I woke up at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, having a dream that they were rearranging furniture above my head up in heaven. Strange, as I haven’t any concept of a “heaven,” but what awakened me was house-shaking thunder and bolts of lightening that caused me to see halos of light behind my closed eyes. Fierce rains slashed the windows, trees violently bent back and forth and the power flickered, for nearly three hours. I had plenty of time at my computer, waiting it out, reading the stories of protests and violence in our cities, and looking at photos of so much pain and suffering, in a country which was imploding. With the storm raging outside, I thought of all the times during major earthquakes and hurricanes and tsunamis, it has seemed like Mother Earth has just had enough of us and the mess we have made of things, and is trying to spin us out of her orbit. I had watched Saturday’s live coverage of Space X as it began its journey to the International Space Station, and, like the commentators, was overcome by emotion when they beamed down that first image of the beautiful blue, perfectly round planet we call Home. What we humans have wrought to her in our short time as residents…
Like the 1960’s defined my generation, I would guess that my grandchildren will also be defined by 2020–a story just now being written. John texted me the other morning, “How do we as our children’s and grandchildren’s elders somehow maintain hope through these times so they don’t become cynical and despair?” I don’t know, I wrote back, I don’t know. In other times of despair in my life, I’ve sometimes found solace in Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things”, with his instruction to go and lie down where the wood drake rests…
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
Yet, I think solace is different from hope. John and I are both fortunate to live in places where the peace of wild things is right outside our windows, inviting us in. But,”It is hard to have hope,” Wendell Berry writes in A Poem on Hope. Perhaps our work as elders is as simple– and, as hard as– remembering that, “When the people make dark the light within them, the world darkens.”
A Poem on Hope
It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,
for hope must not depend on feeling good
and there’s the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.
You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality
of the future, which surely will surprise us,
and hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction
anymore than by wishing. But stop dithering.
The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?
Tell them at least what you say to yourself.
Because we have not made our lives to fit
our places, the forests are ruined, the fields, eroded,
the streams polluted, the mountains, overturned. Hope
then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
of what it is that no other place is, and by
your caring for it, as you care for no other place, this
knowledge cannot be taken from you by power or by wealth.
It will stop your ears to the powerful when they ask
for your faith, and to the wealthy when they ask for your land
and your work. Be still and listen to the voices that belong
to the stream banks and the trees and the open fields.
Find your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground underfoot.
The world is no better than its places. Its places at last
are no better than their people while their people
continue in them. When the people make
dark the light within them, the world darkens.