What Abides

November 9, 2016

In the afternoon I walk to the place in the forest where the sun last shines, the soft cup where eastern hemlock branches bend, treetops like torches of the evening light. The sun strewn ground a cradle and a mossen rock for the curve of my neck. The stillness has wetness, and ferns perk surrounding, shivering gently.

This is a quiet place where no clocks changed, no one won or lost, a quiet place where the sun burns my eyes and sets a hazy orange tone. I know so little about these woods but there is space albeit where I calmly can be. Rachel Carson tells us that in sharing nature with children, ‘it is not half so important to know as to feel,’ to point out to a child how the dimming of the earth nudges your soul in what peculiar way. This noticing feeling in youth exceeds knowing.

From where I sit at breakfast with my students, the rising sun beams onto their faces from east of Mount Monadnock in late October, and some mornings we sing a song before we start the day. ‘Now the sun is rising up/ I feel the warmth of it/ in my soul and in my bones.’ This song could be sung loudly today no less, as so much exceeds yet depends upon us. If I need no other reason for welcoming today, too, it is from Maya Angelou, ‘I’ve never seen this one before.’

I went for a morning walk back when there was still a prickly midday warmth, climbing the arcing meadow by Gabriel’s Field, the laying hens, the herb garden and the raspberry thickets. I walked towards the west in a groove and at the edge of the treeline lifted my head. Before me through the woods was a wide and tall maple, my silhouette perfectly framed by the rising sun upon its trunk, my own body astride two places. I listened to Krista Tipett, who, as I witnessed my composed shadow on the far tree, described how ‘a core aspect of wisdom is that there is an integrity between inner life and outer presence in the world.’ This moment of integrity emerged from only an instinct to get out and look up, and also to walk with the sunlight.

The orchestrated openness of this life right now is an invitation to examine what suns I’m orbiting and how directly I’m walking in their light. It is an invitation to listen for ways opening up. Our chatty sixth graders would often ask a question and then immediately become distracted. In one circle Mark stopped the group, ‘Listen up! I have a piece of advice that will serve you for your whole life! When you ask a question, you need to be able to listen for the answer.’

In a morning of confusion and shame, there are questions to hold that need for a moment to be held. In Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke writes to his young friend, ‘be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves… Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.’ There’s not one ‘answer’, but I do know that one morning my silhouette was perfectly framed by the rising sun.

On this morning equally, Elizabeth Alexander’s inaugural poem pertains, ‘We need to find a place where we are safe. We walk into that which we cannot yet see.’ I don’t know what it means to be safe, but I feel the prospect of greater violence not just to my soul but to my body, in the years ahead. I need to take my body with me. The best way I can describe my safety is that my father’s bread came into my mailbox, flown. Dense rye, which was grown somewhere and prepared for him to acquire, some yeast and sugar, and a peaceful kitchen for the mixture. He posted it and it arrived on the right day, still fresh, in parchment paper and twine. Someone handled it, someone dropped it off, and someone else placed it in the little wooden mailbox that yet another person built and someone else again put my name on. In receiving this loaf, flown, so much infrastructure, so many resources, conspired to tell me that my father was alive, his health was in his food, and I was safe. These structures worked to retain and convey our relationship, not to be taken for granted.

Before each meal we share a gratefulness circle with our students beside the wood-burning stove. We live with greater plenty than kings of history, with greater comfort, freedom, and health-giving sustenance. Mark described to the fourth graders how meals conveyed through the palace of Versailles would freeze in the winter, the palace stony cold, as our warm meal awaited. I will take this with me from Glen Brook, above all being grateful. Brother David Steindl- Rast describes gratitude as the bowl of a fountain being quietly filled (gratefulness) then overflowing, making noise and sparkling (thanksgiving). This culture attempts to make that bowl bigger and bigger, and many never therefore feel it overflow. I want to keep a small bowl, and not fear if in walking fiercely it spills, knowing it can be replenished.

At the Young Friends retreat on climate consciousness, Nia presented three stories about climate change that we tell ourselves as we make choices in our lives: Business as Usual, the Great Unraveling, and the Great Turning. The teens read dozens of examples and placed them under the associated paradigm that would allow people to behave in such a way. We found that there was quite a bit of confusion over whether a given story should fall under ‘business as usual’ or ‘the great unraveling’, as we currently live in plenty of ways which will irrecoverably destroy the earth for our children, and these ways are what is ‘usual.’ How, when, where are we choosing to live into a great turning? How, as Gandhi said, are we living in preparation for the world we are working to create? And how at this moment, are we going to ensure that the unraveling choices cannot be normal?

No one was allowed to work alone today, and I spent the day hauling maple sugaring supplies, setting up sugaring lines for the spring, and cleaning with friends. Today is unspeakable and sickening, but there is no preparation I possibly lack to fight towards justice with greater conviction. Much abides, and my purpose holds.