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Saturday, March 16, 2019

You’re Not Getting a Complete Picture

The other morning I had an e-mail from a reader of this blog that read, “Pamela, I have just read yesterday's blog. Your dedication to loving life inspires the same in me!”

I do love life. Indeed, what else is there? Everything else for the human species — love, honor, integrity, good deeds, art literature, our very appreciation of beauty in the natural world — depends on our being alive and receptive and responsive. At the same time, we all need reminders of the wonder of life, such as this one I found in the words of a Western painter:

...You’re a little biological entity that has some very miraculous sensory organs, and you have a brain so you can organize it and understand it partially. And you’re fragile. You live a very short time in a hostile, and yet friendly, universe because you evolved in the ecology in which you live. And you can either shrink from the world in fright and try to avoid the reality of your perishability and sense of being no more, or you can throw yourself into it and say it’s an adventure. And I’m going to drink it to the full and experience what I can and record what I can, and distill and understand what I can. 
Wilson Hurley, painter, in an interview, in WILSON HURLEY: A RETROSPECTIVE EXHIBITION

Reader, thank you for your message and for the subject heading you gave it: “Grateful.” I am grateful for your words of encouragement! It helps to know that anything I’ve written was able to help someone else! 

Look for the singing bird
The truth is, though, that I do not put my whole life online in this blog (or anywhere else), and if you think I don’t have dark nights of the soul, you would be very mistaken. Sometimes (though these have been uncommon lately, I’m happy to say) I even have dark days of the soul. Thinking that warm spring days had arrived, for example, I found it difficult to be plunged back once more into freezing nights and winter-cold days filled with bitter, relentless wind — and the coincidence of learning, as another overcast morning dawned, seeming to dawn with grudging reluctance, learning that same morning that someone I had believed was dedicated to the betterment of the world and the downtrodden is working instead with very different aims than those he states publicly — well, that coincidence brought me very low, very low indeed. And even on the best of days, a dark current often runs intermittently beneath and behind the brightness, because the general direction of our government these days and of world governments and societies in general is not one I can see as “bending toward justice” or likely to create a better life for future generations. 

It is not disagreement, as such, that weighs heavily on my heart but the hatred and vitriol that too often accompany it. Why should other Americans brand me an enemy because our beliefs about the country’s good differ? Was one bloody Civil War not enough? This hatred makes my heart heavy. The wise counsel dialogue, and I have tried to initiate dialogue — on violence and on partisan politics, attempting to allow myself to be vulnerable in hopes that those who see me wrong would not see me as an enemy but as someone with whom they could share not only their views and beliefs but also their reasons and feelings. What I got back, other than encouragement from friends already in agreement with me, was a resounding silence.

So if you see me as flying above political tumult and dwelling in another, simpler, more lighthearted reality than anyone else, you see a partial picture at best! Should I correct my presentation of self by including pessimistic gloom, despair, and nightmares in these posts? And if I’m not going to do that, why even mention the bleak side of my mind and heart today?

Little tree of thorns

Thorns, yes

But it is also full of life

I asked a friend, a writer and artist, how she managed to maintain her sunny, upbeat attitude in today’s difficult national climate. I wish I could remember precisely her response, but it went something like this: “I’m trying to lead with my strength.” Happiness was not her only emotional state, you see, but the one she chose to share with others. She chooses, continually, to share her strength, rather than her weakness.

Painter Wilson Hurley was not unaware of his own “perishability” but chose not to dwell on that and live in fear. Neither am I unaware nor unaffected by the ills of the world and the horrors perpetrated by mankind, but I refuse to let that aspect of reality blind me to the wonders of life and the world, which are equally real. (Besides, as I say, my attempts to invite dialogue on the sorrow and anger infecting us all went nowhere, and beating a dead horse is the last ploy of the defeated.)

Il faut lutter,” my friend Hélène wrote to me long ago. “Il faut se blinder contra la vie.” She had lived through war, had lost her husband to other women (not one but many), had no children or any other living relatives, and her old age was spent in poverty, every day a struggle — but she never, even while retaining a sharp mind and keen awareness of world events, never lost her charming, childlike joy in pleasures that required no expenditure of money: the song of a bird, a letter from a friend, sunshine through her window falling on her “little garden” of potted herbs. These were her armor, talismans in the struggle not to lose her love of life. She was really not barricading herself against life, you see, but only against life’s sorrows, and she used life’s joys for her barricade. Even that doesn’t fully capture it. Rather, the joy in a bird’s song for a while took precedence over any other thought or sensation. My friend was not hiding from reality behind a barricade of birdsong, because the singing of the bird was as real as anything else and worthy of attention. 

What brings us joy is as worthy of attention as the flaws of the world we would mend if we could. Is that better? We will be here only a short time, and each of us has a different way we can help others. Sharing joy can be one of those ways, as my American artist-writer friend and my Parisian friend Hélène showed me. 

So I am not going to delve publicly into my fears and sorrows here on “Books in Northport” and only bring them up at all to say to anyone else who feels sad or fearful or pessimistic or hopeless, today or any other day or night: You probably feel alone, but you are not the only one. To be alive, to be human, is to struggle.

But where do you, where might you, find joy? What do you, might you, love? This winter I find my bliss in the sublime indifference of mountains and desert I love more each day, as well as in the companionship of my husband and our dog and our neighbors. Also in the peaceful nearness of cattle and horses. The occasional butterfly on a warm day. And all these are real aspects of the real world.

Passing through
What the future holds, none of us knows. We are passing through life, and all we have is today. For now I am here. And so, if I can share even the smallest quotient of my happiness or maybe “inspire” someone else to find it wherever he or she may, please consider these seasonal retirement postings as my “mite” for the collection plate. For now, it is what I have to give. On my good days. And if you want something cheerier from me today, go back to March 28, 2015. The sun sets, the sun rises. 



Dawn said...

I struggle with this, the not sharing the complete picture. I don't want to lose friends over political differences, and yet I have with this last election. It makes me sad that we can't just listen to each other without judgement.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, I know what you mean about listening. My more recent disappointment is to have friends avoiding important topics, not trusting me to listen, even after I have opened up to listening. Well, it's all true, isn't it? The fear and the hope, the good and the bad. And so we totter on....

Jeanie Furlan said...

Struggling with the darkness of people’s actions and comments is hard to avoid, but I commend you, Pamela, and others, who look to share the beauty of nature and the comments of positive throughts. I believe that the human condition will always weigh heavily on the burdens of living, but if one gravitates to the lightness, one that you mention in different ways in your narratives, Pamela, then life becomes easier. Your photography is amazing! I love the long views and close-ups: the fantastic rocks and the pearls of water in the vervain succulent plants. I have been so lucky in my life: working & sharing music, theater, artists putting our scenery together, camraderie with women backstage, in the chorus with high school kids, and in the musician’s pit with people who were (and continue to be) open and helpful. Thank you for all you do to keep us on the light side!~