April 2018

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Dixie's whistling on the Left Coast

Last night, we had a North Carolina thunderstorm in Seattle. The day had been hot: in fact, the last few days were unusually hot, in the high 80s and 90s, so the earth was hard and dry. So was the air. (In North Carolina, of course, the air would have been heavy with moisture, but that didn't happen here.) After dark, the air was still and the stars darkened, and then a bright burst of white light popped in the sky. A few seconds later, the thunder cracked. And with the thunder, a burst of rain, a torrent, fell onto the dry earth. Two minutes later, the rain stopped as suddenly as it had started, and the air smelled like it does after rain has hit the dry earth: a smell that took me back to another hot spot, the Grand Canyon.

I don't know if anybody's still arguing that climate change is a leftist myth, maybe the same people who didn't believe that tobacco could be bad for you, and I don't know if this storm was just an anomaly or evidence of climate change, but after only 23 years on the Left Coast, it does seem like the climate here is changing: Dixie's whistling on the Left Coast.

How can we not notice what the world and our bodies are teaching us?  As the poet William Wordsworth mourned two centuries ago:

THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--

How can we be so out of tune? Or, as my buddy Billy Shakespeare's Hamlet said, "The time is out of joint."

But, maybe there's hope for this ailing earth, as Pablo Neruda writes in his poem "Keeping Quiet" in his book Prayers for the Earth

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Sometimes I feel desperately sad about the destruction that we humans have wrought here on Mother Earth, but lately I've been thinking about the nature of impermanence. I've been thinking about my own impermanence since brain tumors so that I've come to feel my life as impermanent, and now I'm thinking also of impermanence as the natural course of this earth.

After all, I learned long ago that this earth would not last forever: the sun one day will expand to engulf the earth and then both the earth and the sun will die. So even though the earth could certainly last longer if we were more mindful of our responsibilities to it, it, like we, would die eventually anyway.

Is that a way of saying that these wars and this destruction of our natural world don't matter? Not at all. Life is such a gift. For example, although I know that one day I will  die, I won't run in the street and die today. I want to live each day fully until my next transformation, whatever that is.

And what does that impermanence say about the nature of God? Are we and this earth some divine experiment looked upon without concern? I don't know, but I don't think so. It seems to me that "with all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world" (to cite Max Ehrmann). And it seems to me I know nothing of God but love. Which is another way of drawing the conclusion that the poet John Keats draws at the end of "Ode on a Grecian Urn":  "Beauty is truth; truth, beauty. That is all we know on earth and all we need to know."

For me in this moment, it's okay if I know nothing but this. 

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