“Life is what leaps.”
For all of us who have tried to hang on to a progressive dream, however defined (but not defined as the ruthless search for “progress”), the last months have been extraordinarily difficult.
How to keep a spark of hope alive in our so-called democratic process? How not to drop into numbness and apathy? How to view the spasmodic efforts to fight off the worst effects of new acts of barbarity, new chirps of hatefulness? How to continue to believe that worthy efforts such as a one in Santa Fe that seeks to redress decades of social inequality in housing and public services (a bus route deleted from the largely Spanish-speaking, working-class south end of the city) fails to recognize that no one there, and no one in the city, has learned to ride the bus?
It helps me to limit the poison.
I read one local newspaper a day: our estimable New Mexican, which under the leadership of editor Ray Rivera has just published a stunning series of five articles titled Nuclear Negligence detailing the criminal, life-threatening failures to ensure the safety of workers and of communities near Los Alamos and the other bomb-building and waste deposal sites around the county.
One local newspaper, one half-hour news report in the late afternoon from NPR.
And even that may be too much.
Certainly no television, because even the decent news programs are too intrusive, too loud, too consuming.
That’s a beginning, But it leaves the possibility of alienation and apathy.
Two remedies: I am blessed with the presence in my life of five grandchildren of various ages who bring some shreds of hope in the future.
Active and lively is my grandson who just celebrated his eleventh birthday, he especially is for me “That which leaps is life.” Launching his little sky-searching flyer (we first saw this toy six years ago in a plaza in Spain), he, and it, and I, look up high, to the dazzling sun. “Burn, glare, old sun, so long unseen,” a line in Weld Kees’ Small Prayer begins, “That time may find its sound again, and cleanse/Whatever it is that a wound remembers /After the healing ends.”
The other saving grace, for me, is and always has been poetry. Frost’s “I could give all to time except—except/What I myself have held…” ends, “And what I would not part with I have kept.”
These two poems are in a small, very worn notebook my dear friend, the poet Aleda Shirley, put together for me in September 1991. She has been dead many years but her passionate connection to and belief in poetry brought me back to what sustained me in childhood, especially the well-known British poets published in Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, its margins full of my child self’s assured comments.
Years later in a period of darkness I found another poem of William Wordsworth’s—Palgrave’s only included his “Daffodils.” In his “The Prelude Book Fourth [Summer Vacation],” Wordsworth writes of a moment of illumination, “I made no vows, but vows/Were made to me… that I should be, else sinning greatly,/A dedicated spirit.”
The unknown “vows made for me” lighted that moment’s darkness.
All roads lead to Doris Duke at this moment eleven months before my biography, The Silver Swan, Searching for Doris Duke is published (see my previous post). Wordsworth would have been condemned to a life of scrounging if his friend, Raisley Calvert, a writer who died young, had not left him $4,500 as a leisure fund allowing him to escape “the dust of life.” Doris Duke’s generosity through her Foundation allows modern dancers (as part of its commitment) to devote their life to their art, these gifts symbolized at the Doris Duke Theatre at Jacobs’ Pillow in the Berkshires.
Generosity endures. As does poetry. Both are life-saving.
“The rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air” from our national hymn were shown in the big display of booming and hissing fireworks we watched from the porch on the 4th of July. These were attended by the small green dot of a drone, that new menace to our peace of mind. But the booming and hissing were too similar to the explosions we launch as military overlord in countries whose languages we don’t speak, whose customs and history we don’t understand. It’s hard to admire rockets and flares when we know what explosions are being used for, by us, around the world.
But leave that aside, at least for the moment. Visiting here in California I have the luxury, briefly, of seeing the rich results of decades of a largely progressive state government. Here, it seems, we really do have enough water, and efforts to desalinate the ocean are moving forward, with mixed results. Here we do have a blend of cultures that seems to arouse little suspicion—although we know what the wage differential is. Here in this seaside town, an ordinance prohibiting drones is moving forward, and perhaps that outweighs the World War II bombers flying in formation overhead. Here the trash we leave behind on the beach is quickly and efficiently collected and the lifeguard sits attentively all day on his stand, scanning the groups of swimmers and divers that are his responsibility.
“What a boring job, just sitting there all day,” my grandson remarks.
“Not if you really see each one,” I remind him.
Now my granddaughter who’s in college in Denver, studying toward a degree in environmental science with a special interest in fashion design using sustainable fabrics tells me she’s found a graduate program in Boulder called ATLAS—a combining of engineering, technology and design. This is a young woman who has been through a lot in her short life, most recently her father’s three-month disappearance. But she is moving forward: “Life is what leaps.”