On a walk several days ago, I took this picture, but later, when I looked at it at home, I wasn’t exactly sure why. Now, though, I think I know the answer, and it has something to do with the word ‘majesty’. For sure, at first glance, the twisted webs of branches and the scattered stones and leaves seem far from majestic, but the longer I looked at the photo this morning, the more stateliness I noticed in the scene, the saplings and limbs seeming almost statuesque in their singular poses, and the stones sitting silently in an imposing, princely manner.
And then we have the queenly and kingly shadows of the couple who are observing the scene, escorted there perhaps by a royal procession of attendants and stewards. (Or, perhaps they walked briskly by themselves in a stylish and sovereign manner from their courtly country cottage called Riverbend 44.)
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‘Glory be to God’ is a phrase I often heard growing up, but some mornings I think about ‘glory be to overflowing flower gardens’, and ‘glory be to blue skies’, and ‘glory be to a good cup of coffee’. I am not a member of a church, but I do worship the wonders of this world. I praise the power of a few flowers to stay strong on frosty mornings, and I praise the power of my hands that helped me write these words. I give homage to the holy eggs which sizzle on our stove each morning, and accolades to sugar-free jam and the juiciness of raisins. I say glory be to the greatness of this moment, and to the majesty of our small house in Mystic, and to the magnificence of the birds on our feeder day after glorious day.
I’ve been thinking lately that, now in my retirement years, I’m lucky to have so many ordinary days in my life. I realize that the word ‘ordinary’ can carry a negative connotation, suggesting monotony and tedium, but interestingly, it stems from the Latin word for ‘orderly’, and I do love the orderly look of these senior days of mine. Confusion occasionally seems to surface, but that’s usually because I’m not noticing the orderliness and rightness inside the seeming disorder. The fact is, my days – all of them – are made by the universe in just the right way, perfect for me, and the many occurrences in my days are set out before me in a meticulous display, exactly in the proper pattern – if only I could see things clearly. There’s an essential orderliness everywhere – in trees sprouting their blossoms at precisely the right times, in clouds crossing the sky just as they must, even in cars cruising the roads systematically with the help of lanes and lights and signals. This universe I live in is basically an orderly miracle, just as orderly as this lovely front-yard garden we passed on our walk yesterday.
I will admit that it’s not easy to see the order beneath the disarray and disasters of our times, but still, my senior days, like all the days of my long life, have so far been “ordinary” in the best way – full of graceful form and structure that I’m slowly starting to see and understand.
Two scenes we passed on recent walks, with two haiku poems …
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The artist Paul Klee once said that art should be like a holiday – something to give the artist the opportunity to see things differently and to change her or his point of view – and I have gradually grown to feel the same about writing. Now, in my 79th year, when I sit at my computer and start tapping the keys, it’s as if I’ve set out on a holiday escapade, as if restrictions have been rescinded and boundaries broken down. The words seem to lead the way, and I just cheerfully follow along to see what surprises will show up. These days, when I begin writing, it’s like I’m leaving behind rules and strategies and boundaries, and simply wandering in a boundless land. Writing for me has become a sort of free-wheeling adventure, a time to celebrate the unlimited freedom of thought that all of us possess, a time to revel and carouse with phrases and sentences to see what wonders might arise. It’s my daily holiday in retirement, a vacation in the wide-ranging kingdom of words.
We passed these lovely blossoming trees on our walk this morning, but I completely failed to notice another loveliness in the scene – the soft, spread-out spring sky.
It’s strange how I so often fail to see major miracles right in front 0f me. I did love looking at the quiet colors of the trees’ blooms, but I’m sorry I missed the majesty of this sky, with its shining blueness and wispy clouds. Delycia noticed it, however, and commented on it as we continued our walk, and I’m glad she did, because now, seeing the photograph, I do notice the sky’s grandness, and will surely be watching for – and hopefully noticing – wonderful skies on future walks.
“The practice of gratefulness that I’m concerned with is grateful living. That means every moment of your life you practice gratefulness.” – David Steindl-Rast
I came across this quote just this afternoon, and already it’s become important to me. I was thinking about it as I was having a cup of coffee in our sunroom, and I happened to glance at my 78-year-old hands
and suddenly – for the very first time, I think – I became grateful for them, these funny-looking, wrinkled, beautiful hands. They just seemed amazing to me as I looked at them – the lines and swirls flowing every which way, the many soft shades of color, the seeming tenderheartedness of them as they relaxed on my legs. I began thinking of their marvelous qualities – the way they can still move in countless ways, and how they’ve hung faithfully beside me for 78 years, and the fact that they’ve so often folded together in friendship in times of fear and sorrow, holding each other for comfort. I began wondering … where did they come from? and how did they become what they are today as they rest on my legs? and why haven’t I ever been grateful for them until now, these dear hands of mine?
Yesterday, during our walk in Elm Grove Cemetery, I saw this single sculler out in the Mystic River,
and my first thought was that she or he was all by themselves. However, when I looked at this photograph back at the house, I suddenly could see that, of course, they were not alone, just like nothing is ever alone – no person, no ripple in a river, no ray of sun shining on a sculler. Everything is connected with everything else. One of the saddest illusions I’ve carried with me for most of my years is the belief in separateness – the assumption that everything is separate from everything else in a universe of comprehensive disconnection. Looking at this photo, however, helps bring back the simple and shining fact that everything is connected. The sculler, the river, the trees, the sky, the silent stones in the cemetery – all are inseparable from each other in this universe of constant and faithful connection.
Like most of us, I try to take appropriate preparations when serious storms – like the one we are experiencing today – are in the forecast, but I sometimes forget to get myself ready for troublesome “mental” weather. It’s interesting to me that I seem more concerned about high winds than about devastating thoughts, and yet the thoughts can throw my life into far worse disorder than the wildest storms. Thoughts filled with fears can bring bedlam to a life faster than any storm, and the effects of these stormy thoughts can last a lot longer than downed wires and damaged homes. I sometimes set out flashlights and candles for coming storms, but how often do I shine the lights of clearness and poise inside my mind when I see worries working their way toward me? The scariest storm can be met with calmness and confidence, and fear, as menacing as it may be, can be taught a lesson about human daring simply through clear and untroubled thinking. Easy to say, hard to do, but when fear and peacefulness meet in battle, the latter will take the trophy — always.
There is a lot of gloom in the world today, due mostly to the spread of the coronavirus, but I still insist on looking for the glory as much as for the gloom. On our walk this morning, we passed this little, lovely tree
blossoming behind a fence in its simple, glorious way. Yes, the virus is scary, and yes, scarcity and sickness and danger and dying seem to be spreading like an irrepressible storm, but still, here, on an almost silent street in Mystic, there is the filled-to-the-brim glory of this small, shining tree. And, too, there’s the simpler, more homespun glory of the fence, and of course the commanding glory of the blue spring sky. I can’t ignore the gloom, because it’s real and needs to be acknowledged, but so does the glory that is still, amid the darkness, illuminating life the world over.
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We also passed this storefront window
which brought to mind Emily Dickinson’s uplifting poem, perfect for this season of the virus:
On a walk yesterday, while Delycia was doing her selfless task of grocery shopping for us, I passed this scene
and paused to give it a good look. At first, nothing special stood out, but as I stood silently for a few minutes, it slowly seemed to me that everything in the scene was special – each little and big limb in the trees, each of the countless trees and shrubs, each cemetery stone, even the simplest ones, and each tuft of old, winter-worn grass. To chose something that was somehow extra-special seemed silly and false, for the whole scene seemed exceptional to me. Each stone and tree and limb and shrub was ‘the chosen one’, the one that rose up in its own place to be present in its own noteworthy way. Walking home, I considered that perhaps I need to more often look for the exquisiteness of everything I pass – every thing, event, situation, and person – because each of them truly is ‘the chosen one’.
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I guess I’m no more self-centered than most of us, but from now on, I hope I can continually choose to let something other than my ‘self’ become the center of my life, something called the entire universe. I want to choose, each day, to be more universe–centered. Instead of pondering the problems my little ‘self’ seems to always have, I’d like to wonder more about what’s happening outside of ‘me’ – what’s happening in the homes of people who are suffering with illness or scarcity, and in the homes of people who feel lucky to be alive; what’s happening in the forests and valleys across the world, where animals and plants prosper while I fret over my paltry problems; what’s happening, even, among the planets and stars as they swirl me along on our endless passage through time without end. I grow weary of worrying about this small segment of the universe called ‘Hamilton Salsich’. There are majestic miracles surrounding me for millions of miles on all sides, and I’m now choosing to stay, as best I can, centered on them. I want to set my ‘self’ off to the side, and see, almost for the first time, the true ‘chosen one’ – the wondrous universe that’s been patiently waiting for me to find it.
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Here’s yesterday’s magnetic poem on our fridge, with a reply from Delycia just under it.
We passed this stone wall on our walk this morning, and it started me thinking …
Each day, my life is carefully built by a power far greater than little ‘me’. I truly have no idea exactly where or what this power is, but, when I’m attentive and mindful, I feel it all around and through me. It’s an infinitely gifted artist, this ‘stonemason’, and moment after moment, day after day, it meticulously places occurrences and situations in precisely the best arrangements so as to fashion graceful designs in my life. This artist is not some super-person in the sky, but simply the boundless force of the infinite, all-powerful present moment. The eternal present, the never-ending here and now, is the stonemason that scrupulously selects just the right stone for each placement. Some stones are sorrows, some are delights, some are tears, some are triumphs, but all are precisely where they should be, day by day, to build an elaborate and beautiful life called Hammy. I just need to pause more often to admire the work.
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One day, visiting my grandchildren at their house in the countryside, I started messing around with some small stones on one of the many stone walls on the property – just seeing what structure I could create in a few minutes. I had no design in mind, only the desire to do something spontaneous and set the stones wherever my hands wished them to be. If someone had asked me what I was building, I might have said “whatever my hands wish” – or maybe, like so many young people today, just “whatever”, perhaps with a suitable shrug. However, there would be no spirit of indifference or exasperation in my “whatever”, as there often seems to be when I hear the word spoken. If I said “whatever”, it would be because whatever I build with those small stones would be something special to me. I guess, in a way, I’m a whatever kind of guy. Whatever a day brings, I try to see what it has that can help me. I know that whatever happens a minute from now is the truth for that moment, and whatever thought I have at any moment helps me, somehow, be exactly who I’m supposed to be. It’s a good word for me. I’m more likely to smile than shrug when I say “whatever”.