The only imperative that nature utters is: ‘Look. Listen. Attend.’
C. S. Lewis
The only imperative that nature utters is: ‘Look. Listen. Attend.’
C. S. Lewis
I’ve never felt so old!
Of course, I’ve never been so old, but then everyone can say that, even a six-year-old. We are always, on any day, the oldest we have ever been.
The difference, I suppose, is that today I know I’m old. I know it in my bones. And I understand in a way I never have before what knowing something in my bones means.
The reason for this surge of new understanding? I’ve just moved.
Age precipitated the move. For most of the last decade I have been renting a lovely, two-story house with a tuck-under garage which made it a three-story house when I carried groceries or laundry up from the basement.
I’ve never had a problem with stairs. I saw stairs as good exercise built into my day. My partner’s and my bedrooms and my study were all on the second floor and the laundry room was in the basement along with the garage, so I was happily up and down those stairs many times every day.
Or at least I was happy until some stress in my lumbar spine began to cause occasional leg weakness. When I found myself holding both banisters and pulling myself up the stairs very slowly, I began to reconsider.
We looked at senior residences, but I didn’t feel ready. Yes, I know I’m eighty. I should be ready, but I’m not. Even though I began my career in the corner of a bedroom, I couldn’t imagine giving up my study, and senior residences with two bedrooms and a usable study are almost impossible to find. Besides, giving up a house is giving up having my own private patch of the outdoors on the other side of my door. And that patch of outdoors feeds my soul.
So we began looking. We began more than a year ago actually with a very patient realtor. But we couldn’t get on the same page and nothing that we saw was quite . . . it. Until, finally, it was. The house we’d dreamed came onto the market in the afternoon. We let our realtor know we wanted to see it now. We spent twenty minutes walking through. Then we leapt.
And we’ve been landing ever since.
We got the house, the loan, the movers. We got the boxes and the tape and the enormous rolls of bubble wrap.
And we started packing.
And sorting. I spent two days sorting through the files in my study, more than forty years worth of professional files and personal ones, too, such as a forgotten treasure-trove of letters surrounding my son’s death. Then I spent more days sorting and culling books.
Until the day came when everything went onto a truck except for us and Sadie, our one-eyed sheltie.
It all came off the truck and we were here!
And we were so, so tired.
And I, at least, suddenly knew myself to be old. Very, very old.
But today, at last, my study is up and working. No pictures on the walls yet, but I sit here at my familiar keyboard with three yellow tulips in a purple vase at my side and a new yard yet to be explored stretching beyond my window. And I am so glad to be 80 and looking ahead to the all-on-one-floor future, however long or short it may be.
And I am glad, once more, to gather words and see them appear on the screen before me. This is it, my heart says. I am home.
And I am.
Had I gone looking for some particular place rather than any place, I’d have never found this spring under the sycamores. Since leaving home, I felt for the first time at rest. Sitting full in the moment, I practiced on the god-awful difficulty of just paying attention. It’s a contention of my father’s—believing as he does that anyone who misses the journey misses about all he’s going to get—that people become what they pay attention to. Our observations and curiosity, they make and remake us.
William Least Heat Moon
hello, I have a question pertaining to, The Stuff of Stars. I have not read it, but I just saw a posting about Ekua Holmes’ illustrator award & it brought me to some reviews. One quoted the book… “in the deep, deep dark a speck floated, invisible as thought, weighty as God,”
I thought the book was in support of the Big Bang theory, but I read the quote & wondered why God was mentioned. I’m sure if I had the book, I’d have a better understanding. Will you please shed some light?
Yes, I used the word God in The Stuff of Stars. And yes, The Stuff of Stars supports scientific concepts about the way our universe came into being. But the two are not incompatible. Only those whose belief is so narrow that they are convinced God can’t exist unless the beautiful stories of the Bible are taken as statements of fact see science and the concept of God as incompatible.
I am not, in fact, a theist myself, but there is no word in the English language that carries more weight than the word God. So that’s the one I chose. “Weighty as God.” I knew using that word would create controversy, and when my agent presented the manuscript to the editor, I had him ask her if she wanted that word to stand. She said, “Yes.” So the word “God” is out there, touching some readers deeply and upsetting others. And when I go back to examine that opening line, I can’t imagine a better way to bring my readers to a feeling of awe before an unfolding universe, which is exactly what I want.
If you’d like to hear more of my thoughts on this topic, check out the blogs on my website, www.mariondanebauer.com. Scroll down through the titles of past blogs to find one called “The Stuff of Opinion.” That touches on this same subject.
I wish you well in all ways, Juliette, and I hope this helps to answer your question. I appreciate your taking the time to ask it.
I was, indeed, glad to have the question asked. I only wish I could have answered it for a larger audience, which is why I’m bringing the discussion here.
When a book comes into the world, it takes on its own life. Little of what happens to it or is said about it even filters back to the book’s creators. I have had occasional hints of the hum set off by my choosing that most controversial of all words, but I have little opportunity to defend my choice.
As I said to Juliette, I am not a theist. Much of what gets attached to the concept of God—all knowing, all powerful, judging, controlling, even loving—makes me itch. But having grown-up in a Christian church and having once lived the better-be-quiet-about-what-you-really-believe role of a pastor’s wife, I have thought long and hard about the meaning of the word.
And I’ve come to decide, as a word person, not a theologian, that I like it. I like it precisely because nothing has more weight in our language than the word God. I can’t think of another that carries the same force. Universe, when it’s used instead, doesn’t touch it. Life force conveys the concept, but without feeling attached.
I no longer identify as Christian, but I love the Christian concept of Incarnation. Not as a one-time event, but as an every-time event. And I love equally Quaker theology that speaks of God in us. The two are the same. They tell us that human life, that all life is sacred.
These days our public schools are trying rather belatedly to maintain our constitution’s standard of the separation of church and state. As they struggle with that task, though, I wish separation weren’t automatically equated with exclusion, with no-discussion-possible, with slam the door on all potentially “religious” words and concepts and keep it locked. I wish The Stuff of Stars could be presented along with the question, “What do you suppose the author meant by ‘weighty as God’? Can you think of some other comparison that would work as well?”
I can’t, but certainly others will.
And so I used the God-word in a picture book. I used it, not being a believer myself in any traditional sense, in order to present a vision of our Universe as vital, alive, holy.
A vision that might even save our fragile existence on this planet if we only take it seriously enough.
Part of learning to create things well is just practice—putting in your time, keeping at it, refusing to give up when you make mistakes, which you are going to do a lot. Nowadays, people are calling the willingness to persist like this: grit. And yet there is another aspect to this business of creating things—call it joy, or inspiration, or magic, or whatever. And this part has very little to do with stiffening your spine and pushing past difficulties. So, in Falcon, I tried to evoke that delicate balancing act of grit and magic.