This post appeared in The Finger Lakes Times (NY), on 9/20/2017 as part of the weekly feature, “Denim Spirit”: http://www.fltimes.com/opinion/denim-spirit-when-it-is-better-to-wear-denim-than/article_ca49faba-5531-5a8d-be54-7bfef9bb3cf3.html
The morning sun paints a camouflage array of dark and light shapes on the embracing arms of the oak tree. In sun, fog, snow, or drear the arms welcome me to my writing perch each morning, as terminally friendly as the dog. Even so, today the world feels especially menacing.
Some anonymous miscreants may be in possession of each and every numeral they need in order to shop with my life’s savings against my knowledge or will, while the bottom-feeding, profit-sucking, low-life credit-lickers of Equifax and the other two malfeasant credit companies, go their merry ways. But that pales in comparison to North Korean missiles flying over Japan, knowing the man in the White House makes decisions on the basis of values and judgements anathema to mine, in addition to having at least one screw loose.
The graceful oak which I have mentioned with kindness before, is no match for a day that dawns with federal agents in search of members of our community – loving people who came here to do work I would not and could not do – and knowing that if apprehended it is likely another family will be torn apart. Even the sleeves of richly textured bark on limbs that spread like Jesus hanging on the cross, cannot comfort me as the morning news echoes sounds of weeping from each and every continent, and from the earth itself.
I have no doubt you have also felt this way before, even on a morning like today, when the autumn sun kisses open a daybreak golden hour of dappled light. Shapes and colors exquisitely resolute bathed in sun, intensely clean and brilliant in the glory of life itself, and meanwhile, wherever humans live the news is grim.
At such moments, the choices seem few – almost binary. Suck it up and keep moving, or slip into the covers of darkness. Reaching for rose-colored glasses is another strategy, but it may simply be a different version of “suck it up and keep moving.”
I prefer a mesmerizing stare into the flame of contemplation.
As a spinning dancer latches onto a focus on the horizon to keep her balance, or as a mantra gathers extraneous thoughts to itself in meditation and centering prayer, harpooning a subject to contemplate, about something with which we actually have power or agency, offers a way forward. It is a way to keep moving, one step at a time; one minute at a time if need be.
“There are days we live,” the poet Li-Young Lee writes, “as if death were nowhere in the background; from joy to joy to joy…” (From Blossoms). But we also have days that arrive with a grimace and pitchfork, that would stifle us and arrest any gesture toward forward movement. When those mornings arrive, especially when gilded by the extreme beauty of ordinary light, “joy to joy to joy” may be too high a bar to reach for. If so, the shuffle of one foot in front of the other, and one contemplative thought connecting to the next one, can be enough to get us moving.
Sometimes, profound spirituality and heroic effort, are embodied in the mud of rudimentary actions. Sometimes, denim is the apparel of pleasure more than gabardine or silk.