When first I wake to rosy dawn, fresh from dreams of heaven, all life ahead of me and all things possible, I see myself an epic: great, a world-encompassing story of heroic deeds and tales of gods. When my days begin to lengthen I bethink myself an ode: still heroic, honouring bravery and great power, but brought down to size, fitting the measure of one human life. As I grow into callow youth, into the sweet Elizabethan spring of life, I am enchanted by the lyric and believe if I can be a sonnet with one clear thought, whole and complete like a full-blown rose, that will be accomplishment enough. In middle life the wind changes and scatters the petals of my verse. I lose metre and rhyme and blurt out only lines here and there of free verse or poetic prose, stumbling and stuttering like gunfire on a death-strewn field, all light and possibilities lost, or driven helpless in a sinking raft against a rockbound, twisting riverbank, a desolate threnody. Standing alone upon this shattered field in twilight’s calm, the rapids safely shot and I still alive, I think perhaps I am an elegy, honouring what has gone before, the fallen dreams, ideals that died, all trampled now in mud and mire and blood, or drowned beneath a foaming wave. But even as I move to close my book, the darkening shadows blotting out my words, I turn to take another look. In a black sky stars blink on, planets in their stately dance proceed, the moon smiles with a face lit by the hidden sun. Perhaps my life has been a paean: a hymn of praise, of thanks for being. I’ll spend the night thus, singing praises of the power that moves the stars and wait with certainty the coming dawn.
First written 29.7.2007/edited 21.4.2019
I am moving into history. When my aunt passed away recently it dawned on me that I’m now the oldest member of this particular branch of my family. This morning I consider what this really means and know the inexorable tide of history shall bear me away as it has taken all the others who went before. Where do we go, we scraps of flotsam drifting in and out on the tides of life? For a lifetime I’ve been asking the questions, who am I, why am I here, what’s it all about? And perhaps, like Wordsworth, am further away from answers than when I was a child. Time, now, to think about returning to the well from which I sprang.
A sunset one evening, streamers of orange across the Western sky; another evening, soft pink blushing the clouds in East and West, and streamers glowing mauve and pink. And I thought how very perfect this planet is, so very hospitable to burgeoning life.
Then another thought intrudes. How narrow is our definition of life! Of course this planet is perfect, we evolved here and know no other, we reshape it at our peril. But what if life should be defined another way? Not as the self-replicating activity of a certain pattern of elements but as the ability to perceive outside oneself, indeed to have a “self” with which to perceive.
What if intelligences exist which we cannot perceive? Something based perhaps on a different element, silicon instead of carbon? Or with a completely different way of relating to the universe? Perhaps even the rock at my feet, billions of years old, has an understanding and perception of its place in the universe far exceeding my fleeting carbon-based existence.
And from the infinite to the infinitesimal. Do the bacteria whose DNA in my body vastly outnumbers the human DNA, do these beings partake of my perceptions, or do I partake of theirs, or are we together in an endless feedback loop every day gaining in knowledge and wisdom, increasing our understanding of the universe and our place in it?
Yesterday I think, was the first time I have not welcomed a birthday. But is it not better than having no birthday, not being here to feel fear of aging? I think about the promising young man, damaged in an accident, who will not live the life he believed would be his. I sorrow for the young woman who may not live to see her small children grow to independence. The best, the only, service I can do for these and others is to rejoice in the fact of my existence. I am here, still competent to see blossoms on trees, feel sun or rain upon my skin, observe wasps amongst the raspberries, a dragonfly flitting, fleet as my life. I am still here to watch starlings on the lawn or listen to the cry of seabirds riding in the ocean of air. I am still here to smell fresh earth as life awakens in springtime, and the fragrance of lilacs or lilies. This gesture to appreciate the life I have been blessed with is perhaps the only gift that I can bring to this world; a profound sense of gratitude that I am here, in this place, at this time, out of all the universe, a fragile moment carved out of eternity.
What is wrong with the world today? Where does one begin? But surely at the heart of it is the fact that we have forgotten who we are, where we came from, and have lost all bearings so that we have no idea where we are going. We are blind sailors on ships that have lost their sails, tossed rudderless on black waters. And yet we think we are the crown of creation.