Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Lightning Bugs

Paying attention is hard. I mean, the kind of paying attention where you actually live--notice the way the sun feels on your skin, the ivy slithering up the tree you pass by every day, the pattern on the cat that lives downstairs. Life is so beautiful, so rich with detail; always an invitation. And sometimes I'm so distracted with myself--with my neurotic fears and anxieties-- that I just don't see the open door, don't hear the voice in the kitchen beckoning, don't even smell the cookies baking. I just walk on by with my hands in my pockets and my mind twisted up in little knots--kind of the way a sheet is sometimes when you pull it out of the wash.

Almost every evening I go for a walk in the neighborhood behind my apartment; it's full of cute little houses with dedicated gardeners, and one of the roads deadends into a creek. Sometimes I go by myself and sometimes John goes with me. I almost always notice something different, something really wonderful--and I go home so full of it I could burst. Once it was a tiny bunny in someone's front yard, once a beautiful blue heron standing among the rocks in the creek, but usually a flower or a tree or a bird; and two nights ago it was lightning bugs. Blinking on and off like popcorn popping; and I was like a child, "Oh, look! There's one!" John and I wondered aloud what the purpose of fireflies is; I said it was just God having fun. I looked it up online when I got home. (Maybe you knew this, but I am largely inexperienced with fireflies)--the lighting up is how they find their mates; different species of fireflies have different lighting patterns so they don't intermix. I read a little more and discovered they were scavenging animals and liked to stalk snails and slugs for fun. I frowned and said to John, "Oh, even the fireflies are all about sex and violence," but I wasn't really disappointed, even if I do have a special place in my heart for snails. I still wrote in my journal that night that they are the most hopeful of things I can think of. Fireflies. Absurd and extravagant gifts.

So paying attention matters. Seeing the world and being grateful that it's there. Natural beauty takes us outside of ourselves and our petty concerns and makes us see how small our problems are, how little they matter in the grand scheme of things, in the face of wild beauty, of life unfolding and living and dying and recreating itself over and over again. I notice the lightning bugs best when my mind is not all tangled up in my own small world. God, help me to live a wider, vaster, freer life.

My favorite poet, Mary Oliver, has this wonderful poem called "Messenger" that I like to read when I begin to forget how beautiful the world is and when I forget to be grateful for it. Ms. Oliver is teaching me through her exquisite words and her expansive spirit to love the world better, to be unashamed of the innocence I feel when I am with trees and grass and sky, and to walk through life with wide eyes and an attentive presence. Here's her poem:


My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

--Erica Waters Orzechowski


living stones said...

Wow! What a beautiful and powerful post. Thank you! This is lovely, meaningful, and edifying writing. I feel like it's helped me be more present, more aware, more grateful. And I love the Mary Oliver poem you shared--

living stones said...

Erica, I agree with Dr. Cotton. Very wonderful and pertinent. I especially like the line in Mary's poem that says, "My work is loving the world." Work is a theme I've been turning over lately: our work is to do what it is that God's put in front of us. And, as T. S. Eliot suggests, "the rest is not our business." I think, very much so, that a major part of the work we are to do is exactly what you are doing here: paying attention. Thanks for sharing. (Oh, I also like your comment about "gardeners.") --Paul

living stones said...

Paying attention is hard, but as you say, "Life is so beautiful, so rich with detail; always an invitation." And the gift of your stunning writing is helping me receive my invitation to the present moment. Also, I was thrilled that you included Mary Oliver's poem. I like being reminded that I need to learn "to be astonished." Many thanks, Anna

Sarah said...

Beautiful, Erica--you put into lovely words the very thoughts that I've been turning over in my mind the last few days. "Paying attention" like this is worship, worship that turns us away from ourselves to the Living Source of such beauty. Thank you for the reminder and the beautiful Oliver poem--one of my favorites.

living stones said...

That is beautiful, Erica. Thanks!

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