I learned moments after finishing this post that Steve Jobs died today. This post is dedicated with gratitude to his extraordinary life and legacy.
And here I build a platform, and live upon it, and think my thoughts, and aim high. To rise, I must have a field to rise from. To deepen, I must have a bedrock from which to descend. The constancy of the physical world, under its green and blue dyes, draws me towards a better, richer self, call it elevation (there is hardly an adequate word), where I might ascend a little–where a gloss of spirit would mirror itself in worldly action. I don’t mean just mild goodness. I mean feistiness too, the fires of human energy stoked; I mean a gladness vivacious enough to disarrange the sorrows of the world into something else. I mean whatever real rejoicing can do! We all know how brassy and wonderful it is to come into some new understanding. Imagine what it would be like, to lounge on the high ledge of submission and pure wonder. Nature, all around us, is our manifest exemplar. Not from the fox, or the leaf, or the drop of rain will you ever hear doubt or argument.
~ Mary Oliver, from “Home” in Long Life: Essays and Other Writings
I wandered right into this book, this essay, this page, this paragraph tonight, after drinking a pomegranate martini and sharing a meal with one of my people. The visit, the meal, the words all “hit the spot,” as my Grandma Lee used to say. Grandma Lee who died when she was 69, the age my beloved father turned today. Grandma Lee, who dwelled in the land not of ideas but of ashtrays and fabric and bread in the oven. They say I have her smiling eyes.
To rise, I must have a field to rise from. To deepen, I must have a bedrock from which to descend.
Today I bought a house. Our house. My house. The house where I have lived for six and half years now. The house where Pearl was conceived, where Aviva read her first book aloud to me and Greg one night, astounding us with her total her-ness. The house in the village-like neighborhood in the small city I have finally embraced after eleven years of pining for some center of gravity not quite so white, so far north. The house that has been both nest and fortress, that I left briefly and then returned to. And now own. Alone.
By 10:00 this morning, I was sitting my car, praying. Or maybe I was lounging on the high ledge of submission and pure wonder–what breathtaking language!–leaning back into the bigness of something as ordinary are signing and initializing a stack of photocopies. Beyond doubt and argument, the leaf and the fox have led me home.
Today I ran six miles with a trusted colleague who has surely become a friend. Six miles! Well more than twice my usual distance. We ran up Maple Street, the steep hill from our office to campus. Then he said, how about we try something a little different? Brassy and wonderful–to follow, to be led, with a little penalty built in for fun (half a mile extra) for any guess I might have made as to our route. And so I did not guess, or doubt or argue. I ran alongside, not leading or behind, off the beaten path onto the manicured golf course lawn, to the bike path and Route 7 traffic and then headlong into the north wind on the lake, choppy and glorious.
Today I bought a house and I ran six miles. I left my office to work instead in a nearby coffeeshop, where I felt pleasingly productive. No mere mild goodness this, nor anything extraordinary. In the final days of this season of tshuvah–not repentance but returning, to the day-to-day routines that shape my life and have once again begun to settle into place.
It is an old habit to question myself, the authenticity of my own new understandings, and to imagine there is a distinction between the spirit world, that gloss, and the worldly actions of running and refinancing. The blue sky and the blue water are both true. Who is to say which is spirit and which is worldly?
Mary Oliver’s words bring me home, to the front door where I turn the key, tidy the pantry, make the bed, brush the teeth. A field to rise from…. a bedrock from which to descend. This is home for me, what I have worked for, lost and found again. The still-green grass, the brisk pace of October, the broken dishwasher door, the indescribable heart-filling of carrying a sleeping child from the couch to her bed, or playing Star Wars Trouble in the early-morning hours, a mug of coffee beside me on the living room floor, the hum and chaos and rhythm and rush of getting girls to school and myself to work on time, the kitten’s favorite windowsill and the rotting pane I will have to seal until spring, leaning a little more each day into faith, turning over worry to the leaf, the fox, the wind.
My mind wants to draw a line between the brassy and wonderful, the new, the novel, and the ordinary, the routine, the everyday familiarity of a house that needs cleaning, plans that need making, forms that need filling, calls that need returning. But my heart, when tears flow without stories or laughter bubbles as if from some mystery geyser of real rejoicing–this is the heart that knows without knowing and thinks without thinking.
Today I came home. Crossing all those t’s and dotting the i’s, feeling at once steely and vulnerable, my steady breath like a protective remedy against big generalized thoughts and words like “symbolism” and “implications.” Running alongside my guide, willing to cede control and go whatever distance he determined. Completing a third of the crossword in the restaurant lobby while I waited for my old friend to arrive.
And I came here, to the bookstore where I opened without any effort to these words:
It is the intimate, never the general, that is teacherly. The idea of love is not love. The idea of ocean is neither salt nor sand; the face of the seal cannot rise from the idea to stare at you, to astound your heart. Time must grow thick and merry with incident, before thought can begin.
Over time, the path leads from ideas of things to the things themselves, and then they are blue and green and rough and sticky and soft and discomfiting and astonishingly beautiful and harrowing, joy and sorrow and home not ideas but faces, rooms, real change. Real, ordinary, extraordinary life. Glossed with spirit.
You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
~ Steve Jobs, 1955-2011