Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love
Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Heavy rain and wind in the UK seem relatively mild as I think of the ferocious hurricane over Florida, and of the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan, of the continuing tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, and of loss of lives and livelihoods brought about by crises all over the world – both natural and political. There are times when we find ourselves lost for words. Times when the best we can do is hope for ‘a new day.’ Connecting with each other as best we can remains important – even when that connection involves admitting that we really don’t know what to do or say. Sometimes the connection is made by way of stillness and silence, at others by way of ‘small things’ and acts of kindness, come what may …
There’s been a hushed stillness here today. My morning walk gave way to a post-thaw amble after dark. I’ve been pondering the ‘power’ of a perfectly symmetrical snowflake * which, in company with millions of others like it, can quieten wide spaces and bring about a stillness that nothing else can. Ordinary human activity is disrupted and it’s not without reason, I think, that we’re sometimes awestruck by the sound of silence (and occasional hooting) that accompanies falling snow. Thoughts give way to quietened wonder … and – as Mary Oliver goes on to ask …
aren’t there moments that are better than knowing something, and sweeter?
* see ‘Symmetry of Snowflakes’ by Ian Stewart, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and Digital Media Fellow, Faculty of Science in the University of Warwick
Be still. Be still
until the will to
clatter and clamber
up the hill of life’s
with gladness and
placidly to clear-eyed
remembrance of the
level-way – the going
that’s sustained by the
daily choice to stay
within earshot of
singing invitation to
steadying anchor of
sustains and balances
be still. Be still
until the will
meets the Isle
of the ancient
sanctity. Rock of
the aeons within
Today we’ve enjoyed the company of a friend who sought a day’s peace and quiet. ‘Just a little bit of stillness.’ And I knew just the place, close by, to find some stillness – the kind that facilitates the quietest sort of conversation, unrushed, with plenty of silence between words and sentences (if we don’t count the racket created by three hugely enthusiastic woodpeckers!)
So we headed uphill. On foot. The drystone wall pictured here was chief among the features of the landscape that my friend alighted upon quickly. This landscape helps people breathe life deep. And I recalled a poem I penned, on a similar walk, in the autumn of last year. A friend’s quiet seeking led me too, once again, into ‘a little bit of stillness’.
What of vast realities do I see,
gazing on lake and fell and drystone wall?
What do I hear here, deep in my soul in
this present, and my soul’s memory hall?
What calms and settles my undue haste and
whence the touch, smell and taste on the breeze?
What in wide and expansive openness
places me thankfully, deeply at ease?
What about this being here restores me
to an ancient and forgotten knowing?
Here in high magnificence I now breathe
life deep and am both come and going.
House martins have built a nest later than
usual and perhaps a second this season at the
front of our house and the last day of July
dawns to the comforting softness of their
at-home just-woken clucking and feather
fussing punctuated by long silences … and
shuffling about before soaring and circling
darting and diving – early morning routine
beneath pale blue sky – too early yet for tyres on
tarmac save for a single tractor at first light so I
breathe shallow and grateful as dressed stone in the
mullion window is warming gently in the still
silence of 5am Sunday
The quality of Venice that accomplishes what religion so often cannot is that Venice has made peace with the waters. It is not merely pleasant that the sea flows through, grasping the city like tendrils of vine, and, depending upon the light, making alleys and avenues of emerald and sapphire, it is a brave acceptance of dissolution and an unflinching settlement with death. Though in Venice you may sit in courtyards of stone, and your heels may click up marble stairs, you cannot move without riding upon or crossing the waters that someday will carry you in dissolution to the sea.
Vibrant colours, hot sun overhead, people, surely from just about every nation on earth, boats large and small plying the Grand Canal with surety and speed. Art and architecture that takes the breath away. Hot and intensely busy … until the gondola enters into the water streets behind the immediate gilded attractions. Only moments away from cacophony there is very beautiful water-lapping sanctuary, shade and a near-eerie stillness. Certainly time to dwell for a moment on the extraordinary and colourful sight of a funeral bier we’d seen half an hour ago, precariously wheeling a coffin through cheerful cosmopolitan chaos. The cortege was heading for a funeral barge. We could see the church and the huge churchyard across the waters. It all appeared to be so utterly natural, the tinge of regret, upon the passing of a fellow human being, coloured by the strongest sense, in the midst of all this thronging life, that his or her death could not possibly be their ultimate end.
Venice is so very, very much. Marco Polo was reluctant to say its name, whilst in speaking of any other city on earth he was really describing Venice. For now it’s the “making alleys and avenues of emerald and sapphire” whilst crossing the many waters of life that is in the forefront of my mind. I won’t forget Venice. I know we will meet again.