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Stillness and the Swirl

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free

— Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things

Manhattan enthralls. Manhattan is a jumble of ideas all shouting to be heard. Like the world jammed into an island could be expected to behave, there is a jostling for the top. Skyscrapers reaching higher, with more and more flair, like the people who occupy them. Manhattan demands the best we can muster of ourselves. Many fall far short of this, to be sure, but the demand is there for those who will listen.

I’m usually good for two days of this, three tops, before I crave stillness again. The delight of sitting on the deck stairs with the pup curled up for an ear scratch and stubborn oak leaves drifting to earth. The call of simple stillness drowns out the noise of the streets, drowns out the madness in the world, drowns out the voice inside me that wants more of the bustle and hum of a city anticipating parades and Christmas lights in the weeks to come. This magic is borrowed, not mine to keep.

The line between chaos and order is thin and tricky to find balance on as we make our way through a lifetime. A bit of poetry on one side, a dance with titans and hustlers on the other. We stumble and right ourselves, lean this way and that, breath deeply and step forward again. Hoping angry winds don’t blow us into chaos. Hoping whispers of doubt don’t betray us. Hoping we can carry on in the darkness beyond our control. We only control the next step.

New York demands attention. Sirens and horns and the rumble of constant change a soundtrack penetrating my soul. The news of the world is dire. Seemingly darker by the day. How do we find peace despite it all? We ought to remind ourselves that the universe is bigger than the schemes of humanity. We ought to reverently walk in the woods. We ought to be grateful for the quiet familiarity of home even as we race through a city that never sleeps. Even the swirling leaves from a stubborn oak ground themselves eventually.

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