Sunday, November 24, 2013

from the alpine heath

I had thought I would write about the grieving process and how we know little about the consequences and changes caused by loss, except as we look back. I have not been able to do so, perhaps later in a poem. At the end of this blog entry, I do have a poem by Vladimir Nabokov about the loss of youth.

 My youth was spent in the dream of government service in the State Department. In the summer of 1963, I was so privileged to have a summer internship at the new Peace Corps in Washington, D.C. I could see the White House across Lafayette Square from my borrowed office. Washington seemed filled with excitement and hope. It was Camelot. My boss was the President’s brother-in-law. Twice, I was awe-struck to be in the presence of the President. I shook hands with two of his brothers. Truly, it was an awesome experience for a young man from the Rockies. I was filled with hope that fall as I passed the Foreign Service exam and saw my life on the trajectory that I had dreamed, so supported by my family. It was not to be.

The 50th anniversary commemorations of President Kennedy’s assassination brought days of reflection on my part. November 22,1963 was chilly in Boulder, but the sun was shining. I remember walking across campus to lunch at home with my friends. The phone was ringing when I opened the door. A political friend was on the phone with the unbelievable news. Everyone was in shock. No emotion. No talking. We had Campbell’s Tomato Soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. We ate in silence. At such moments, every detail remains etched.

I knew at that moment my life had changed for ever. The day remained mostly in silence, just a constant droning of the radio, as college students we did not have t.v. I have little remembrance of what was being said, just the unending drone. Late in the day, I finally found a church, Roman Catholic, with the doors open. This bereft, not very religious young man sat alone in the back pew near statues of saints I knew little about, near quietly weeping elderly women and realized I could not cry. And, truly my life had changed forever.

We So Firmly Believed

We so firmly believed in the linkage of life,
but now I’ve looked back ─ and it is astonishing
to what a degree you, my youth,
seem in tints not mine, in traits not real.

If one probes it, it’s rather like a wave’s haze
between me and you, between shallow and sinking,
or else I see telegraph poles and you from the back
as right into the sunset you ride your half-racer.

You’ve long ceased to be I. You’re an outline – the hero
of any first chapter; yet how long we believed
that there was no break in the way from the damp dell

to the alpine heath.

                                    Vladimir Nabokov

Sunday, November 17, 2013

long shadows of November

Our seasons here, a Mediterranean climate mid-way between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle, are more defined by light than by drastic weather changes. Many trees are coming into bud, fewer have lost their leaves. The grasses turn from golden to green with the first rains. But, it is really the light that marks time.

The long shadows of November, the sun barely edging over the southern hills in the City ─ a time to contemplate the coming darkness of full winter. I treasure each season, although the slanted light of late autumn or early spring seem especially wonderful to me. November light signals the slowness of winter, March light tells the coming wonder of spring.

Days are becoming short, the light even more precious when it is so limited. A time for interior repose and assessment.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

without irritable reaching

So often our friends are openings into wisdom. Recently, I had afternoon tea (really old fashioned) with a dear and insightful friend. We treasure these times for the conversation, or sometimes we read  to one another poetry that we have found meaningful. This day was just meandering around our lives and how we perceive the end of life, and what is after this life. We talked about the thin veil to seeing that seems to be getting thinner with such incredible new knowledge of the universe. What are our personal connections between scientific learning and religious or philosophical thoughts and mores? How do we connect this past with now? Do we?
Does it matter? All questions, little resolve.

I thought of this as I was standing on the upper level of the San Francisco Art Institute recently. This sixties-modern building in early morning could have been Thebes or even Petra, with philosophers and seers debating meaning. And, yet, hundreds of generations later we are still left with mysteries that don’t yet respond to reason.

“Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason — “

                                                    John Keats, Letters of John Keats to His Family and Friends

Sunday, November 3, 2013

a good life

Over the past few days, my nephew (a writer) and I had an email exchange about the books in our lives....far too many in my house....he has a 'to read' stack two-feet high in his. But, all in all, its a good life when we have books. 

I do love this photo of two dear little friends some years ago sitting on my lap, 'reading' with me. They are now nearly teens and both read voraciously and write! The book is Too Big, one of the delightful children's books in my collection...and a gift to me from a special friend. 

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. “There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough.........who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life".
                                                  Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

I do have to disagree with Annie on "a day spent reading"....I have had so many that were wonderful...maybe indulgent, but definitely "good".