"You are like the ticket-half
I find inside the pocket of
my old leaf-raking coat.
There all the time, all the while,
I so often seem to leave You
and other islands."
~ The Innocence Mission, Every Hour Here
What we now perceive may essentially be a discovery of what we have been gradually deriving from our travels. Our gleanings. Like the shells and pine cones on my dashboard. The jottings in my journal. This season draws another year to a close, or rather to the next chapter’s threshold. Daylight’s brevity is no longer a surprise; we are all used to it, now. Dark mornings are times to gather thoughts. While the holidays punctuate work schedules, magnetizing many to malls, I have been cherishing all the quiet I can find. A cursory glance at last year’s journals verify the enormous transitions of the eventful months since last Christmas. Perhaps appropriately, my thoughts turn to the idea of gifts. And surely, I had no such thoughts at this time last year. When I am unable to see what changes may have manifested, amidst the day’s immediacy, it is thankfully evident in the archival record of written musings. My gratitude for all my adventures of the concluding year is a wonder that is regenerating into a strength of hope.
There is a gift to be found in simply recognizing the value in each preceding step. Material gifts in themselves mean a great deal less to me than ever, not just because of a recent burdensome relocation, but also in my yearning for substantive simplicity. The less, the better; the humblest, the most meaningful. I find that I am re-defining the gifts I have known, be it through the eyes of a recipient or those of the giver. Increasingly, I’m giving gifts that I’ve made myself, as well as treasuring the written words, calls, and embraces (and home-made gifts) I receive. An emphasis upon honest purpose flies in the face of the fog bank of mass-media-driven consumerism, which attempts to convince us all that our lives are incomplete. Don’t buy it, friends. The sublime indescribable beckons so much more forcefully, though indeed subtly, than breakable plastic. The other evening, around the table, I asked each of my gathered friends for a word that came to mind, and collecting them, as one might with exotic postage stamps, I wrote them in my book. The savour of an occasion. Such gifts take on an enhanced significance: the sight of familiar faces, with the ecstatic greetings of friends. We give and gather acknowledgment of one another’s presence.
A lunch hour turned into a barrage of errands and forgettable things nearly forgotten. With a few moments to recharge, I stopped for coffee. The above picture attests to a serendipitous moment of reflection and a few vital tastes to balance a day which otherwise would not have afforded the chance to pause. Balancing time and spirit requires a deftness similar to that of composing a photographic image. All the forms cannot be weighted to one side, or to the center, at the expense of the sum total of the picture. Angle of view is as critical as the image’s contents. I like to think of Robert Capa’s adage that said, "if you’re not happy with your pictures, you need to get closer to your subjects." Defying my old tendency to skip meals in order to get things done, I stopped in the middle of a long road trip; the idea was to avoid arriving at my destination on an empty stomach- as usual. The looks of the little roadside diner in northern Vermont instantly produced a surprising appetite. And when the hospitable waitress set down the aromatic home-made meatloaf at my place, I set down my writing and suddenly saw a grand image for all the senses to absorb- from the bustle inside the tiny diner, to the snowstorm outside, to my table. Discreetly taking a quick photo (below), the waitress later asked if everything was all right. I assured her the meal was truly a thing of beauty. And it really was. From my place setting, fleeting beacons of sunlight interrupted the pensive gloom of winter. These graces may be quite commonplace- and though they know no calendar days, they are no less rarified to behold.
It is possible to see a renewed way of perception has taken root, when there is an emphasis on the interconnection and interrelation in a life as diversified and eclectic as mine. And it is for me to notice those connections, allowing them to influence one another and add the color of cultivated vision. On a given day, for example, I’ve witnessed a common thread tie together something I read, with something my landlady said on my way out the door, with something an old friend told me on the street later that day, with yet more random thoughts the janitor at work told me that evening. The raw ingredients are for us to discern; we become the editors of connected events from fascinatingly unrelated sources. If we are awake enough to distinguish one day from another, we may surely embody our own evolvement, and recognize the passage of time as a renewing gift. Somehow, through barricades "inclosing all paths with hewn stone," the anguished and tortured Jeremiah found enough shreds of light to remember that so long as he was alive and breathing there was mercy. The verbal ocean of severity he composed, in the Lamentations, is ironically the source of the phrase, "great is Your faithfulness."
At times during which stagnation seemed certain, I had been unaware of what had been forming beneath the visible surface. Revised perceptions inform us that we are awake. And how we perceive the benevolence in our lives, humble as it may be, does attest to how our tastes- and even our spirituality has begun to evolve. A paradox comes to mind, which finds the seemingly lowly as greatly exalted in one’s heart. Our heart’s desires also develop, as do our wishes for one another. And for me, it is to be something of a tabula rasa- as much as possible. All transitions challenge us, even the ones that present new gifts to our lives. Even the positive changes ask our time for adjustment. Keeping perspective in the mixture of frustration, trepidation, homesickness- and- yes, excitement. And somehow, in the midst of this mélange, is a detachment that inspires an odd, gripless strength. It seems that with less to hold on to, there are fewer tangible reasons to tempt me to look back. With less grasp, there is an expanse of an embrace for others, and for what is both now and shall become.