Monday, January 18, 2010

What will survive of us is love

It is a day for Martin Luther King Jr. A day off from work, a day that had me thinking of Thich Nhat Hanh and the friendship he shared with MLK, and the vividly surreal dream I had last night of walking with Thich Nhat Hanh. I am reminded of his words: "Our true home is in the present moment. To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now."

This was a day I thus took a long walk and enjoyed the unseasonably warm weather with a carrot ginger smoothie. A day for a good workout, and then 20 minutes in the sauna, lying with my knees pressed to my nose, my toes hugging the wall behind my head. Breathing deeply. Feeling the warmth settle.

It has been a day for a lunch of arugula salad and smoked hummus, and then a nap in front of the fireplace with my two dogs. They had baths earlier, and they nuzzle against me for warmth. We form a contiguous mound on the sofa, with the cat stretching one paw onto the top of my head. My husband comes to tuck the blankets around my feet, knowing my mercurial body temperature, which vacillates between hot and cold in patterns that are sometimes scary. Blessings come in all forms, I think.

It was a day for a long bath, and listening to music: Wilco, Neko Case, Radiohead. Alex and I have a longstanding game of being the first to guess the name of the artist. Pink Floyd's Us and Them comes on. I always liked this song.

It is an evening now for gratitude. For this home that we share, filled with books and art and music, peace and love. We share a garden with cardinals, goldfinches, and blue jays, who chirp, chatter, and gossip in the quince tree. They splashed in the fountain today, wings lifted in a chorus of Hallelujahs. "Amen," I say quietly to myself.

Alex works in his office - on an assignment for graduate school. His focus is admirable, as mine resembles that of a gnat. He tells me to buy myself that jacket on that I am eying. I decide not to, but am touched by his generosity. We decide on what to make for dinner, and he asks for asparagus made "my special way." I bought a bunch at the organic market today. He loves asparagus.

Scattered in almost every room of the house - living room, bathroom, bedroom, office -- are river rocks, inscribed with the words, "What will survive of us is love," from one of my favorite poems. They are wedding favors, and we are lucky to have extras. I read the words as I brush my teeth, when I'm grading papers early in the morning, and at night when I turn off the light at my bedside. I read them when we've argued, and when we are sitting together in front of the fire, peaceful and at rest.

Uncertainty is everywhere. A man can lose his life for love, for loving what is right. Another man - his friend - can outlive him, and practice peace in the sublime contentment of the French countryside, far from his native Vietnam. Anywhere can be a home.... "and up the paths the endless altered people came, washing at their identity." Love alters us, and we are humbled by what it does to our identity.

So today is a day of love, and this is what we have. We are walking, always. And thank goodness for the little things that wash away the truths and untruths of our edges, making us smooth as river rocks.

An Arundel Tomb

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd—
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,
Washing at their identity.

Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

-Philip Larkin

1 comment:

  1. I think perhaps I never read this one. Which is quite surprising to me. Somehow I found myself here today. Coincidence, I think not. Thank you.