Monday, June 20, 2016

the effort to return

Good Bones

by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

So this above poem has gone super-viral after what happened in Orlando. It's not surprising to me that poems go viral and this one is certainly deserving. It's fifty percent hopeful, fifty percent despair, beautiful bones, indeed. 

As you know I've been thinking a lot about the nature of the question. I very much like this next quotation:

“My mother and father were always pushing me away from secondhand answers—even the answers they themselves believed. I don’t know that I have ever found any satisfactory answers of my own. But every time I ask it, the question is refined. That is the best of what the old heads meant when they spoke of being “politically conscious”—as much a series of actions as a state of being, a constant questioning, questioning as ritual, questioning as exploration rather than the search for certainty.”

- Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Inspiration for this composition from the ever wonderful Susan Licht.

I have to admit to feeling rather numb lately. Tired. Quite speechless. Despairing. Just at weird loose ends with the state of the world and completely inarticulate about it. The one horrible thing after another of it all and at the same time everything else marching onward. As it always does. I keep turning to Kerry Clare's blog, reading this, and this. Uplifting and consoling and reassuring to read an articulate and measured and deeply felt response to all that goes on, in the world and in private life.

Meanwhile people I know are facing various battles of their own and we all are struggling and muddling through, you know, trying to live, trying to keep our hearts open, and to learn and grow and evolve, and to be compassionate, decent, hopeful humans. We are most of us, I think, trying to make the world more beautiful, and encouraging our children to do same.

I like this next poem, but would also like to write a companion to it.

Expect Nothing

by Alice Walker

Expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.
become a stranger
To need of pity
Or, if compassion be freely
Given out
Take only enough
Stop short of urge to plead
Then purge away the need.

Wish for nothing larger
Than your own small heart
Or greater than a star;
Tame wild disappointment
With caress unmoved and cold
Make of it a parka
For your soul.

Discover the reason why
So tiny human midget
Exists at all
So scared unwise
But expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.

Maybe I would like to write, expect everything. Expect beauty, compassion. Encourage your own small heart to be glorious, star-like. Live deliciously, so that everyone who sees you, becomes delicious, too.

I seem to always come back to these next words when the going gets tough:

“We need to be angels for each other, to give each other strength and consolation. Because only when we fully realize that the cup of life is not only a cup of sorrow but also a cup of joy will we be able to drink it.”

 - Henri J.M. Nouwen

These words. I try to live them:
“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

The Meaning of Existence

by Les Murray 

Everything except language
knows the meaning of existence.
Trees, planets, rivers, time
know nothing else. They express it
moment by moment as the universe.

Even this fool of a body
lives it in part, and would
have full dignity within it
but for the ignorant freedom
of my talking mind.


In many of my photos this week, I just kept coming back to bowls. Full, empty, full. 

Excepts from an essay by Mark Nepo on Parabola, titled, "Hearing the Cries of the World."

I’ve found that whatever I go through opens me to what others have gone through. This is the gut and sinew of compassion. Our own ounce of suffering is the thread we pull to feel the entire fabric.


Wherever we go, wherever we wake, we are challenged like Kwun to hear the cries of the world very personally. The cries are unending and overwhelming, and our noble charge to hear them—to hold them and keep them alive—is how we keep the life-force we need lit between us.


Each of us must make our peace with suffering and especially unnecessary suffering, which doesn’t mean our resignation to a violent world. For the fully engaged heart is the antibody for the infection of violence. As our heart breaks with compassion, it strengthens itself and all of humanity.


That we go numb along the way is to be expected. Even the bravest among us, who give their lives to care for others, go numb with fatigue, when the heart can take in no more, when we need time to digest all we meet. Overloaded and overwhelmed, we start to pull back from the world, so we can internalize what the world keeps giving us. Perhaps the noblest private act is the unheralded effort to return: to open our hearts once they’ve closed, to open our souls once they’ve shied away, to soften our minds once they’ve been hardened by the storms of our day.


There are always things to be done in the face of suffering. We can share bread and water and shelter in the storm. But when we arrive at what suffering does to us, there is only compassion—the genuine, tender ways we can be with those who suffer.

I admit, this past week I felt that I was holding myself back from the world, numbed, fatigued. But maybe I'm ready to return, to open my heart again. It's difficult, but there really is no choice, is there?

Remember a Song You Know

by Hafiz, trans. Daniel Ladinsky

If you are sad, remember a beautiful song
you know. It is really something living.

It can bring you to the place where it was
created out of light, and you can feel that
for a moment.

If you do not wish to sing, if you are feeling
shy or just too low, picture me doing so,

sitting at a table with you, with maybe a 
drink in our hands...toasting

something you would like to clink a cup
with me about, my dear.

Well, how I would like to clink a glass with you. This week, many glasses of iced matcha were consumed.

The blossoms came out on our mock orange shrubs this week, and I've hardly done them justice with the camera.

This next week there will be an abundance of peonies. I'm hoping my days from work coincide with decent light so I may lose myself in taking photos of them.

Last things.

Watched: The Intern. By all accounts, a solid 3 star movie wherein Anne Hathaway spends a fair bit of time weeping. Granted, she has some stuff happening. For me, this was a good escape movie, which was about love and friendship, but very far away from the conventional romance plot. Meanwhile, I'll always admire Anne Hathaway and De Niro plays a sweet guy very sweetly.

Admired: the blog of photographer Sarah Gardner. Her flowers are gorgeous.

Converted to: Scruffy Hospitality. Okay, admittedly, this has always been the only way I could hope to entertain - scruffily.

Looking forward to: film on Rumi. Can't wait.

Coming soon: you will be able to vote for Rumi and the Red Handbag on July 4th.

Sweetest mention: sometimes just reading a couple of lines about your book can really life the spirits.

Wishing you a calm week ahead, and all the energy and soul you need to make this place, fixer-upper though it is, beautiful.

- Shawna


  1. Lots of Monday Beauty xx

  2. Exactly what was needed today. Thanks for your generosity. And never has your hospitality been anything but freshly pressed, in every way.

  3. To start my week in beauty is a generous gift. I am grateful for you.

  4. Thank you so much, as always! This is one of your best. The effort to return - that sums up my whole life, I guess. Hope you are able to return, every single time. All the very best. I wait for Mondays just to read your blog.

  5. "Every day, write down the best thing that's happened to you in a notebook. Read it back, you'll soon see it's a wonderful life." Source: "the idealist on FB"

  6. Beauty in small things despite and in the world around us. Thank you

  7. The effort to return seems to be getting more difficult after so many atrocities. Being here, reading your words and all the thought provoking poetry does help...and your images always take me to a beautiful place. Thank you for the mention, friend. Your flowers look so cheery and festive in that tomato can :)


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