I took a photo of the creek that’s part of the conservancy at the center of my small town. Even as the water temperature is slightly above freezing in the mornings, Aussie still splashes in, especially if she’s after deer. And indeed, today, the cold water rushed by, two white tails bobbed up above the brush and Aussie chased them, barking that high-pitched, overjoyed bark announcing that she’s found her true calling and essence. Reminding me that she’ll come back only later, when she’s ready.
Around us are dark crimson leaves, as dry as could be, hanging on literally for dear life before calling it quits.
When you live in the country, it’s easy to feel that you’re the guest. That the winds, trees, sky, birds and even the animals own this, and you’re the guest. A blustery wind brought us cold weather overnight and the chimes hanging in the front didn’t stop ringing all night.
In the morning I get up, walk to the window, look out, and it’s as if I ask: Is it okay that I’m still here? And the answer is always Yes, you belong here. Joanna Macy says that a lot, that we all belong here. I am humbled by this generosity.
Precisely because I’m not the landlord, there’s often a sense of something that needs to be done, a relationship that needs to be cultivated with everything around me, as if we’re all living in the same building so we have to make it work, all of us together somehow. There’s no illusion of owning or dominating anything, it’s up to me to fit in and find my place.
Living in New York City, you want to make the city work for you. And the more money you have, the more youth, if you could walk faster, get more and more done, buy more, fit in gallery openings, concerts, nightclubs—you make the city work for you.
Why am I taking the time to appreciate all this now? Why am I doing this while a war rages on in the Middle East, in Ukraine, in Sudan, with a mass expulsion of Afghans from Pakistan? Why then feel deeper appreciation than ever for the shorter days and the longer nights, and the dogs’ mad rush through our carpet of colored leaves in back? They love the crackle and crinkle of it under their paws, and Henry will often pause in the middle of a run, lie on his back, and wave his paws gleefully up in the air.
Because, as my friend Russell Delman reminded me, it is precisely at these times that we have to expand our consciousness to include joy.
Till now I have wrestled with and written about how hard it is to keep more than one narrative in my heart. Every phone call to my family in Israel brings up stress and anxiety and, yes, shock, even now. I don’t have anyone to call in Gaza, I have to make do with online accounts, videos and photos, and those tug at me equally hard. The numbers of the wounded and dead are staggering, the lack of resolution discouraging.
But Russell was right, I have to expand my consciousness beyond events in Gaza and Israel, or at least center some of it here, with the change in seasons, the early sunset and late sunrise, the sight of Aussie proudly digging up a baby chipmunk and letting it go when I yell at her. Remembering that being shattered by certain events goes along with keeping the heart open, letting that heart respond to birdsong as much as it responds to videos of wounded children and wailing mothers.
It’s part of answering Annie Lamott’s question: How alive am I willing to be?
I’d rather derive my impetus for action from gratitude than from guilt, from richness of soul than from a mournful spirit, from a joyful realization of the immeasurable whole than from gloomy frustration and a self-protective shell.
Tomorrow, Thursday, at 11:00 am US Eastern time, the Zen Peacemakers will host a conversation on the Middle East comprising various peace activists. You can join for free by going to their website, www.zenpeacemakers.org, scrolling down to Community Events, registering, and receiving a link.