Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Redemption Of Spring

Lose your mind and come to your senses.
---Fritz Perls
It gets late early out there.
---Yogi Berra
A mystical experience is not any more unique than a modern experiment in physics. On the other hand, it is not less sophisticated, either....The complexity and efficiency of the physicist's technical apparatus is matched, if not surpassed, by that of the mystic's consciousness....A page from a journal of modern experimental physics will be as mysterious to the uninitiated as a Tibetan mandala. Both are records of inquiries into the nature of the universe.
---Fritjof Capra
I stepped out my front door this early morning and started down the driveway. Head lowered in thought, time to fetch the Sunday paper in the box down by the road, when I heard the first spring song of a wood thrush in our woods. He must have come back yesterday. I notice the juncos are packing up and moving out to the North woods for the summer. I looked around and the world was transformed. There hadn't been much rain yesterday, but it was slow and steady...and enough to bring on the first real burst of new leaves. The daffodils are mostly done, tulips in full blast, and redbud coming on at its usual leisurely pace. I'm sure there's plenty more wild flower action in the forest and by the creeks. But that thrush's song lifted my spirits to a healing high.
I just had read an email from my sister, describing her early retirement from administration in local public health in our hometown. The job had become more than tedious, with constant and increasing mandates "to do more and more with less and less." It had become dangerous to one's health, life-threatening. Retirement at 59, with 32 years of service...and she listed 3 others in community and environmental health who did the same thing in a matter of months. No double-dipping for these people, they've had it. How many others who chose careers of public service, before Reagan declared government work a waste of money and Gingrich labeled its workers bureaucrats to be gotten rid of, have done the same thing over the last decade? How many thousands, tens of thousands, from the top ranks of the CIA through the military and into the social agencies? Every level of government affected by budget cuts and increased paperwork to prove accountability.
I met one the other night. His name is Rick Sahli, and he's an environmental attorney in Columbus. He was on a panel at OU discussing the Legal Dimensions of Environmental Justice. Beginning in 1983, he worked in the Ohio Attorney General's office on environmental law, and 5 years later became the Deputy Director of the Ohio EPA. On the strong foundation of a promising and socially helpful career, he watched, in 1991, the new Republican governor, George Voinovich, transform the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency into a corporate advocacy group. Voinovich may have repented somewhat by now, but back then he was just following the neocon agenda. Mr. Sahli resigned and since then has devoted his skills and service to grassroots organizers---mostly neighborhood folks being terrorized by industrial waste and toxins.
How can it be we've become a country in which people opposed to government and its services are touted as patriots? I was thinking these things before the wood thrush roused me from my doldrums. Besides, I've been suffering a bad cold that came on yesterday. I haven't been sick a day in the past year, but it seems when I catch "what's going around" these days I start getting death thoughts. I know I'm an old man now, but what happened to the kind of sickness that can be diagnosed? Each time I get something now I think this may be the Big One---the virus nobody can treat, the flu resistant to all our antibiotics. At one point yesterday I started coughing---this dry, unproductive hack---and I found myself preparing to give up the ghost. Overnight it loosened up, but then I had that drowning feeling of pneumonia. Oh well, one thing you learn is that when death comes it probably won't be so bad. You just have to let it happen.
Whittier said, "And where the shadows deepest fell, the wood thrush rang his silver bell." Ah yes, Whittier had the same thing happen. Anybody with a middle name of Greenleaf must have wandered the forest paths too. Isn't it wonderful how a bird can reach into your soul and stir your hope once more? This one got me to look around and see new life coming again. This old beautiful planet that has been so forgiving of us, that she still comes back no matter how reckless we've been. It's certainly especially true in this part of Appalachia, where we mine for coal and love our gasoline toys. And where, nevertheless, Spring is more lovely than anywhere on Earth.


mowrey said...

That's a helluva good poem, that "Fix". Thanks for posting it. & the Shank piece is terrific. Love it when you toss a few tasty morsels to yer jazzbo contingent (who, in this particular case, you partially created!). Hope you're getting over the cold---no backsliding now---too much work to do.

Quinty said...

When I was in grad school at Berkeley there was this guy who sometimes parked himself on the wall of one of the campus gates picking out freshman girls, mostly, to cajole with a: “Smile. Now that’s a lot better. I like that smile.”

Oh man, I what a terrible thing to do.

And hugely embarrassed the girl, desiring to be a good sport, often enough attempted a smile to please him as she hurried by.

Yes, I smoldered whenever I saw this impudent and stupid bullying. Nor do I think the guy had any business on campus: he had the Jesus glow on his face, a true rah rah proselytizer for the American way, Mom, the flag, and god knows what else. Perhaps he just liked his own sense of power intimidating young girls? How Berkeley can you get? (A common enough question around there.)

So, yes, there’s always Yogi Berra and the poets and the innocent birds to pick you up. And no one needs an assist from the Attitude Police in that regard. There’s much to be blue about in the world. And the blues should be respected. But I think we have to learn that no matter how bad it is we shouldn’t deprive ourselves of our better moods and good feelings. I did that sophomore year thinking I had no right to be so happy. How wrong I was.

About death, well, the best consolation may be that nothing which has ever lived has not undergone it. It’s just part of the package. And since there will probably be absolutely nothing after we die we won’t be able to regret having died.

There’ll be no pain or remorse or looking back with self pity over what happened. Nor any sense of eternity or of a new adventure. It will all just be over.

Mentally grasping that absolute may be helpful, since death in all likelihood is an absolute nothingness. Once you’re dead you can’t even think about what just happened to you. And that may be our consolation.

Though nobody really knows what happens to the spirit after death occurs. Does it actually just go poof! Disappearing like a snuffed flame?

Or does it swirl around in the sky enjoying a certain unearthly freedom? Does it take residence somewhere else, reincarnate? (Norman Mailer believed in reincarnation.)

I doubt any of the places organized religions depict actually exist. Even if the descriptions are only metaphors for a certain spiritual reality. They have too much of a human stamp about them to approximate any genuine reality.

No, I think it’s just the end. And once having gone over that edge into that “undiscovered county” there’s simply nothing. Absolute nothing. So we can’t regret having died. And that is the true meaning or “rest.”

Anyway, everyone else has gone there. Those of us still above ground can enjoy it while we can. And should. Even that pretty little bird you saw will someday die. And while it’s alive it just goes around being beautiful singing its beautiful song, communicating with other birds. Unaware of how precious it is.

That’s life. After all, having it is pure gravy. It’s a gift. We shouldn’t complain about the conditions. Even leaving it, for we may never have had it in the first place. Which makes one think of God. And His blessings. Even an agnostic like myself, who wonders what and how and why all this incredible excitement began. For inanimatcy, after all, makes far more sense than the spirit of life. Objects in space bouncing around like billiard balls. That makes sense.

But a bird singing?

jazzolog said...

Well, Bud Shank and Bird Singing in a single afternoon is enough to get this jazz fan to wax poetic. Mowrey refers to a letter to Downbeat's editor that I wrote and copied to him about a comment Shank makes in an article about him in this month's issue. Much of the work to do is around the compost pile this time of year, and I thank Paul for reminding me of life's major ingredients to be found in there. Peace, good buddies!

Nausicaa said...

"A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul."
---Johann Wolfgang von Goethe