We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always–
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
— T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding
Writing actively, it follows that I actively think of writing more than the norm, but really, I’m just a student of life making up for lost time, before I awakened. I’m always on the lookout for a phrase or sentence that resonates with me on a deeper level. Partly this is admiration for the turn of a particular stack of words, and partly because it offers a train of thought I’d love to explore more in the future. Like an engaged conversation between two people, words prompt. Our engagement with others draws us out of ourselves and places our thoughts into the universe. The ripple that results may transcend space and time, as Eliot’s ripple surely has.
Eliot observed in Little Gidding that “every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning, every poem an epitaph”. Being actively aware of what is being said is a talent of the truly engaged. I’m still a work in progress, as my bride would remind me (funny that I don’t always seem to hear what she swears she just told me—A sign of a wandering mind, or is it a mind slowly slipping into the abyss? Perhaps it’s simply what is heard but half-heard?).
When I do drift off into the abyss one day, I’d like to leave behind a few cogent thoughts before I go. We ought to feel the urgency in the moment, knowing we are but billion-year-old carbon making a weekend of it in our present form. This present mix will soon reshuffle, as sure as the sun rises. There’s a resounding call for us to pay attention in such moments. Eliot, himself reshuffled, capture my jumble of words better with his own: “the communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living”.
My bride would add that I ought to pay more attention to the living as well, but my occasional Walter Mitty moments aside, I’ll make a case that I pay attention to the important details. Every moment matters, but some resonate a bit more. If we focused on everything we’d focus on nothing, after all. Playing the long game, and with a lens focused on infinity, is it any wonder that every sentence both matters a great deal and sometimes gets lost in the surf?
The trick is knowing what to pay attention to in any given moment. We’re all works in progress on our march towards excellence. Knowing that we’ll never quite reach it doesn’t mean we should quit. Our imperfections are a sign of our untapped potential. At least that’s the promise in our present condition.