The Secret Smile

I was in a foul mood. I confess there was a certain reveling in the weight of the sufferings my dark vortex was conjuring. Oh, I was not to be trifled with! There were obstacles everywhere. I was clumsy and forgetful. It was hot and humid. Would nothing come to relieve me? 

Thankfully, I was not so entirely possessed by my frame of mind that I failed, on my way to work, to notice a solitary older woman cycling up my street wearing the most radiant of smiles. From under the brim of her great, big floppy hat it shone, a peaceful kind of delight. It called to me—without her knowing it—to remember where I was. I, too, was under the deep, sweet smelling shade of the trees on the river bank, now in full leaf. “Well, yes,” I thought to myself, “who could not smile going along this road on such a lovely summer’s day?”
The second one erupted on the face of a skinny, suntanned postie crossing a traffic intersection on his iconic red motorbike, when I was stopped at the lights. His great grin looked like memory of a good laugh, so full of life it was. Blazing sun as I waited for the lights to change? Oh, I hardly noticed!
The secret smiles lit my way for a spell; even more so since they were not directed at me, did not ask me to respond. They did me good. And each good deed done tips the balance of the whole world toward the good. It turns out that this is true even when you are not purposefully doing good. Perhaps the absence of effort makes it all the sweeter? 
Walking back home I heard a passel of kids bellowing their after-school goodbyes at the canal as I returned from my errands. Then I heard a child’s voice singing a song that ran up and down the scales, the sound bouncing off the surrounding walls. What a pure, unaffected voice! I stood hidden on the stairs hoping to catch a glimpse of this little piece of heaven as it was undoubtedly homeward bound. A tiny, brown berry of a boy walked by, with his black rucksack strapped on, his umbrella tap-tap-tapping, scraping and dragging, as he sang. 

Thanks to him, I feel like I’ve now found one of those secret smiles! 
(May it fly to those most in need of this gentleness.)


Ascension: Becoming Fully Alive

I flipped open a book on my desk before I set out and read this:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e.e. cummings

I flung open the doors and into my senses an early summer’s day rushed.

The fullness of green entered, a layered patchwork of hues. Nightingales sang at full throttle, holding notes, trilling through bird scales with brio, racing up and down the sound spectrum, whipping out intricate lassos of sound (I their captive!) From a bench in this verdured auditorium this exuberant performance leaves all other cheeps and chirps, tweets and twitters pale, seem, even, brave.

An early risen cicada family quack, but these are lonely Matins to me. The full force of their choir is months away.

IMG_1555Dizzy butterflies, a piece of turquoise sky in their wings, dance along the path in front of me.

Immaculately drawn fields, curved lines and straight, await their rice seedlings. Knee-high already, the young green, grainy heads of barley stand alert.

Wild wisteria hang in large voluptuous lilac and white clusters, bees their nectar sucklings. From above, jasmine blossoms scent the ways; from below, the sweet rain-drenched earth mixes with pleasantly astringent notes of cypress and artemesia. There that deep, clean, green smell of forested hills soaks your soul.

Royal purple irises are growing tall on small islands in the pond, bright yellow buttercups litter the river banks and a heron standing stock-still seems to be doing her impression of a rock, knee deep in the stream. We eyeball each other a while. I do not blend quite as well. The rock is steadfast. I move on.

Homeward bound, with the sounds of The Messiah coming in through my ears, again. Strangely, I was not able to listen to it for Easter as I usually do. But straight to my heart these words came:

And the glory, the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all flesh will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah, 40:5)

All flesh, I heard, then – was it ‘will see’, or ‘will sit’, together? See makes sense, a synonym for know, but it’s nice to imagine me, and the birds, and the bugs, and the people, and the dogs, and the fish-the council of all Beings-sitting together and seeing each other for the first time, in glory.

I wonder about the mystical mouth.

But who may abide the day of his coming?
And who shall stand when he appeareth? (Numbers, 7)

Will I? Will the birds? Moses could. Could I?

For He is like a refiner’s fire . . .

My version of this recording features the Welsh mezzo soprano, Helen Watts. In this line I find notes just like the belly laugh of a friend beyond the veil. There is delight in that, but also a chill. The sublime depth of expression here has always seemed to me to express a terrifying beauty.

I think of the wildfires in Canada.

(He shall) Purify (the sons of Levi) . . . that you might offer up to the Lord an offering in righteousness (Mal.3-1-3)

Can I cultivate the spaciousness of heart that will bear this Purifying fire? Can I maintain equanimity and trust? I know, in my bones I know and I believe, I can do nothing alone. (And I would happily toss the haunting whisper of solipsism into that fire.)

O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion

get thee up into the high mountain;

O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem

lift up thy voice with strength;

lift it up, be not afraid;

Say unto the cities of Judah,

Behold your God!
(Is.40: 9)

At sunset, I am facing the hills to the northwest, rapt. What are these words that feel so potent, so tender, so encouraging?  What is this world, so beautiful? Several ancient, stone buddha figures stand outside the little white shrine at the side of the field and keep watch with me. An otter pup glides up to the shore near the bridge. Around me waft the smells of woodsmoke and fertiliser. A red tractor rumbling softly nearby is ploughing the fields, the farmer aglow.

Arise, shine;

for thy light has come,

and the glory of the Lord

is risen upon thee!
(Is. 60:1)