I just love this poem by Eleanor Lerman, whose simple, declarative sentences and plainspoken tone search for the sacred in the banal. The seemingly unremarkable moments in life—a walk to the pond, pie for dessert, an unexpected encounter—are what offer us entree to the divine. Today, I am grateful for the small signs that reveal a universe of wonder. Below is a video of the unexpected encounter we had this Thanksgiving morning. Was is a message, or just another day?
by Eleanor Lerman
This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who says, Last night,
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?
Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.
And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.
Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
were born at a good time. Because you were able
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.
So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.
The other night, I rolled over in my sleep and pushed one of the cats out of the bed. The thud woke me up, though it didn’t seem to bother the cat. A chilly wind was dancing around the courtyard of our apartment building, and shouldering its way into a crack in our bedroom window. It was around 2:30 am—that restless, magical time when our thoughts tend to unravel like so many balls of yarn.
I’ve been thinking about how old our cats have gotten: They’ll turn 18 and 17, respectively, on Thanksgiving. When the temperatures begin to plummet—causing everyone to launch into a kind of end-of-the-year panic—it’s easy to ignore the inevitable. But now we’ve heard from our upstate neighbors that the first snow has fallen at Smallpeace, planting us firmly in the winter season. I am struck by how sneakily change happens. My male cat has begun howling at night, a sure sign of dementia. Only the sound of our voices makes him stop. My female has to paw at her bowl to find the water level. She has trouble seeing it in the dark.
I begin to brood about my graying hair, which I’ve only recently begun to have colored at a hip Brooklyn hair salon. Now, fully restored to my “natural” nut brown, it will be only four weeks before my roots, bright as a moonbeam, begin to peep through. I’ve started to make my appointments in advance, so as not to “leave it too long,” as my beautician grandmother used to say—and wish, as a dear friend begins her first round of chemo treatments on Monday, that I could share my good fortune. And that is as far as I get before the cat starts to howl and I rush to cradle him in my arms, and we both drift peacefully back to sleep.
The sky over the wetlands is a hard, cold gray. The last pitted apples on the tree outside our door are hanging stubborn for now. It’s mouse season, and last night I woke up to the sound of insulation being gnawed in the kneeling space beside our bed. In a few more months the full Snow Moon will shine above our heads when my husband and I go out for our late evening walk.
We’ve lit a fire in the woodstove this afternoon more out of ceremony than necessity, and when the flames begin to wilt neither one of us moves to feed them. I have poems to write and reading assignments to conquer, but an unfamiliar sound—like the release of tractor-trailer breaks—disrupts my concentration.
“What’s that?” we both wonder aloud in and unison, as two gargantuan shadows fall across the lawn. We rush to the front porch and are treated to a surreal scene: Two hot-air balloons have floated out of the mist, and are rising like circus tents before our eyes. Their ascension is punctuated by Darth Vader-like exhales, and our little hamlet suddenly feels alive with excitement. We wave and shout to the people in the baskets. Their giddiness and sense of wonderment is contagious. And so we go: me in the driver’s seat and Ber riding shotgun, snapping away on his iPhone.
“Are you going to the lake?” We holler into air. The wayfarers can hear us clear as a bell, and gesture for us to follow them north. But the country roads can’t take us where they are going. We simply pull over and watch and wait as they disappear over a stand of pines, full of exhilaration and a little less earthbound for the encounter.
After the days have long drawn in upon themselves, and the White Witch has cast her somnambulant spell over Smallpeace, I will remember these things about summer in no particular order: The heady, black pepper and anise scent of Ooms … Continue reading
**Sorry for the silence, but I have been tending to my health and well-being with a long-overdue trip to my hometown of San Diego, where I had the most wonderful time visiting with family and friends. It should come as no surprise that I managed to find an abundance of Smallpeace in beautiful, sunny Southern California. I think they must grow it there. Anyway, couldn’t get any photos of the surfers of which I write, as we were too far away, but suffice it to say that this was one of the more memorable images of my trip:
From the highest point in the gardens of the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple Meditation Gardens in Encinitas, California, the view of the Pacific Ocean is a site to behold. There is a raggle-taggle row of surfers bobbing in the water below. It is Friday morning, around 10:30 or so. On each board, a surfer waits, some talking, some staring out at the offshore break, some lazily paddling into a more strategic position. The beach along the shoreline is empty. It is a quiet section, and the air is full of anticipation.
Abruptly, the wind shifts and the surfers hustle into place. Any double-parked boards separate and fall into line, and then the poetry happens. The surfers angle for optimum positioning, sinuously, expertly, just ahead of where the swell has begun to build. Then, all at once, with Zen master focus, they all set off, synchronizing their strokes in time with the rhythm of the rising swell. The most practiced—or just plain lucky—among them get the timing just right, springing feline-like into an upright position, sinking their weight into their hips, softening their knees, and training their gaze in the direction they want their boards to go. It occurs to me that the relationship between surfer and sea is not unlike the alchemy that can occur between the best riders and horses, and I begin to see them as mini Poseidons rising from the depths, brandishing their tridents, in full command of their destinies, completely awake in the moment.