Tuesday, June 15, 2010
How to Make an Orange Alligator Smile
A few things nudged my ailing, embattled, Gulf-oil-syndrome soul towards good cheer this past week. One was hearing my favorite song in the world on a homemade CD that John, visiting me on Sunday from Boone, brought with him as a present: For some reason, the lyrics and melody of "Lady in Red" light up my heart like no other--and I had not heard it in a very long time. Now I own it, and could easily play it for you right now, if you were here. [Illustration: "Lady in Red," painting by VJ Helm]
The second bright moment was seeing the new film "Babies," directed by Chris de Burgh. For immediate raising up from the dead, I recommend this hilarious movie. Enjoy the African baby, Ponijao from Namibia, who happily drinks from a mud puddle, while Hattie, the baby from San Francisco, participates in her mother's yoga class, and the Mongolian baby, Bayarjargal, drags his prone but patient cat on a string across the floor of the family yurt. The film follows four babies around the world from their birth through their first year. There is no dialogue, but it's an opportunity for unremitting laughter, and I frequently howled. This was a welcome change from weeping.
Then came my chance discovery during the week of a poem in the New Yorker, which spoke directly to my emotional state when I found it:
To live each day as if it might be the last
Is an injunction that Marcus Aurelius
Inscribes in his journal to remind himself
That he, too, however privileged, is mortal,
That whatever bounty is destined to reach him
Has reach him already, many times.
But if you take his maxim too literally
And devote your mornings to tinkering with your will,
Your afternoons and evenings to saying farewell
To friends and family, you'll come to regret it.
Soon your lawyer won't fit you into his schedule.
Soon your dear ones will hide in a closet
When they hear your heavy step on the porch.
And then your house will slide into disrepair.
If this is my last day, you'll say to yourself,
Why waste time sealing drafts in the window frames
Or cleaning gutters or patching the driveway?
If you don't want your heirs to curse the day
You first opened Marcus's journals,
Take him simply to mean you should find an hour
Each day to pay a debt or forgive one,
Or write a letter of thanks or apology.
No shame in leaving behind some evidence
You were hoping to live beyond the moment.
No shame in a ticket to a concert seven months off,
Or, better yet, two tickets, as if you were hoping
To meet by then someone who would love to join you,
Two seats near the front so you can catch each note.
--By Carl Dennis
In my local paper, an essay by a writer, Linda Hopkins, who lives in the Appalachian mountains of Stuart, VA, expresses exactly what I am feeling:
"...I wake up to this darkness every day--I feel it coming closer and closer...as though the oil were flowing into my back yard. There are times it overpowers all my thoughts...Now when I look at any unsullied seashore, I see those grim images [in the news] and can no longer view it without a vision of the oil hell of the Gulf of Mexico...People tell me to turn away from the news when I tell them how it upsets me. But I must watch, I am part of this tragedy being played out. Because I drive a car, use gas and oil in myriad ways. I have been complicit in the making of this undersea monster. To look away would be the act of a coward."
It's hard to look, and very hard not to look. Meanwhile today, U.S. scientists have significantly boosted their estimate of how much oil is leaking into the Gulf. I just listened to President Obama's crisis speech delivered at 8pm from the Oval office. It lasted exactly twenty minutes. Not one word said about plugging the well or stopping the spill. They were the words of a man who still has not yet looked the Medusa in the face. It's as if. after your favorite Grandma has died, the doc were to try to reassure you by saying, "We are doing everything we can to bring her back from the dead, and we won't stop until we succeed."
Would you believe him?