This week we celebrated the moon landing of 1969, which somehow seems more and more miraculous as time passes. One of the greatest gifts of the space program is the gift of wonder, and the viral spread of wonder from one area to another.
Years ago I had the chance to hear astronaut Pamela Melroy speak about her first space mission. She explained that throughout her scientific training, she’d focused on studying Jupiter, so whenever people asked about her favorite planet, she’d go on and on about the wonders of this distant planet. Then, once she was in orbit, looking back on Earth, she suddenly realized, wait a minute! Jupiter is not my favorite planet — Earth is my favorite planet!
Whether planets or books or jobs or ice creams or people, it’s fun to answer the question, “which is your favorite?” And as we progress through life, it sometimes becomes cooler to pick an unusual favorite, something or someone obscure or quirky or far afield.
Dear friends, as we explore more and more distant realms, let’s not skip over the favorites that are right here with us, accompanying our lives day in and day out, through thick and thin. They might not shine as brightly as the objects in the distance, but these close-by favorites are the most precious of all.
Our first favorites. Our homes.
From old French poets to Mick Jagger, we have a long legacy as humans of wanting more, or different. And we are rarely content, echoing Goldilocks as we spin through life… too hot, too cold, too big, too small. A big part of life is learning how to discern good decisions from bad, but along the way we are taught to judge endlessly, and sometimes harshly. Whether a person or a job or a meal or an investment, we are trained to see the flaws more clearly than the attributes.
Summer in New England is fleeting, and sometimes this seems to add pressure instead of pleasure. Can I see all the friends I want to see this summer? Can I take all the different hiking trails? Can I go to all the concerts, all the picnics? Can I read all the books?
Oh, what awful questions these are! When the question is “all,” the answer is eternally “no.”
This week I made a calendar of the summer, trying to juggle logistics and squeeze all the seasonal things into the little squares. After an hour I was irritated because, of course, all the things did not fit. And I was tired just looking at the jam-packed squares. So I erased and erased, reluctantly, until there was some white space left, the kind of space where there is a day or an hour or even a single moment to take a breath, gaze at a flower, read a poem.
When Goethe said, “Every second is of infinite value,” he did not mean, “…so you should be so busy that you require 3 different calendar apps to keep track of your schedule.” When Franklin said, “Time is money,” he did not mean, “…so be sure to maximize your billable hours.”
There is never enough time, which curiously means, that there is always enough time.
Dear friends, may we invest in this day, knowing it is enough.
* This week’s reflections are dedicated to my grandmother Collins, who would have been 100 years old this weekend. She taught me about devotion and determination and gratitude, and left us with a dozen different recipes for Irish bread, just to keep us all guessing.
When I finally moved into the city, the main criteria for choosing my apartment was that it had to have a view of the 4th of July fireworks. For many years, that show has been my main summer ritual. I’ve refused wonderful invitations and rearranged all sorts of other plans to be sure I was there for the fireworks. I even delayed my departure to walk the Camino de Santiago so that I could see this spectacle as my own personal send-off before the journey.
This year found me in the country instead of the city for the 4th – a happy development, but for the missing fireworks. To my delight, as the sun settled beyond the horizon, I heard the familiar thwunk, whoosh, pop! and ran outside – but surrounded by hills, I couldn’t see a single spark.
As I turned to go inside, from one of the tree clumps that was blocking my view, I spied a flash. A quiet one, no sound at all. Then another. And another. I was surrounded by fireflies, who have no sense of FOMO at all.
Did you know that fireflies are also among the most efficient light-producers in the world? The chemical reaction in a firefly has a near-100% energy conversion ratio, compared with just 10% for an old school incandescent bulb. And researchers are copying the reflective structures on the firefly to improve effectiveness of LED bulb designs. Celebration, science, poetry, nature, magic – they are all pretty close cousins sometimes.
Dear ones, as we search for the rare and showy fireworks high up in the sky, let’s be sure not to curse the things that are in our way. They might contain an even more amazing show.
We have a new Poet Laureate! Joy Harjo, member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, is the first Native American to hold this post. I have just begun to read her work, and in the first interview I saw, she noted, “Everything is a living being. Even time, even words.” So now I am working my way through the living beings of her words, meeting her poems. Today I woke at dawn to the crow calling outside my window, stumbled downstairs, and in a curious non-coincidence this is the poem that was waiting for me.
Twenty years ago, I found my own little patch of ground to care for, the one that had been in my dreams all along. That first spring, I sent away for dozens of apple trees and peony plants, eager to be rooted.
Imagine my dismay when my glorious orchard arrived in a little shoe box! The trees were not yet trees at all, but little pencils of tree-lings. The peonies were not giant shrubs covered in puffballs, but a bowlful of tiny new potatoes.
The early years were not much better. The deer ate the pencil-trees to the nub every time a leaf appeared, the peonies sent up sad single stalks without blooms, and I did my best to weed and chase the critters away, though often unsuccessfully and sometimes with a dash of resentment.
Now, all of a sudden, or so it seems, the apple trees are spreading unruly branches over my head and there are so many peonies it looks like a small child’s drawing of a garden, with great blobs of color all over the place.
Dear ones, we need to keep going.