Tag Archives: ordinary life

Doing sensible and human things.

Not only is my mind typically scattered to the four winds, but it is also buffeted and pushed down and downright dominated by currents of thought — and current events — that somehow turn into raging hurricanes. But in my daily life, they are only passing and mental hurricanes, so when I read this quote from my daughter Pearl, I was freshly encouraged to call frequent moratoriums on the practice of wondering whether it might be a Viking or a bomb or a car wreck that will eventually make my loved ones suffer.

“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’

“In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

“This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

—C.S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948)

I also don’t need to spend (all my) time researching how bombs are made, or why the Vikings are so ruthless. Which is great, because it leaves more time for writing a chatty blog post to my friends, which is a very human thing to do, and I hope sensible as well.

September 1st really felt like the first day of fall! It hasn’t warmed up much since, but I’m sure we will get some hot days in the next weeks. My fig tree is absolutely loaded, and one of the four winds that my mind goes to is Preparation for Preserving. Get out the dehydrator, and gear up for the harvest: pushing through the perennials and bushes that surround my tree, and stooping under the low-hanging branches to extract the plump fruits, which are revealed by contrast with the big green layers when one by one they turn black.

I went to a nursery the other day to lay in a supply of echinacea purpurea plants to set out this month. Some areas of my “new” landscaping need reinvigorating after six years, and I have been longing for the standard echinacea species that I used to have. The white ones in my front garden are thriving, the multicolored ones in the back are not.

A friend who was moving across the country asked if I would like any of the potted plants he’d kept on his small patio. I evidently hadn’t paid much attention to them when I’d visited his duplex, because I said I’d take them all, and was quite surprised to end up with 37 pots of plants. Three of them are quite large, and two of those are gorgeous jade plants.

So — I have more lovelies in my garden to keep me company and give me good work to do. This morning I  went out to take pictures of a couple of them to post here, and ended up watering. Not one but two blue jays were visiting my property, and adding to the ambiance with their scratchy voices that make me feel for a moment that I am in the mountains. I noticed a ripe fig, and ate that as a fast-food breakfast. Then… a few ground cherries for dessert! Ah… September.

Ordinary Grace–and Two Books

I should have taken warning from these lines on the third page: “Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. I am in accord with the surrealists, searching for the marvelous….But I am not always in what I call a state of grace. I have days of illuminations and fevers. I have days when the music in my head stops. Then I mend socks, prune trees, can fruits, polish furniture. But while I am doing this I feel I am not living.”

So writes Anaïs Nin in her Diary from the 1930’s. Hers was a name I had often run across, perhaps because she seems to show up a lot in collections of quotes. I didn’t know anything about her, so I bought this used paperback book last month. It’s yet another that I will stop reading now. Why did I go on as far as I did, to read such lines as, “To be fully alive is to live unconsciously and instinctively in all directions….”? I don’t know.

But I know that I find this self-absorption and drama almost laughable, and definitely boring, in its gushing descriptions of feelings. Her prose is good; it’s the content that is lacking in concreteness and pervaded by an avoidance of reality; even the erotica she is known for is infused with her self-psychoanalysis and psychobabble.

Then there are the dreaded “ordinary” activities. If Nin can’t find her “state of grace” in the concrete here and now of Everyday, in nature and housework, I would give her condition a different name.

I should start doing a little more research on authors before I take time and/or money to learn about them the old-fashioned way. Wikipedia is easy. I could have found several reasons not to read her.

Annie Dillard is the opposite of Nin in some ways. She finds God, or at least looks for Him, in every rock and cloud and human she meets. When I threw For the Time Being into my sewing basket to take to the hospital for the waiting and laboring, I didn’t know that scenes from the hospital OB ward figure heavily in the book. I read a few passages to Pippin before her labor got very laborious.

“These times of ours are ordinary times, a slice of life like any other. Who can bear to hear this? Or who will consider it?” Dillard asks, as she, like Nin, considers the ordinary, but as a member of the human community, struggling with many questions that concern us all and sharing her ruminations with the reader.

She includes categories and section headers with labels such as Now, China, Sand, and Clouds, and cycles back to the topics again and again through the book. I skipped around and read a few of the Birth paragraphs aloud, and I haven’t yet read from the beginning to see how the author ties all these parts together, but I know from her other writings that she sees the philosophical interrelatedness of everything.

I recall words from G.K. Chesterton about how it is really the common everyday occurrences such as the sun rising or the train running on time that should astound us. But the best version of his thought I can find at the moment is: “The whole order of things is as outrageous as any miracle which could presume to violate it.” This is how Dillard thinks.

Of the OB ward, she writes, “There might well be a rough angel guarding this ward, or a dragon, or an upwelling current that dashes boats on rocks. There might well be an old stone cairn in the hall by the elevators, or a well, or a ruined shrine wall where people still hear bells. Should we not remove our shoes, drink potions, take baths? For this is surely the wildest deep-sea vent on earth. This is where the people come out.”

Her appreciation of the Numinous pervading our existence brings to mind another quote from Chesterton that will be my wrap-up: “There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.