The Meaning of Life, From My Backyard.

I was in the dumps yesterday.

I had made the mistake of watching the morning news before I’d had my first cup of tea. I should have known better.

Still, I went through my morning routine. It was while I was feeding the backyard cats their breakfast when I remembered to make my usual request of the Great Spirit, even thought it seemed especially futile today:

Please Great Spirit, let me see what you are trying to show me today.

Oh lordy, I know the world is a tragic place . Some many sorrowful stores about the hate, violence, and injustice that takes place every single day. This world can break your heart six times before breakfast. Really, it’s a wonder that the weight of all the misery on this planet doesn’t do us in.

Sometimes, I wonder why we go on, writing books and painting pictures and talking to cats, when it’s all going to end in either a mushroom cloud or a super nova. That is what was on my mind early this morning.

All I hope for, when I talk to the Great Spirit, is to be able to see past the obvious. In this world, in all its pointlessness, all I want to see is a little sign of life.

A little sign that joy is still possible, that happiness matters, that beauty dignifies the cost of having a heart and a soul. Is that too much to ask?

Well, no sooner had my request been sent up to the universe, when I got my answer.

I saw this.

Do you see it?

It’s not far from the paws of my helper/hindrance Lickety, the Fierce Feral Cat (who was hoping we’d see something that would be Friskie’s Ocean Fish flavored.) It was right there, what the Great Spirit wanted to show me today.

Do you see it?

It sparkled!

Now, you, dear readers, know that I collect blue jay feathers like they were sapphires or lapis lazuli because, mineral or vegetable, blue is the rarest color found in nature and so, in my opinion, every shade of blue is holy.  But I’ve never had a shade of blue sparkle at me before.

But, now that I think about it some more, it didn’t so much sparkle as glow.

I didn’t even know they made blue jay feathers this small. It’s the very tiniest blue jay feather I’ve ever seen! Are there hummingbird-sized blue jays that I don’t know about?

Well, I picked this itty-bitty feather up out of the grass and I felt such a rush of appreciation for this teeny tiny answer to my Request of the Great Spirit that for a moment I forgot that I was in a bad, entropy-filled mood.

For a moment I forgot to be afraid of where this nasty, brutal, libertarian-jihad-filled world was headed. OK, it’s not a cure for cancer or a Middle East Peace Treaty; but for one little moment in one little life, things were OK.

This just goes to show you: Nothing is too small to be holy. In fact, in a world such as this, maybe the only things that redeem it day by day are the small shining (or glowing) little bits and pieces of a bigger miracle.

The Great Spirit is very nice about reminding you of this. All you have to do is ask.

And don’t forget to say “Thank You” when She answers.

5 Comments, RSS

  1. I discovered your book thanks to the NPR recommendations that were being made sometime in December, when my life was still ‘normal’. I am a glass artist, working in my studio during the day, and enjoying my wonderful husband in the evening. That was before.

    So I ordered your book, first for ME (because, after all, I had to check it out before I bought scads more for my dear friends), then I bought scads more! I hunkered down with it before I dozed off at night, only allowing myself just a few pages, lest I jump ahead too many months. Sort of like being honest with an advent calendar as a kid, when you really wanted to open all those little doors at once!

    I relished your paintings. A latent desire of mine – to draw – began to rise to the surface.

    Then, in February, my world wasn’t ‘normal’ anymore. My husband, the perfect man, the love of my life (and we’ve only been married 9 years next month, so we’re still officially on our honeymoon), was diagnosed with base of tongue cancer. I didn’t allow myself fun anymore. Your book rested on my bedside table.

    We did our research and decided the best place for us to be was in Baltimore, at Johns Hopkins, so we packed up months-worth of our belongings and headed from our home on the river in Rhode Island for the big city.

    Treatment was grueling (don’t let the info about Michael Douglas’ treatment fool you – he has the same cancer my fellow does). I won’t belabor the radiation burns, the feeding tube, etc. I became the dutiful caregiver and we were very lucky that we have great health insurance and the means to afford an apartment for months on end. And that I could wipe my teaching slate clean for the year.

    The reason that I am writing is because I took your book with me. And as my husband’s treatments wore on and fatigue overcame him, I entertained myself with pencil, a small set of watercolors I’d bought, and many poor attempts at creating “charming” on triscut-sized paper.

    I also finished reading your book, while in the waiting room at Johns Hopkins. And I was delighted to read that you met Top Cat and now have someone to visit Paris with. And I know, from reading your blog, that you don’t let a day go by without being happy and thankful and aware of what you have, like me. Because in the wink of an eye, it can all change and happy ‘normal’ isn’t there anymore. So then there are all those grateful memories.

    But still, even when it all feels gloomy, there’s that glowing blue jay feather announcing itself in the grass. How wonderful that there are people who don’t let those little surprises pass them by. We are both lucky we’re part of that tribe.

    I just had to express the gratitude I feel about your unselfconscious celebration of life. It brightens my day as we still occupy an apartment in hot cementy Baltimore, missing our entire summer in Narragansett. All for a good cause – working towards a new ‘normal’.

    Cheers for you!

  2. Sally

    Oh my, Vivian,
    I wondered how I could possibly write the message I had planned and break into the thoughts engendered by Kate’s message. [Kate, I have some slight observational experience of what your husband and you have been through; I am so sorry anyone has to go through that. It is wonderful that you have found some respite in Vivian’s wonderful book, and I wish you and your husband a quick and sure return to Normal.]

    But the next message in line did the trick for me! You may play at being curmudgeonly and irreverent, Vivian, but your whole book, and much on your blog, illustrates what you have, thank you, made explicit with the words, “Please let me see what you are trying to show me today.” We will all make our own judgments on just who or what “you” represents in this sentence, but the effect is the same. It has just occurred to me that your words describe something that my mother gently pressed on me as she shared her interests in nature, science, art, music, and poetry with me. I DOES help to be reminded, which you and your writing and painting do.

    Now the message I had meant to write:

    You are in good company! (at least in my opinion). Amazon, that scary (but useful) mind reader in the Ether, just e mailed me this:

    “We’ve noticed that customers who have purchased or rated When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler’s Journal of Staying Put by Vivian Swift have also purchased Swan: Poems and Prose Poems by Mary Oliver. For this reason, you might like to know that Swan: Poems and Prose Poems will be released on September 14, 2010. ”

    Mary Oliver is, I think, a wonderful poet, and someone who certainly has her eyes open to that which is being shown to her.

    While we are talking poetry, let me direct admirers of jays’ feathers to Robert Frost’s poem, “Fragmentary Blue.”

  3. Deborah

    Beautiful blog and beautiful comments.

    Hope the cats are in and the hatches battened down against what Earl has in store for Long Island. And a happy Labor Day!

  4. This post sparkled at me like the feather sparkled up at you. Thank you…I always try to remember that nothing is too small to be holy. I love the way you explain this in your irreverent way, without sentimentality. Your bracing wit and insights are a constant bright spot for me.

  5. Janet

    I also had a blue jay feather moment on Friday. After weeks of parching heat, it had rained hard the day before and there was a slight drop in temperature, making it a bearable 95 instead of intolerable 100-plus. On the way home from work everyday I pass by a corner near a highway bridge where homeless guys hang out and beg for money. I hadn’t seen this man before, and I noticed he was having trouble — he walked with a limp, arms seemed out of control, and he was resting on the guard rail instead of standing. I keep dollar bills in my car’s ashtray for times like this — I think it takes a lot of guts to stand outside with a cardboard sign hoping someone either gives you a kind look or a little something to buy cigarettes, wine or junk food. I rolled down my window to get his attention, and he limped over. This man then flashed me the biggest smile I’ve seen in ages, revealing he had only two teeth left and those were black as pieces of coal. He thanked me, more than I deserved for a dollar, and then he said, “You know, there is joy in everything — sun or rain.”

    Yes, there is.

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