I was floored by the news. After being off the grid for almost a week, I had decided to catch up on the goings-on in the world. I wished I hadn’t. 22 dead in Baghdad, 11 dead in Istanbul, the travel visas of 83,000 Palestinians revoked so they couldn’t visit their families for Ramadan (retaliation for a shooting in Tel Aviv, killing four). But the last item – the straw that broke the camel’s back – was the destruction of a 3,000-year-old Abyssinian temple at Nimrud. Such senseless hatred! I felt sick to my stomach and endlessly sad.
I walked out into the garden and sat for a while, trying to breathe through my distress. At first, I could see nothing, just pain, and anger. Gradually, the soft chirping of sparrows and the hum of satisfied bees took me outside of myself. Bees! I had been worrying about bees, signing petitions, and planting bee- and butterfly-friendly plants for ages. And, as I started looking around me, I saw that the garden was filled with all kinds of bees: large and small ones, honeybees, wild bees, and bumblebees. All going about their business and covered with pollen.
I shifted my attention to the pond, its water clear and free of algae. Tiny newts swam between the plants; a blue damselfly skimmed the surface. As I watched, a small green frog crept onto a warm rock, ignoring my presence, viewing the world through round, golden eyes.
In this tiny corner of the world, all is well. I cannot heal the world; I can only be a steward for this piece of sanity. And that is enough.
When I shared my thoughts with a friend, she sent me the following poem by Mary Oliver:
I HAPPENED TO BE STANDING
~ Mary Oliver
I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.
While I was thinking this, I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.