Often, when coming off an interstate highway, I notice the smooth flow of cars moving on and off the highway, and it sometimes starts me thinking about the predominance of smooth movements all across this world – movements that seldom make the evening news. Cars, for instance, all across the world are evenly streaming around clover leafs 24/7 all year long, with only an occasional disruption – billions of cars smoothly cruising along with a silky kind of ease and efficiency. The same is true of pedestrian traffic, the countless numbers of walkers who work their way effortlessly along streets and sidewalks, a ceaseless and almost graceful pedestrian river. Sure, there are jostles and annoyances now and then, but mostly the stream of walkers the world over just keeps fluidly moving. If I could somehow see all this unruffled flow of cars and pedestrians from a few miles above the earth, I would think this planet was a safe and stylish place to live. Unfortunately, the evening news seldom shows us the elegance that’s all around us. I guess the relatively scarce instances of disruption and disarray tell a more exciting story, but they don’t tell the truth about the overall smoothness of this life we lead together on earth.
Here are some clouds in this morning’s sky that seemed so smooth as they slowly shifted snd swirled …
(at the Mystic Aquarium)
Big and small fish
flow along together,
taking no concern for the cold
outside or the shrieking
of politicians and voters.
There's a smoothness here,
a helpful kind of quiet,
a calm among many kinds
of creatures that keep quietly
floating even while fear
fights its way through
cities and countrysides,
where people live
who could learn
from these restful, confident fish.
In my 45 years as an English teacher, each summer, as I looked forward to a new school year, the word ‘unhurried’ often came to mind as a description of the kind of teaching I hoped to do. I wanted to avoid rushing through a lesson, running through a review, sprinting through a ‘to do’ list, or charging ahead with impulsive words and actions. I wanted to do everything the way the sun rises, with an easy kind of poise. I knew there was never any need for urgency in teaching English to teenagers. The planet would continue turning whether I covered three or six or zero comma rules in a class period. Our hearts would continue beating and our trillion cells would keep being reborn no matter what happened (or didn’t happen) in 9th grade English class on Barnes Road. I wanted to do everything with attentiveness and consideration. Flowers can’t be hastened into blooming before their proper time, nor can good teaching be rushed. I hoped to allow each 60 seconds in class to be utterly thorough and satisfying. All the moments in the universe are precious ones, so I figured I might as well slow down and appreciate each one as it effortlessly displayed itself in Room 2.
We took a very unhurried walk this morning in the Oswegatchie Hills Preserve, and the forest itself seemed a model of ‘unhurriedness’. All was at peace. A feeling of leisure lingered all around us as we walked. Nature, I guess, naturally does things in an easygoing way. Even the worst storms seem to flow with ease, albeit a muscular sort of ease. I think we both felt surrounded by repose and relaxation as we walked.
Here are some scenes of serenity in the forest …
…. and here’s a short video from the hike …
A COMFORTABLE LIFE
Ellie G., 42, Blessings, CT
It’s fun for Ellie to see
the life around her is.
The trees in the yard
seem snug in their world
of winds and sunshine,
are mostly loose-fitting,
so she’s able to relax
and be casual
as thunders crash
and lightning streaks along
in a leisurely way.
Happiness, for her,
is always unhurried
and, if she stays patient,
it calmly arrives like
an easygoing friend.
is a comfy place,
safe in a friendly way,
like an endless, cozy home.
Goodness is a steady and faithful follower. It seems to pursue me everywhere – in stores, where I can always see a gracious smile from at least one person; on walks, where strangers sometimes send a greeting with a wave; and especially in the midst of disappointment or sadness, when I can always count on goodness giving me its gifts. Goodness is persistent and enduring – a dutiful follower even in serious unhappiness. It’s always just behind me, right in my footsteps, ready to help.
And here’s a threesome of pure goodness – Annie, Gabe, and young Louie. How can a dad and grandad be this lucky!
a man with advanced cancer
grew weary of goodness
and decided to flee from it forever.
He tried to not see
the graciousness of the nurses and doctors,
nor the benevolence brought by the sunshine
at his hospital window,
nor the mild manners
of autumn’s leaves settling
on the windowsill.
He turned his face
from the affectionate softness
of his comfortable bed,
and from the goodwill
of the clean walls and helpful floors.
He couldn’t stand the compassion
of his visitors,
and he always jumped away
from the generosity of a new morning.
It was no use, though,
for goodness never gives up.
The man finally surrendered to it,
and both he and his grateful cancer
fell into its soft arms.
I sometimes think of writing a story about some reflections of trees in a river, like these on the Wood River where we kayaked on Friday morning …
and, in my story, the tree reflections decide that they are, in fact, real trees, not just reflections. Gradually, these tree reflections become proud of their separateness as ‘real’ trees, and begin thinking that they are better than the other reflections, but also start worrying, because maybe the other tree reflections, which are also ‘real’ trees, will be able to hurt them, and even kill them!
This story, even if it never gets written, is an important one to me, because it portrays, in some ways, my own situation in life. I usually think of myself – my ‘self’ – as a separate material entity existing in a universe of countless other material entities, all competing with each other to stay separate and healthy, but when I’m wide awake and thinking clearly, I see how foolish that is – just as foolish as these tree reflections on the Wood River yesterday thinking they are actually real, individual, separate trees, and not reflections.
More and more, as the years have passed, I have come to see that what is called ‘I’ or ‘me’ or ‘Ham’ is simply a reflection of something so vast that it can’t be comprehended or described. Every thought I think and move I make is actually a reflection of the thoughts and movements of this infinitely forceful power, which I sometimes refer to as Spirit, or Soul, or just Life. These tree reflections don’t really have to work hard to sway and bend, nor I do I have to work hard to live a fulfilling – even miraculous – life. Like the tree reflections, I just have to relax and let the powers do their marvelous work. Lucky me.
A year or so ago, as the dentist was working on my teeth, I studied some hidden-word puzzles on the ceiling, and soon, as the drill droned on, I was thinking of other hidden surprises in my life, the little wonders that wait by the thousands for me to find them. As I thought about it, it seemed possible that all the moments in a day are made of useful surprises, small shocks that have the power to uplift a life. A day could be compared to a puzzle in which wonders wait beneath the seemingly humdrum happenings. I thought perhaps I could be like a scout searching a wilderness of secret treasures. As the dentist did his work, my day-to-day life started to seem like a stirring escapade, a journey among unseen jewels and gems. They were just words hidden among letters on the dentist’s ceiling, but they helped me have a look into the fortune-filled life I’m lucky to be living, even when I’m lying back in a dentist’s chair.
I saw lots of surprises on our morning walk today on Napatree Beach in RI.- small bombshells and amazements that kept me somewhat astonished for the entire walk:
… some wild, wavy clouds in the west …
… the skeleton of a large sea turtle …
… the remains of what looks like a young shark …
…. and some rickety old man named Hamilton placing a stone on a cairn.
When someone said to me, speaking about someone else, “He’s really deep”, I said to myself, “Yes, and aren’t we all?” In 78 years, I haven’t met anyone who wasn’t deep, in the sense of being a thoroughly impenetrable puzzle. Yes, I sometimes take satisfaction in saying I understand this or that person, but it’s always a pretense, a charade that charms me into believing I am smarter than I actually am. In some places the ocean can be many miles deep, but not nearly as deep as every single person I pass on the street. There’s eventually a bottom to the ocean, but where is the bottom of someone’s inner life – someone’s sorrow, for instance? Where is the bottom of a broken heart, or of happiness? Is it ever possible to understand the scope of the most ordinary person’s simple gladness? The Grand Canyon is deep, yes, but not nearly as deep as William next door, or Anna, a check-out person at McQuades. I stand in awe on the shore of any ocean, yes, but I should do the same in the presence of any person.
On my walk in the Peace Sanctuary this morning, I passed several scenes that seemed ‘deep’ to me, like this lovely trail that led me quietly along …
and these trees as the rising sun was shining behind them …
and this view of the Mystic River, whose charm, for me, is as deep as any ocean …
A SHOT IN THE DARK
She said it was an absolute
shot in the dark.
She said her spoken words
went out into undisciplined darkness
and deep into space, and she never saw
what happened to them, until
time went by and blessings
descended on her, the subtle
blossoms from those old words
that had wafted through the universe
setting down seeds
for fortunate people.
I’ve grown to love the word ‘wherever’, I guess because it seems like such a wide-open, welcoming word. It says to me, “Come on in, at anytime and in any place. Please enter – and enjoy feeling satisfied.” ‘Wherever’ is a word about miracles. If I ask where I can find miracles, this word gives the answer, ‘Wherever you are.’
This morning, while Delycia was doing a walk along the river, I took a bike ride along Lantern Hill Road, and – yes – wherever I looked, I saw miracles and felt a powerful satisfaction. If someone had asked me what part of the ride was the best, I would have answered, “Wherever I was,” because every moment was a miracle to me.
(about Patricia F., 46, Blessings, CT)
August 11, 2020
is precisely where she wishes to be -
inside a shimmering forest
beneath an unfolding sorrow,
in a disorderly store
on a silent seashore -
She says wherever she is
is perfect for her
is always perfect
And here are two miracles from earlier this morning, at 5:15 a.m …
(also whimsey) noun (plural whimsies or whimseys) playfully quaint or fanciful behavior or humor: the film is an awkward blend of whimsy and moralizing. • a whim. • a thing that is fanciful or odd: the stone carvings and whimsies.
In reading Melville’s Moby Dick this morning, I came across this phrase – ‘wild whimsiness’ – and I instantly thought it sounded like a fine way to live. Being playful with life is what life wants me to do – to frolic and romp more than fear and hide. I need to live more with caprice than with caution, more like an eccentric than a conformist.
I see some of this ‘wild whimsiness’ in this photo of Delycia with my daughter Annie and grandson Louie.
Annie and Louie are staring, perhaps in disbelief, as Delycia, in a moment of wild whimsy, hurls a stone high in the air over the Mystic River. She is usually a person of calm and quietness, but yesterday beside the river, her secret and wonderful whimsiness worked a miracle and sent a small stone soaring.
STEPS TOWARD INNER PEACE
A closed book on your bed
could be the first step
toward inner peace.
There could be quiet whimsies
and truths restfully pacing along.
It could be like a saucepot
of feelings and thoughts
that stir you up in a romancing way
to take further steps
toward an adored panacea,
toward the solace that’s always dancing,
and always waits.
It’s so easy for me to wonder, especially since I’m 78 and have seen at least 78,000 wonders in my life, and have learned to love them wherever they show up, which is always everywhere. Life, even the saddest and scariest parts, is filled up full with wonders, and I usually wander around my days in a daze of wonder.
Here’s a wonder we saw on our morning hike at the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Preserve…
And some more full-of-wonder scenes …
Once upon a time,
there was a woman who always wondered.
She wondered who she was,
why the sun shined,
where her thoughts came from.
Wondering was her way of life.
She was always smiling
because she was always wondering,
and she was always wondering
because she was a wonder herself,
and what wonders do
is called wondering.
All things were wonders to her,
even small holes in a road
the paws of her cat
a scrap of paper on the carpet.
The world was a wondering place for her,
and she and the world
cheerfully went wondering together.
The people in my life flow past, and with, and through me like mysterious and beautiful rivers, and what I enjoy most is trying to simply appreciate their ‘flow’. After all, these friends and family members and my wife Delycia are all irreplaceable human beings, matchless creations of the universe, and just as a river changes constantly and sometimes astonishingly, so do these special people in my life. My job is not to judge them – not ever – but to simply appreciate the remarkable flow of the rivers of their lives. And of course, at the ripe age of 78, I need to do the same, more and more, with my still steadily flowing and surprising life.
This morning, we paddled kayaks on one of the loveliest rivers anywhere, I am sure – the Wood River in Hopkinton, RI. The flow of our boats was soft and easy, as was the drowsy and serene river. Paradise can literally be anywhere, and this morning it was on a silver stream in Rhode Island. Here are some scenes from this paradise …