I admit, this inspiration came from a curious source – it was the quote of the day on my Bloomberg terminal earlier this week. (Who says financiers can’t be poets?) The phrase struck me immediately, as lately I’ve been feeling the joy of coming back to my profession after a long fruitful time of rooting, sometimes in the darkness. This return brings a wonderful springy feeling of homecoming, of re-membering.
It would be easy to skim over Roethke’s quote in a light and breezy way, but this poet was neither light nor breezy. This is the man who also wrote, “Pain wanders through my bones like a lost fire,” and “The visible exhausts me. I am dissolved in shadow.”
Roethke’s density is what makes the brightness true. There is no light without darkness, no growth without decay, no sprouting without rooting. Consider his awful, beautiful “Florist’s Root Cellar”:
Dear Honeybees, as we curl into our winters, both literal and symbolic, I hope we do not dread the darkness and weight that winter can bring. Keep breathing a small breath. Hold the light in your roots.
I’ve written before about this powerful phrase from Rilke, and had the chance to share it with some dear friends from Wellesley this week.
If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence,
We could rise up rooted, like trees.
We often think of rising and recovery as gravity-defying: bouncing back, or leaping forward. What would it look like if we rose up without jumping? If we rose up, rooted?
One clue comes from redwood trees, whose strength is based not on their solitary roots, but on the way they intertwine with others. The bad news is, each tree’s roots are just about six feet deep, not nearly enough to support several hundred feet of above-ground growth. The good news is, these shallow roots are woven together with those from all the other trees, forming a huge web of mutual support.
When they’re connected, these trees are among the strongest organisms on the planet.
The connection crosses generations: when a mother tree within that forest web falls, new sprouts emerge from the same roots, forming a big circle of redwoods called a Fairy Ring.
And what do we call a Fairy Ring once it matures?
Dear Honeybees, I wish you roots that run deep and wide. And even more than that, I wish you a whole forest of community, so that your strength is multiplied manyfold, across both time and space.
If you’re a bee, you mostly see black and white. So what’s the point of all those colorful flowers? Recent research confirms that bees follow ultraviolet patterns on flowers. The bright yellows and reds don’t matter so much, but the tiny brown markings near the center can glow like neon to a bee.
Moreover, much of this color is structural color. Rather than pigment that’s blue, the “eat here” signs for bees are often made up of tiny surface structures that reflect light. Without those structures, the markings are pretty plain, even to a bee.
Can you picture a world where vibrance and shimmer comes from structure, instead of from toxic dyes and dug-up minerals?
Of course you can, ’cause we’re already living in that world. We just can’t always see it yet.
Dear Honeybees, is there something you see that others can’t?
Imagine what you might do with that vision.
One of Doctorow’s themes is that the rebels of one era tend to become the bureaucrats of the next era. For example, companies that fought constraints of copyright laws in their early days as scrappy disruptors are now arguing for more restrictive policies that favor their big grown-up businesses.
This is an important business theme, to be sure, and it also raises some essential questions about purpose and change. This week I also celebrated my birthday, and have been reflecting on these very topics. Which youthful rebellions and passions have run their course, and which have become the core of my grown-up life? Which have I set aside, and is that due to intention or to distraction? Which have developed over the years, maybe so gradually that I haven’t even noticed yet?
Am I being the pirate I want to be, and also the admiral I want to be?
Years ago I had a fantasy baseball team called the Nice Marauders – because I wanted to pillage the other teams, but, you know, not in a mean way. Luckily outside of fantasy baseball there is limited call for pillaging, but the idea that competition and kindness can go hand in hand has stuck with me. I could have known way back then that I was always going to look for the “both” instead of either/or.
Dear Honeybees, the world needs noble pirates and the world needs honorable admirals. Whichever you are today, and whichever you are becoming, I’m cheering you on.
She noted the pressure that some of us feel to elevate everything to “gift level” – divorce as a gift, illness as a gift, loss as a gift. This is a lot of pressure! Salzberg advised that we don’t always have to go that far. Just work on seeing circumstances as a given – they don’t have to be a gift.
On a related note, she mentioned that sometimes a package IS presented as a gift, when in fact it is not.
Here, have this box of chaos, someone will offer. And sometimes it is so pretty, all wrapped up in sparkly paper with a big bow on top. It looks so lovely and inviting!
We’ve all opened the chaos box at times – sometimes knowingly, sometimes not. Alas, no matter how great the wrapping, it’s still chaos on the inside.
You know what’s great? Turns out, just because someone offers the box of chaos, doesn’t mean we have to accept it. We’re allowed to say, no thank you, I already have plenty.
Dear Honeybees, I wish us courage to handle all that is given, even when it’s not a gift.
And the next time someone asks, would you like my box of chaos? I hope we say, kindly and clearly,