Thursday, September 24, 2009
Another profoundly moving piece from one of my favorite writers of all time, Elizabeth:
One of my favorite people in the world lives in poverty. She rents a tiny house down the street from me, and barely gets by with her social security. The house she lives in is set back from all the others, and was probably originally an out-building behind a main house that burnt down. She’s older and suffers from bad lungs, but she’s raising a four-year-old granddaughter who has more energy and will than I’ve ever seen in one human being. Watching this child on a playground, it’s as if she’s in technicolor and all the other kids are in black and white. As if she’s in fast-forward in a world of slow-motion. She is the issue of one of the children my friend adopted in her younger years, a girl who was severely damaged by her junky-prostitute biological mother, and who is presently, sadly, following a similar path.
This friend of mine is a natural nurturer and masterful gardener. She takes in strays, human and animal. She knows each squirrel and rabbit that frequents her yard, and worries about the fate of the birds as she revels in their beauty. She teaches me a lot. Like for instance, if you get a bee-sting, just smear some mud on it and the pain will disappear immediately. But more importantly, she teaches me to take to heart that old adage, “better to give than to receive.” She walks around with one breast, the other removed for cancer, and half a set of false teeth, the bottom teeth having broken. Medicare won’t replace them for another year. She wouldn’t survive without her oxygen tank and inhaler. Yet she is one of the most radiant people I’ve ever met.
I’m trying to recover from a depression that was so low and long that I can’t even begin to describe it. This friend helps me by just letting me watch her live. The other day, some kids brought her a newborn kitten that was somehow left abandoned by its mother and howling under their porch. It’s about the size of a mouse, it’s eyes still sealed. It has problems feeding from the bottle she got at the pet store, thrashing and yowling as it tries to latch onto the unyielding nipple. It could easily die if my friend wouldn’t persist, but of course she does, and that tiny kitten eventually grasps and drinks and drinks.
This tiny thing feels more essential to me than anything at the moment. It is just born and is being delivered from death by kindness and persistence. Yesterday I held it in my hand, petting it with my finger to simulate a cat-mother’s licking. It writhed and stretched and turned in my palm, and finally let out a long purr. And I thought, wow, this kitten is actually bringing me back to life, healing me. It can teach me so much, something like . . .
Something like this, a gift from William Blake called “Auguries of Innocence.” I’ll give you some of the more pertinent stanzas, although it’s so profound you might want to look it up and read the whole thing.
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
. . . . .
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
The babe is more than swaddling bands;
Every farmer understands.
Every tear from every eye
Becomes a babe in eternity;
. . . . .
Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.
We are led to believe a lie
When we see not thro' the eye,
Which was born in a night to perish in a night,
When the soul slept in beams of light.
God appears, and God is light,
To those poor souls who dwell in night;
But does a human form display
To those who dwell in realms of day.