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The winds of grace are always blowing,
but you have to raise the sail.
—Sri Ramakrisha

The hummingbird flutters about the fountain.  It angles its beak to drink.  Wings splash in the stream of water, all the while hovering.  The moment hangs suspended in the morning light.

Rose sees it first.  She points it out to me and we both grow still, taking in the little miracle of this day.  A moment of grace.

The monarch darts about the garden.  Its wings spread and fold, revealing and concealing delicate patterns of orange and black.  It knows which blossoms to visit, sails up into the sky when sated.  Rose’s eyes follow its progress until it disappears above the trees.  There is a small ache as it floats out of sight.

While we are staying by the ocean, Rose bursts in one morning to tell me she’s spotted dolphins swimming near the shore.  She hauls me out of my meditation posture and throws open the sliding door to the balcony.  I squint without my glasses; she finds them for me and sticks them on my nose.  Indeed, there are three dolphins cavorting just yards out from the beach, diving and cresting under the morning fog.

***

Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter
where there is a void to receive it, and it is
grace itself which makes this void.
Simone Weil

When she was just a child and her family splintered, Rose made the decision that she would not turn against the world.  Instead, she taught herself to find solace in the beauty of nature.

She awakens before dawn and goes outside to lie on the chaise on her front porch. Spoon, the cat, leaps to join her.  As the sun rose in the sky, she tells me later, “I could see everything—every dust mote in the air, every vibrating leaf on the tree in my front yard, every shining tuft of Spoon’s fur.”  She was, she says, entirely alive to the day.

When Rose and I walk around the reservoir, it’s easy for me to get stuck in my head.  Left to my own devices, I might spend the whole hour fretting about some problem or ruminating on my to-do list and stay blind to the world through which I am moving.  Rose will stop, take me by the shoulders or the hand, and turn me around to face the mountains purpled by sunset.  Or to watch the seagulls, far from home, whirling overhead in perfect formation.  Or to notice the caterpillar slowly climbing the wall.

In spring, herons nest in the eucalyptus trees that ring the Silver Lake Reservoir.  We can watch them from their first appearance usually in March or April, pairs returning from wintering to refurbish their nests from the previous year.  Then we observe the patient process of sitting on the eggs.  Then the babies, who grow day by day until one day the parents don’t return, and only the babies are left, crowding the nest.  We watch them perch on the edge, ruffling their wings, contemplating flight, but not quite ready yet.  Until one day, usually in July, the nests are empty again until another year and it feels like something precious has been lost.

***

Experiencing the present purely is being
empty and hollow; you catch grace
as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.
— Annie Dillard

On my birthday, Rose brings me to walk the labyrinth.  The elaborate stone circle is located in a meditation garden, surrounded by flowers and trees.  She bids me to step inside, and I begin my slow, attentive walk, alive to the clear air and the sun just beginning to shine through the fog.  I deepen my breath and chant a silent mantra.  I follow the path, circle and turn, appearing to make progress only to double-back on myself—“Just like life,” Rose says.  But unlike life, I’m not in a hurry—to get to the center, to find my way out again.  I want to stop time, to remain here in this circle, in this garden, in this state of presence, on this morning.  Already I can see that I will too soon be done with this ritual, with this day, with this phase of life, then with life itself.  In this moment I am reminded that to behold great beauty always involves loss.

So much of my life I’ve spent looking for what’s wrong.  On the news, in the street, in the wreck of my own mind.  I could walk through a wonderland and see none of it—neither trees nor sky.  I believed happiness was some elusive and magical state that would be conferred once everything was finally “going right.”  But I’ve learned that happiness is no more than the gift of attending to the beauty of this ephemeral world.

And, ephemeral, one day Rose is not there.  And now I must remind myself to inhale the scent of star jasmine, or notice the shadows of trembling leaves, or follow the song of birds at three a.m.  Remind myself to choose not to turn against the world but to find solace in life itself.  In beauty and in loss.  And this is grace.

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