Thursday, August 11, 2016


I don't know why I find myself attracted to old, abandoned houses, but I do. Perhaps it's my admiration for the wabi-sabi aesthetic of finding beauty in what architect Leonard Koren has described as things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. There may also be something else at work here — a sense of profound sadness that these myriad decaying structures once sheltered people with hope, unnoticed dreamers who struggled valiantly but finally succumbed to the harsh realities of life. Whatever the case, I look upon these old places much as William Carlos Williams does in his nostalgic poem Pastoral (When I Was Younger).  I continue to find beauty in whatever life remains,  whether it be the "properly weathered" colors of old wood or the changing angles of a leaking roof that will surely collapse in time, but which is holding its own today.  As Williams concludes in his poem, these things may not be "of vast import to the nation," but they always deserve our attention, for they remind us that most things — even our own lives — continue to yield beauty, even as they surrender to the ravages of time.

                                          Pastoral (When I was younger)
                                               by William Carlos Williams

                                              When I was younger
                                              it was plain to me
                                              I must make something of myself.
                                              Older now
                                              I walk back streets
                                              admiring the houses
                                              of the very poor:
                                              roof out of line with sides
                                              the yards cluttered
                                              with old chicken wire, ashes,
                                              furniture gone wrong:
                                              the fences and the outhouses
                                              built of barrel staves
                                              and parts of boxes, all,
                                              if I am fortunate, 
                                              smeared a bluish green
                                              that properly weathered
                                              pleases me best of all colors.
                                              No one
                                              will believe this
                                              of vast import to the nation.

From The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams: 1909-1939

Friday, August 5, 2016


What is this nebulous thing we call "hope," and where do we find it?  Throughout history, many great writers and thinkers have chosen to view hope through the cold lens of logic.  Shakespeare suggested that hope exists only because "the miserable have no other medicine."  Nietzsche took it a step further, proclaiming that "hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs man's torments." 

I'm inclined, however, to side with those who see the positive side of hope, people like Norman Cousins who recognized that "hope is independent of the apparatus of logic."  Maybe Samuel Johnson came closest to expressing the truth when he observed that "hope itself is a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords . . ."

So how do we find and keep hope?  Hints to the answer can be found in this poem by Czeslaw Milosz, winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature: 

                                             by Czeslaw Milosz

                            Hope is with you when you believe
                            The earth is not a dream but living flesh,
                            That sight, touch, and hearing do not lie,
                            That all things you have ever seen here
                            Are like a garden looked at from a gate.

                            You cannot enter.  But you're sure it's there.
                            Could we but look more clearly and wisely
                            We might discover somewhere in the garden
                            A strange new flower and an unnamed star.

                            Some people say we should not trust our eyes,
                            That there is nothing, just a seeming,
                            These are the ones who have no hope.
                            They think that the moment we turn away,
                            The world, behind our backs, ceases to exists,
                            As if snatched up by the hands of thieves.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


The present moment is filled with joy and happiness.  
If you are attentive, you will see it.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Learning to live more mindfully, by which I mean living in the moment and paying attention to whatever is present, has led many people to achieve greater peace and happiness in their lives.  This has been my experience as well.  When I clear my chatterbox mind of thoughts about the past or future, I inevitably find that there is vibrant, meaningful life in the mere act of being alive and being present with whatever is before me.  It is in the present moment, and only the present moment, that we hear distant birdsong, feel the wind on our faces, witness the magical unfolding of life in all of its glorious forms.

While I'm not inclined to spend a lot of time on regrets — that allows the past to steal the  present moment — I have often wondered if my earlier life would have been different if I had known then what I know now, particularly with respect to the value of living mindfully.  Of course, one can never know the answer to questions like this. Still, it's interesting to contemplate, as William Stafford does in this lovely poem.

                                                          Next Time
                                                    by William Stafford

                                       Next time what I'd do is look at
                                       the earth before saying anything.  I'd stop
                                       just before going into a house
                                       and be an emperor for a minute
                                       and listen better to the wind  
                                            or to the air being still.

                                       When anyone talked to me, whether
                                       blame or praise or just passing time,
                                       I'd watch the face, how the mouth
                                       has to work, and see any strain, any
                                       sign of what lifted the voice.

                                       And for all, I'd know more—the earth
                                       bracing itself and soaring, the air
                                       finding every leaf and feather over
                                       forest and water, and every person
                                       the body glowing inside the clothes
                                            like a light.