IT’S FUNNY WHAT EMERGES from the fog of a languorous week, a week when the ordinary cacophony of work and self-made busyness is dimmed, a week when the wet blanket of a cloudy sky obscures the nuances of time passing.
On the one hand, the weather makes you feel like you are dragging a drogue around behind you. A single days passes in a blur of stingy daylight hours: By the time you sleep in, have your coffee, read a gazillion year-end features on your computer, tackle de-ornamenting the Christmas tree, vacuum, and eat the rest of the holiday chocolate candy, it’s almost dark. You just manage to squeeze a walk in under that haunting pewter sky. Oh, and it’s still hunting season, too, so finding and donning the orange hat, orange vest, orange doggie vest, orange everything, means the machinations of walk preparation move in slow motion.
On the other hand, if it is possible to be both dazed and stimulated, this is the week. As we reach the bottom of the calendar (I always visualize the months stacked up on top of each other) and jump back to the top again, it’s hard not to be both reflective and projective. Especially when one message seems to emerge out of the gumbo of commentaries and obituaries and films and documentaries and novellas that simmer in your skillet of inspiration this week.
The message seems to be clear: Carpe diem. Seize the day.
“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment.”
Not only that but Robin Williams came back to life this week, too (at least on Amazon Prime video), to star in Dead Poet’s Society and to whisper carpe diem in our ears. And to recite Walt Whitman (“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”)
Whitman is everywhere it seems, including in the final scene of a remarkable film called Nine Days (also on Amazon prime video) when the character played by Winston Duke, a man charged with choosing a soul to come to life on earth, recites the final section of Whitman’s 52-part poem, Song of Myself, as a tribute to humanity and its unbreakable connection to the life-giving (and taking) force of nature. (“… I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.“)
And this morning the latest edition of the most excellent newsletter, The Marginalian, written by Maria Popova, arrived in the inbox with an absolute treasure: Resolutions for a Life Worth Living: Attainable Aspirations Inspired By Great Humans of the Past. (Life-tested wisdom on how to live from James Baldwin, Ursula K. Le Guin, Leo Tolstoy, Seneca, Toni Morrison, Walt Whitman, Viktor Frankl, Rachel Carson, and Hannah Arendt.)
Popova includes this from Whitman (from his preface to Leaves of Grass):
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
Meanwhile, downstairs Kenny Chesney is singing “Don’t Blink” on our Spotify wedding playlist, followed by “Live Like You Were Dying” (Tim McGraw), two songs my rock-and-roll loving husband chose for his country-music loving wife but that he now plays on repeat while washing the dishes, tiny tears appearing in the corners of his eyes if you look closely.
We are at that age when a constant reminder of the passage of time is enough to scream carpe diem at every turn. On New Year’s Eve, we sat side by side in the near-dark a few minutes before midnight (only the dim glow of a few remaining fairy lights to light our Dickensian faces) and said aloud to each other what our hopes were for the new year. Not goals like weight loss or more exercise, but dreams like creating a life where spontaneity and creativity and maximum immersion in nature are the norm.
The next day — New Year’s Day — we ventured beyond our usual walk (hunting season finally over), heading through the thick fog to the South shore, where we found the ocean raucous and alive and the sea air so invigorating that breathing it in and out felt like filtering out the cobwebs and dust bunnies from our winter weary bodies. Reminding ourselves once again that it does not take much to seize the day, to move a muscle — to rage against the dying of the light as Dylan Thomas wrote.
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