This entire week has been gloriously beautiful here in the Midwest, much more of a late summer feeling than an early fall, with warm sun bearing down and cloudless azure skies above. I haven’t felt called to decorate with fall flowers inside or out, although many of my neighbors have placed colorful pots of golden mums on their porches and decks, and hung fall foliage wreaths on their front doors.
Yesterday was a blissfully free day, and I gave in and spent the afternoon on my deck, feet up, books at hand. I left my phone inside the house so I wouldn’t be tempted by the internet, and spent over two hours reading, dozing, taking a few moments every now and then to gaze up and savor the full leafed green trees around me. There was a poignancy to the day, one of the few like it left to grace us as we barrel full speed ahead into fall and then winter. I was mindful of being poised on the edge of that change.
This morning I awoke to overcast skies and a damp breeze. I upended the morning routine and took the dogs for an early walk, hoping to beat the rain and feeling the first drops begin to tap me on the head as we took the short-cut across the golf course and came up the road toward home. Now the dogs are confused by this change (and so am I) since I’m usually here at my desk before their exercise routine, not after.
Be flexible, I urge them, although I’m entirely sympathetic. It’s different, but it will be fine.
They grumble and snort and finally heave a big sigh before settling into their respective beds under my writing table. They aren’t completely convinced. Neither am I.
It’s been a topsy-turvy week all around. Fall schedules are back in swing...Classical Bells started rehearsals on Monday, I had a meeting at the office on Tuesday. I volunteer with a community theater group and they held auditions for their fall show on Monday and Wednesday evenings, so I helped out with those. Jim worked from home on Wednesday, which meant we were able to go out for lunch, a lovely respite but one that required some rushing to do the normal Wednesday errands with my mom and still get home in time for the theater commitment. Traffic was much heavier than during the summer, and people seemed rushed and irritable on the road as they adjusted to their own schedule changes and their new fall commute.
Throughout the week, a line from a poem by William Wordsworth kept trailing through my mind: “The world is too much with us,” he wrote. I felt the intrusions of the modern world in a big way this week. The daily rush of people to and fro, the complex necessities of doing business, the myriad of stores and stops and goods to be bought and sold.
Not to mention the horrific images of the European refugee crisis we see on the ever present news feeds - thousands of people displaced from their homes, seeking asylum somewhere, anywhere they might be taken in and given shelter and the opportunity for some new life, unknown and unpredictable as that might be.
Not to mention a “debate” amongst a dozen people who purport to be the leaders of this nation of ours, a group of people who displayed little to no reassuring leadership presence or humanity or understanding of the human condition or the needs of this nation.
I am tempted to shout: What is this world coming to? This world that is so much with me these days. I feel ancient and outdated when I have those thoughts, reminded of long ago days when my elders who would start a sentence with the words “Back in my day...” and I would turn off my ears instead of listening.
And just when I am certain we are headed for hell in a hand basket, that things in this country and this world have never been so absurd, have never been poised on such a dangerous precipice; just when I give up on it all and collapse into my comfortable deck chair to escape into nature and peace for a few minutes; just then I pick up my book and open it to these words:
“We are in a period where violence and torture are taken for granted almost everywhere, and where the so-called civilized people must go on eating candy and drinking whiskey while millions die of hunger. At the root of it all is the lack of imagination. I am more and more convinced that in the lives of civilizations as in the lives of individuals too much matter that cannot be digested, too much experience that has not been imagined and probed and understood, ends in total rejection of everything. The structures break down and there is nothing to hold onto. It understandable that at such times religious fanatics arise and the fundamentalists rise up in fury. Hatred rather than love dominates.
How does one handle it? The greatest danger, as I see it in myself, is the danger of withdrawal into private worlds. We have to keep the channels in ourselves open to pain. At the same time it is essential that true joys be experienced, that the sunrise not leave us unmoved, for civilization depends on true joys, all those that have nothing to do with money or affluence - nature, the arts, human love."
Poet and novelist May Sarton wrote these paragraphs in her journal about 45 years ago, in the wake of the Vietnam war and the rise of urban unrest and violence here in the States. She had just moved into a remote house in northern Maine, perched high on an outcropping of rocks overlooking the sea. And while it might seem as if she were “withdrawing into a private world” such as she warned about, she was really immersing herself in the “true joys” of life - the beauty of nature, a communion with her friends through extensive and thoughtful correspondence, and most importantly, through capturing it all to share in her poetry and prose. Her years in The House by the Sea demonstrate the value of such a life as an oasis in the midst of the world and its troubles.
My instinct in the face of unrest and disheartening change in the world is to seek out the beauty around me, to steep myself in the warmth of a late summer day, to fill my ears with the sound of bird song or joyous music, to fill my head with good sentences of wisdom from writers and poets who write from a place of thoughtful observation. To remain mindful of the suffering and pain, to seek ways to rectify it, but to remind myself of the things that stay the same, despite the everlasting change that occurs in the world around us.
For the world will always be too much with us, as that other poet William Wordsworth also wrote over 150 years 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!
This 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. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
May we all find a pleasant lea to stand on this mid-September Friday.
May we all see glimpses to make us less forlorn.