Delight Springs

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Autumn light

Another 90 degree day awaits, but cooler days are coming. Autumn can be a solemn season for some, with the fall of every Freddie the Leaf. But we don't really begin to feel it here 'til around Halloween.

My Peanuts page-a-day has been playing with the solemnity of Fall. Linus and Charlie Brown gleaned this lesson: "Don't be a leaf. Be a tree." There are figurative ways to do that, but even the oldest trees must eventually fall. Maybe better to be a root, better still to be the nurturing cycling soil.

But this is a birthday for Peanuts (originally "L'l Folks"), in 1950. Charles Schulz said "winning is great, but it isn't funny." Detractors say Peanuts isn't that funny either, but I think it's often profoundly wise and humane and compassionate. Better than funny.

Also, today's Wallace Stevens' birthday. He walked two miles to work at the Insurance Company every day, composing great poems in transit. For him, poetry was god and the whole human race is a poem.

Speaking of god: what a terrific job our reporters in section 13 did yesterday, with their version of "This I Believe." John gave us his take on Paley's watch analogy (which still doesn't impress) and his conviction that some huge intelligence must exist to have created a "ball" big enough to bang out a universe, and to insure ultimate justice ("accountability"). I call that the Julia Sweeney reality check: "You mean Hitler just died?!" That is a tough one, but who really needs to learn the lesson of Hitler at this point? Us, not him. We all must be accountable, forever after, and eternally vigilant.

Then in turn we heard Savannah's agnosticism, Carolyn's atheism, and McKayla's scientism. There followed a brief but equally thoughtful class discussion. Someone wanted to know why the godless don't just become raging hedonists and amoralists. Someone else wanted to know how we'd ever learn to respect earthly authority once we've renounced the divine. Well, we should be wary of earthly authority. Make them earn it.

There are good Darwinian answers to most of these questions, and of course there's David Hume's classic response to the Paley proposal. We won't all run out and start murdering people or living licentiously, any more than the earth will fall from the sky without a deity to hold it up (as Julia reminded us). After all, we want to be well-scored. We want to play the game right, as Granny Rice reminded us.

People seemed to enjoy the conversation. They might want to consider registering for Atheism & Philosophy, next time it comes around.

All in all, it was one of those days that make me grateful for my profession.

And since I cadge from them so much, I should also profess my gratitude for the Almanac. Yesterday they ran a Mark Strand poem I wish I'd written. Happy National Poetry Day, U.K.

For Jessica, My Daughter

Tonight I walked,
lost in my own meditation,
and was afraid,
not of the labyrinth
that I have made of love and self
but of the dark and faraway.
I walked, hearing the wind in the trees,
feeling the cold against my skin,
but what I dwelled on
were the stars blazing
in the immense arc of sky.

Jessica, it is so much easier
to think of our lives,
as we move under the brief luster of leaves,
loving what we have,
than to think of how it is
such small beings as we
travel in the dark
with no visible way
or end in sight.

Yet there were times I remember
under the same sky
when the body's bones became light
and the wound of the skull
opened to receive
the cold rays of the cosmos,
and were, for an instant,
themselves the cosmos,
there were times when I could believe
we were the children of stars
and our words were made of the same
dust that flames in space,
times when I could feel in the lightness of breath
the weight of a whole day
come to rest.

But tonight
it is different.
Afraid of the dark
in which we drift or vanish altogether,
I imagine a light
that would not let us stray too far apart,
a secret moon or mirror,
a sheet of paper,
something you could carry
in the dark
when I am away.
"For Jessica, My Daughter" by Mark Strand, from Collected Poems. © Knopf, 2014. Reprinted with permission. 

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