summer road trip I was more grateful than hateful regarding the dousing we received, and that’s going some for a nervous driver like me.
I am reminded these days, though, of the original frustrated character of the proverb and am working not to get sucked down into such a mode myself. There have been little hints from my mind and body that perhaps the decade-plus of grand good health and wellness I’ve enjoyed upon being treated for and generally freed from depression and anxiety and the nasty physiological symptoms thereof may be, like the moon in a spooky campfire tale, on the wane. I’ve avoided thinking about it much not only because it’s an unpleasant prospect in itself but also for superstitious fear that just contemplating such a thing makes it more possibly true. And at first, it was just those little, nagging bits of something that I couldn’t quite define as backsliding: a hint more tension when riding in the car, a touch more touchy about unimportant problems in the day-to-day, a stomach-ache when I get worried about a deadline….
But when we were at the airport the other day, waiting to board a perfectly ordinary flight to go to the familiarity of our own home after ending a week of (for me) unfamiliar and exciting travel that should have been the tough part of the equation if there were any, I had the horrible experience of an emotional meltdown in a panic attack. It’s been so many years since I had one that I almost didn’t realize what was happening and thought I had simply gotten a sudden illness of a more ordinary kind, and that would be irritating enough in its own way, but when I did connect the dots and know that I was losing all sense of control and well-being, the drop down that well was swift and obliterating. I am relieved that it was a relatively short-lived event, and I doubt many around me knew anything untoward was happening, but inside, I was a morass of terror, unable even to speak in quiet gratitude to my spouse for his patience. In the end, I got on the plane and, once there, cocooned with my scarf and went to sleep as quickly as I could, and that was that.
The speed and intensity of the attack, however, were enough to convince me that it’s now time to see the doctor and discuss what to do before I fall as far, and for as long, as I had in the past. I have no use for being that powerless and miserable shadow of myself ever again. I hate feeling almost perpetually nauseated, often breathless or dizzy, ice-cold and then broiling hot and then ice-cold again. I loathe feeling like I will burst into absolutely unwarranted uncontrollable crying at any moment. I abhor feeling like a useless baby. I despise feeling so sick and enervated and exhausted that I can barely lift my arms, no, can hardly croak out a word without wanting to keel over. I reject that version of me!
During our lovely week in Puerto Rico, it rained one day in the intense and intimidating and glorious way that a tropical shower can do. It was pouring thoroughly enough that we waited until the hardest pounding let up a little, popped open our umbrellas, and headed out knowing we’d get good and wet. I was glad of wearing both quick-drying summery clothes and open, flow-through sandals, because even with our umbrellas in full bloom and the rain somewhat lessened, within about two blocks’ walk we were seeing rivers race down the street and right on up over our feet. By the time we stopped in a coffee shop not so many minutes later, we were pretty damp all over and soaked up over the ankles. It was warm weather, and the rain dried very quickly indeed, and of course we long for that sort of bounty for our Texas landscape, so we rather enjoyed the novelty of it all. But I’ll admit that even knowing that the rain’s a tiny price to pay for the generous greenery of the tropics, I was delighted to see the sun again as soon as it arrived.
I can’t say what is the benefit of going through the floods of depression and anxiety. I can only hope that at least it teaches me to be more mindful of the many blessings I do have and to fight my way back up and out toward them as quickly as I possibly can. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, I will also be more sensitive to others’ struggles when I have been reminded how hard it is to keep perspective when one’s own brain and body absolutely refuse to bow or to cooperate with the tiniest and simplest, most logical of requests. All I can say for certain is that I am not planning to lie back and take it. You’re gonna rain on me, eh? Bring it on. Getting out my umbrella, yes. Digging up every resource I can find or imagine, done and done. Climbing up the side of the well with my own fingernails if I have to, rather than falling farther into it, see ya on the other side, pal. Bring it on.