Last week, I took a long hike with a dear friend, up through a forest that had been consumed by fire a few years back. It was not quite as conventionally pretty as other hikes nearby, with its ghost trees poking up to the sky and the newer undergrowth just beginning to thrive. But it was gorgeous to see all of the layers of life exposed: the scarred elder trees that had persevered through the flames and were puffing out new pinecones, the grey and rotting pieces of those that had collapsed and were resting beneath our feet, the pillars of those that had died but not yet fallen, watching over us.
And all around – still, again – life.
The water gushed down the falls, cold and clear. The woodpecker perched on the top of a ghost tree, cleaning and preening, feather by feather. The saplings stretched toward the sun, fresh and gold-green.
For a long time, I’ve looked forward to beginnings, and sincerely so. The next book, the next season, the next trip are worthy of celebrating, piling more and more opportunities for the richness of life on top of what’s already been experienced.
Another dear friend likes to tell me, “there’s a reason the windshield is larger than the rear view mirror,” and I have taken this motto to heart.
Eager as I am for whatever is to come, I have not been as willing to pause to give thanks for what has passed, for the compost that has been made of all that has come before and the way that its nourishing all that is happening now. This sounds easy enough to do, but it requires also revisiting the pain of what has passed, at least a little. Whether the end of blueberry season or the end of a life, we can’t get at the gratitude without swimming through some sorrow.
Dear friends, this week, as we begin all kinds of new things, let’s pause and look back. Let’s thank all that has come before – the recent and the distant, the creation and the destruction, the joy and the sorrow. All that makes this new moment possible.
*** In case you missed it, our latest reading list can be found here. ***
It is six years this week since the great Seamus Heaney passed, and it is blackberry season and a holiday weekend in the US. Let’s celebrate with him:
Dear ones, whatever we are after today, it will not keep.
Let’s devour the berries, straight from the bush.
Rest is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be. – David Whyte
I saw my first red and gold leaves this week, even as the tomatoes are still leaping off the vines and the splashing is still loud in the lake beyond the woods. The coming turn of season has me thinking about the differences between rest and vacation, and how we jumble the two together sometimes.
Rest can be a minute or a month. It restores us, brings us back to an essential state of clarity and presence.
Vacation, in contrast, can sometimes be the opposite. We might find ourselves rushing for flights, tossing and turning in unfamiliar beds, preoccupied with guidebooks or dinner reservations or who brought the sunscreen. We might catch up on the news or read a poignant novel that plunge us into despair instead of peace.
To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right…. Rested, we are ready for the world but not held hostage by it, rested we care again for the right things and the right people in the right way.
I’m heading off on a little vacation during these waning days of summer, but more than that, I am heading towards some rest.
Dear friends, whether for a week or an hour or the space of a single breath, in the midst of tumult and busyness and chaos this week, I wish you rest.
* I’ve just put together our Summer Reading List, which features this new favorite from Whyte, amongst others. You can find it here.
In honor of National Honeybee Day (August 17), here are a few observations I’ve gathered from beekeeping.
Stop. Read that last part again. Close your eyes. Picture it.
Dear friends, let’s take a spoonful of honey today and consider all those bees, all those flights, all those flowers.
Let’s let our gratitude spill over into love.
Some days. Some weeks. Some months… are doozies. This past week alone, reeling from more news of violence – against one another, against our home planet, against ourselves – there was the awfulness of the loss of Toni Morrison, and of a dear friend’s angelic grandmother, accompanied by a comparatively minuscule but powerfully anxiety-producing flock of stocks that seemed to only go down. Way down. My lizard brain was steeped in fear, circling upon itself, hyper-vigilant and waiting for further attack.
I went to a concert, happily, but it was a school night and so I was thinking of all the other things that needed to get done once the music was over. I am a fan, yet not a very loyal or knowledgeable one, and we were in a formal concert hall that encouraged polite listening, nothing more. For the first part of the performance I was appreciative, in a sort of analytical, far-off way. Then somehow, finally, it all came rushing in. The bass was thumping through our feet and out the tops of our heads, and the band was focused and immensely talented, and the singer was iconic and brave and generous and he was having SO MUCH FUN that we were infected and at long last we all were on our feet, dancing our butts off.
Dear ones, we have buckets of cold water pouring down on us daily. We are often trying to light the fire of our spirits with a single soggy match. So when we feel a little spark, it’s natural that we’d sometimes think, why bother? The next deluge is coming soon. I can take it.
But we are not here only to endure. The rain is coming whether we want it to or not, whether we are ready or not. So when we feel a spark, our job is to not let it fizzle.
We need to fan the flames.
This week, dear friends, let’s not stay seated. Let’s do more than endure.
Let’s dance our butts off.