Friday, April 23, 2010

Did You Get the Chance to Dance Along the Light of Day?

The earth is full; there is enough and to spare.

I'm walking on Sunday evening, into a beautiful spring sunset with blossoms exploding around us, with Friend. She wants to know what to do that will make her happy. To be more particular, she wants somebody to tell her what will make her happy. She proclaims to the pink-tinged sky: "Just tell me what to do, and I'll do it. Just tell me what to do. I'm very obedient. It will be done in an instant." I start laughing, "I wish it worked like that. Somebody comes and tells us what to do that makes us happy."

She's at that point we all get to, those of us who are very good box-checkers, those of us who love to fill in forms. (Mine might have been the first census form to have been filled out, but I waited until April 1, so that I could accurately report who actually stayed in the house that day. Wouldn't want to file a false document with the federal government). Graduate from high school with honors. Check. Attend best college you can, preferably on scholarship and in another country. Check. Get graduate degree. Check. Get married to athlete who makes you laugh. Check. Have children. Check. Pottytrain children. Check. Get children to first grade where day becomes your own again. Check. Option A: Develop career and get lots of awards. Check. Option B: Remain at home and create brilliant pianists, soccer players, singers and prayers out of said children, plus master art of digital scrapbooking. Option C: Options A and B. Check, check, check.

Then, one day, about fifteen years down the road, you wake up one morning and think, "Is this it? Is this it for the rest of my life? Is this what I get to do, everyday for the rest of my life?" You look at the body sleeping next to you, in its slack, morning-eyed sleepiness, and think, "Are you it for the rest of my life?" It's round about this point that some women have another baby, because that's another venture to start on, something that breaks up the monotony. Men, I've noticed, buy younger models—of either sports cars or wives, or both.

Friend—who doesn't want another baby and can't afford a sports car and can't marry a wife in this state—breaks out in a frustrated utterance, "I didn't realize that 'endure to the end' was going to be fifty years long. Somehow I feel robbed. Like I worked really hard to get here and I'm not anywhere. I just want to be told what to do next. And there is no next." I'm laughing as we head down the hill: "Well, there is a next. But there are no more boxes. So, now, scary as it may seem, you get to decide what's next. It's utterly and completely your choice." She wails, "But I want to be told what to do next. I'm very good at that. I don't want to have to work it out. That's frightening. "


Exodus 32 is normally boiled down to silly children of Israel lose their heads while Moses is gone and go on idol-making rampage which results in Moses and the Lord getting really upset. Moral of story is obviously that we should not make "golden calves" in our own lives. (Just received change of assignment in church which means I now have to teach Old Testament to adults. Bear with me on the OT references while I settle in). But, I'm not so sure about this obvious message. Again, the "why" gets lost in the "what."

Here's another way to look at it: A people, in slavery for 470 years, are liberated. There's a certain psychological comfort, or at least certainty, in slavery. You don't have to decide what to do, what to wear, when to work, what to eat, and when to sleep. While you might chafe against the restrictions, there is also no opportunity to go horribly wrong of your own free will and choice. So, imagine the "growing up" that needs to go on in a person's mind to be able to go from "slave" or "child" to independent, free thinking adult. As I read through Exodus, I appreciated how the children of Israel are tutored in steps by a patient, understanding parent God.

First, he requires them to work out how much manna it is they really need, each "according to his eating." This is a little bit of independent thinking. "And no, don't hoard it. If you do, it will stink. Okay, now it's stinking. So, work out a better amount tomorrow." After a few days, they get it. They understand that this manna will appear in the morning, and melt in the hot afternoon sun. And, if there's any left over by night, it will turn rancid and wormy in the morning. They understand that their responsibility is to gather it and correctly calculate the amount. Even still, a few, myself included, not willing to trust that there will be nothing on the seventh day, or perhaps wanting fresh manna instead of baked, go out on the Sabbath morning, and there's none. Our appearance to look for manna when we've been told there won't be any gets a warning. So, they're learning to figure out how to be obedient without the immediate consequence of a lash or a deprivation.

Then Moses learns how to lead. The only leader of any weight that Moses has seen is Pharaoh, a centralized, powerful figure to whom the entire Egyptian people look. So, when it comes time to fight Amalek, Moses becomes just that kind of leader. He parks himself at the top of a hill and raises his arms. As long as Moses raises his arms, the battle goes in their favor. When he gets tired and lowers his arms, the battle turns against them. Why didn't Moses choose to hold up a flag on a stick? Far easier to hold and to handle. Perhaps because he thought he had to be the center of his people's focus. (Or maybe to provide us with an easily packaged moral imperative about the necessity of supporting your leaders.) But, with the aid of his trusty lieutenants holding up his weary arms, the Israelites win the battle. Still, Moses is the central figure and they look to a leader to give them confidence and direction. Their leader, however, needs to learn that he cannot take everything upon himself and so Jethro wisely tells him to cut out the all-day answering of questions and concerns. Delegate to capable leaders and take yourself out of the middle of things.

Together, the children of Israel and Moses develop small steps of independence. God, in chapter 19, decides to make them his covenant people. He asks them to purify themselves in anticipation of the making of the covenant. They take three days to purify, and then, in return, they get lightning, thunder, fire and clouds as the Lord reveals himself to Moses and makes the covenant with the him and his people. Once again, they interact with their God through their leader and they get instant reward in the form of visible signs of divine power. Then they get instructions for living, in the form of the tablets of stone and they get instructions for worship, in the form of how to build the Tabernacle. They promise, the entire audience, "All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient."

So, fast forward to the crucial moments before the making of the golden calf. Moses has left to talk again with the Lord. Aaron is left in charge of the camp. Their leader, to whom they have looked for manna, for water, for battle commands, for divine law, for intercession with the Lord, has gone. There is no-one to look to. There's no smoke, no fire, no thunder or lightning. It's almost as if God and Moses conspired to leave these children alone for a time to see what they will do in the absence of power and authority. What steps will they take on their own?

What do they do in the space provided by the Lord in which to prove themselves? They panic. They return to their default setting. I know they have all they need to see them through this time of separation—tablets of Commandments, lists of worship instructions, and a personal commitment to carry these out. But sometimes those don't feel like enough. Sometimes, you want your hand held. Moses' absence was too much to bear, the space and silence created by his leaving too much to contemplate. So, "when they saw that Moses was delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron and said unto him, 'Up, make us gods which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, . . . we wot not what is become of him."

To a people so used to being led, to being shown, to being provided for, to having their manna and quail set out before them, they found themselves unaccountably, horribly alone. There was no one to tell them what to do, no one to tell them just exactly how to be happy. So, they make a leader for themselves, out of gold, in the shape of a calf. It comforts them—at least until Moses gets back into camp and reads them the riot act. I suppose it was then the penny dropped that perhaps the golden calf was exactly the kind of graven image prohibited by their new set of life rules. That was something they probably hadn't realized. It was one of those ideas that look better on paper than in execution. After all, all they wanted was a god to lead them, just like they had always had. They didn't realize that those really detailed instructions they had been given over the past months/years were designed for exactly this moment, to allow them to lead themselves.

I feel for the children of Israel. I recognize their good impulses. They don't suddenly get a wild hair and decide, "Yes, Moses is gone. Let's play." They actually want to worship something. They want a visible leader, somebody they can turn to. And, in their fledgling faith, they do just about everything right: they approach Aaron, the leader in Moses' absence, and ask for a visible god; the women offer up their golden jewelry, sacrificing their own belongings; their leader makes the calf for them and proclaims a feast day unto the Lord; they build an altar of earth in front of it, just as instructed in Exodus 20:24; they come early in the day and offer up their burnt offerings and bring their peace offerings. Just about everything is done right, except for the one prohibition that they were told three times: don't make any graven images, in particular, don't make any golden or silver images. Just don't. And they still do.

Why is it that they couldn't remember this one small detail?

Because when we are left alone for the first time to actually choose for ourselves the life we will lead, sometimes we freeze. We don't actually know how to choose for ourselves. We don't know what to choose. We're used to that undercurrent of authority showing us what our choices "should" be. It's hard to choose something when there are no more boxes telling us what to chose. When there is no obvious "should" i.e., when there's just space and time to fill, we flounder. Into this space, sometimes we pour more boxes of our own making, perhaps a golden calf or two, just because we're used to boxes. That this tends to lead to a life lived under the pressure of false imperatives is problematic. But, the familiarity of that approach can be comfortably numbing. At some point though, just like the children of Israel, there will come a time when we are left alone, with the Lord's devices, to fashion a life of our own choosing, a life that is of our own free will and choice.


My lovely Friend has all the education, career, husband and children she needs. What now? This was the question she asked herself and her husband during one of those frankly honest, even-toned, perspective-altering, kitchen table conversations a few weeks ago. Start again? Because in ten years, if she threw this set of husband, children, and kitchen table in, she would be back in the same position she is in now, with a new husband, new children, and a new kitchen table. And, in all honesty, it was this particular man she wanted to share the journey with and these particular children she would like to see through to the end.

Which brought us at the middle of the walk, as we rounded the irrigation canal, to the nature of this journey and the massive space between the last box and the last breath. I asked her, "What story do you want to tell? In twenty years, what is your story going to be?"

In my particular space, I told her I would like to hike the Appalachian trail (even better if Bill Bryson were chugging along with me); learn how to drive a big rig; oil paint; live in New York City or London or Sydney or Florence; spend every afternoon I possibly could watching my children play sports; see how tall the trees I'm going to plant next month in our new orchard will grow; go to Scotland with my beautiful sisters to find my presently unknown but I am sure equally short-legged, well-endowed second cousins in Firth; take my children to live where they are the theological and perhaps racial and linguistic minority; hike the Grand Canyon and ride the Colorado River out; attend the U.S. Open in New York in September and the next World Cup; buy a kayak and use it during the summers on the mountain reservoirs; track down an ocean and plonk myself next to it for as long as I can every year; earn my lifelong membership in the Fancy Skirt Tennis Club, and have that mentioned in my obituary along with the Lovely Ladies Luncheon Book Club; go to every funeral I can for those people I've shared this journey with; notice need and find ways to fill it; sit in grey-haired, raucous conversation with my brothers and sisters as often as we can and hopefully belt out Christmas carols every year at the top of our slightly off-key voices (mine the worst), Paul on the piano, Laura on the guitar, Angus on the drums; see the magic of my children and my brothers' and sisters' children unfold before my teary eyes; continue to love this man I've lain next to for nigh on twenty years; maybe write a book if I can muster up the energy; and the list goes on.

"But, what if that doesn't happen? What if you can't find a publisher for your book? What if you get mugged on the trail? Or shot in the New York subway like Brian Watkins?"

"I don't care. It's my story. I get to try writing it. It's my space. I get to try filling it. I start by thinking about what I would like to go in it."

Title: From "Drops of Jupiter" by Train.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I Really Need You Tonight

There is really nothing more to say--except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye.

The traditional teaching of chastity to our teenagers goes something like, "Sex outside of marriage is wrong." Then, it's followed by a laundry list of things one mustn't do so that you couldn't possibly have sex before marriage: touch any area covered by a swimming suit, be alone with a boy in the basement watching movies, be alone with a girl in a car with a bench seat, look at pornography on the Internet, and (this is my personal one) listen to and see any Shakira videos (Have you see the She-wolf video? It's depraved. And I'm desensitized). The repercussions of such activities are dread: Illegitimate children, sexual disease, immorality, loss of virginity. All those things that might possibly happen and which would spell the end of life as you know it. And so, sexual intimacy is run through with a thread of fear, colored with the forbidden, and becomes a place to either run from or to peer around the edge at with the morbid curiosity of children, forbidden to eat sugar, looking into the pantry of their friend, whose mother apparently owns stock in General Mills.

But then our children notice images, sounds, lyrics, dialogue that portrays sex generally--inside and outside of marriage--as really rather fun. During their first forays into sexual intimacy, the feelings that accompany their exploration are exhilarating. Those feelings don't feel wrong, in and of themselves. How does something supposed to be so wrong feel so good? There's a disconnect between what they hear at church and possibly at home and what they feel within themselves.

For the sake of my children, of my almost-adult Julia, and my three boys who are charging into sexual maturity and therefore sexual interest, there must be a better way to teach the principle that sexual purity, even waiting until marriage to engage in sexual intercourse, is a better way. Not the only way, we have to recognize, but a better way than the satisfying of an appetite that is commonly portrayed. And, teaching a better way must center on principles, not laundry lists of what actions are wrong, until you both say “Yes,” and then the whole smorgasbord is open for business (Because that in and of itself is a little confusing; at least it was for me).

What reason is there for reserving physical intimacy for marriage, besides, the Lord forbade it? In all honesty, the logical reasons that WERE given for maintaining moral purity aren't as convincing anymore.

Traditionally, I would think, the concern for children born outside of marriage and their accounting for in the legal system drove much of the proscriptions against extra-marital sex. However, given the development of science and technology, some of the traditional reasons for abstaining from sex until marriage don't apply anymore. Birth control prevents the conception of unwanted children. Thus, careful people (adults and teenagers) can engage in sex 99.5 percent of the time without getting pregnant.

If birth control should fail (real birth control, taken regularly, every day at the same time, not like the 7 out of 10 pills I took before our July 7 wedding which method resulted in Julia Rose due April 8 of the next year) and a child is conceived and delivered, then science can now take care of prickly legal issues. The fetus can now be aborted in relative physical safety to the mother--one option. Or the child can be delivered and adopted out--another option. Or, the child can be kept without many of the legal and social ramifications that used to haunt "illegitimate" or "bastard" children.

Blood and DNA testing allows one to establish paternity even if the parents are not married to each other. This allows children born outside of a marriage to lay claim to inheritances, land, and other benefits of identifying their biological father. This also allows the mother to lay claim on support for the child from the biological father.

If, as we read in law school, a wife, married to a husband, should have sex with a man outside of her marriage that results in a child, prior to DNA testing, the law recognized the child as the husband's, even though he didn't contribute any DNA to the child. The law still does recognize that child as legally his. But, if that frisky sire was really rich, then, today, the child could establish the identity of its biological father through DNA testing and lay legal claim to a share of its rightful inheritance. Or, as in the case of Anna Nicole’s child, if the child turns out to be really rich, the father could use DNA to establish it was his contribution that spawned the child and so get at the family jewels that way.

So, children born without the legal identity of a father can now inherit. Women who give birth without the financial protection of a husband can now lay claim for support. Sex does not generally end in pregnancy. Sexual diseases can be treated, although not entirely cured so one doesn't have to watch one's nose rot off as used to be the case with syphilis. But, the prohibition remains: no sex outside of marriage.

Traditional science would have us believe that actions of the body are separate actions. Descartes theorized that the world was like a clock, made of separate parts, and all science/philosophy had to do to understand existence was to break apart the pieces. In his theory of dualism, the mind and the body were distinct entities. The mind exists apart from the body, and does not exist in space. Likewise, the body exists but does not think. In a theory like this, one could, I suppose, engage in repeated sexual acts without them having an effect on the mind or the soul.

In the middle of the century, quantum mechanics challenged the theory of separation. Quantum mechanics views the world as being in constant dynamic interaction; nothing, no event nor action, is independent of all others and exists in and of itself. In a world interpreted by quantum mechanics, separate events are not really separate. All events are interconnected and interdependent. Every part of the body knows what the other parts of the body are doing and responds accordingly. Every part of the soul is aware of what the body is doing, and responds accordingly.

Given that, I believe that our body and spirit respond in kind to when the body and heart move toward intimacy. A heart that begins to love will move the body to press forward. A body that becomes intimate will inspire a heart to long for sustained, emotional intimacy. When one happens without the other, the physical and spiritual pathways get confused and work against each other.

Remember Julia Roberts as Vivian in Pretty Woman? Her rule was she did not kiss on the lips. She could do all other sexual acts, but kissing on the lips, requires an intimacy and an honesty that disturbed her. Kissing requires face time; it's a moment of truth: the moment in which you smell him, taste his breath, his skin, and you look into his eyes. The moments where you find out, in a precursor, whether you fit together. I imagine Vivian thought that if she did not kiss, then she did not have to engage in the soul-seeking and -identifying behavior that accompanies kissing. Because, in a very real way, a kiss is always a question: Who are you? Will you? Can I? Under the influence of the kiss, the body and soul, working in awareness of each other, respond according to design.

I realize that not all cultures kiss like Western cultures do; but there must be some other method of intimacy that precedes intercourse itself and that serves as a gateway to the assessment of whether this body fits with my body, and thus this soul with my soul. Eskimos stand nose to nose. Still she breathes him in. Other cultures press forehead to forehead. Another moment to stop, to breathe, to smell and to wait for him to register, like a bolt sliding home, or a lock tumbling open.

Like kissing, physical intimacy is the portent of a promise. When a woman opens herself to a man and takes him into her body, she opens the center of herself to him. The opening of her body mirrors the opening of a soul. I know there's sex when the grocery list is running through your head, but, then there are other times. Those times when your eyes are wide open, and you can see, as you can feel, through his and through him to the very center, not just of your own union, but almost to the meaning of us all.

In traditional Episcopalian wedding ceremonies, the bride and groom vow: “with my body I thee worship.” This language of betrothal promises that each party will use their body to reverence the other. In this vow, physical intimacy becomes, in a very real way, the reverencing of your spouse. The use of “worship” also suggests that physical intimacy is more than just a linking of bodies, but is instead an activity of both body and soul. When joined, the bodies become the physical evidence of the emotional and spiritual commitment. It's this act, fittingly, that has the potential to give rise to another human being.

Some try to characterize sexual intimacy as just the fulfilling of a bodily appetite, like urination or hunger. The teaching of sex as an appetite, and talking about it as “having” ignores the interconnected body/spirit reality in which we live. This thinking returns us to the Cartesian duality of a separate body and mind. In my life, spirit, blood, and muscle are all connected. I cannot promise with my body and renege with my spirit without causing an effect in my life, in the life of the person I join with, and in the lives of those who follow me and him. The lie at the center of that impatient act colors everything.

How many times can one open one’s very center to another person and another person and another person without being torn apart? The incongruency between the intimate body and the uncommitted heart and mind would lead, I am convinced, to a broken idealism. Each encounter of bodily intimacy would call out to a wary heart, begging it to follow, promising, like the boy who cried “Wolf,” that this time it’s for real. If that were me, and I’m speaking only for me, I would fracture under the duplicit hopefulness of it all.

Because it is tied, at the heart of its function, to the creation of another human being, and to the clothing of a soul, sex is more than just appetite. Because it has the capacity to open worlds, and to allow men and women to participate in the creation of another world, sex is more than just biology. Because physical intimacy, not even sex, can leave you feeling discarded and utterly bereft, it's better entered into body and soul. Because I have been there and been part of it when it has taken me to the very center of myself, and my husband, I recognize and will teach that sex is always about the body and the soul—mine, his and the ones that will be.

For me, physical intimacy is, literally, about “making love”; it’s about giving and about receiving. It’s not about “having” sex, like having a drink of water or a swig of condensed milk. It’s an act of building, of repromising, and of closing the gap. It can be worship of the most poignant, tender kind that fills body and soul with wonder. Those moments are more likely to be found with the one with whom you fit, whose breath and smell you know and love, whom you have vowed to stand by and to support and to whom you have returned time and time again.

For all these reason, I will teach my children it’s better to wait.

From: Bonnie Tyler, "Total Eclipse of the Heart"

Thursday, April 15, 2010

All Things Well Made

Musings from Mexico I

My sister and I and our children just spent a week in Mexico for spring break. Not Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, all-you-eat-cruise-ship-Mexico with palm trees. More bring-your-own solar panels and generator and bottled water, and we'll supply the tortillas. Mexico not-so-grande. But, in return for the fifteen-hour drive on roads and through places I didn't know existed (and still wonder why they do; take Vidal, California, for example), we got the Sea of Cortez, thirty kilometers south of San Felipe on the Mexico side of the Baja Peninsula. On a still morning, it is literally Katherine Bates's "shining sea" as the sun rises out of the ocean in a ribbon of pink and orange. It's strange to see the sun rising out of the ocean on the west coast; wonderfully disorienting, as we're used to seeing it set off the California coast.

The Sea of Cortez is a shallow, fertile oceanic nursery formed by a 700-mile finger of land stretching along the western edge of mainland Mexico. From the second-story deck of our home on a little bay, I could see flocks of pelicans, gulls, sea terns, ducks and geese, and solitary herons stalking the shallows. From the sea, I could see fish jumping at manic intervals throughout the day. From the rock pools, which were uncovered in a stunning, hundreds of feet, retreat of the sea from the high tide mark, Adam and his cousins pulled octopus, crab, urchins, anemones, clams, mussels, shrimp, and "silver fish"(their technical term for the miniature sardine-like fish that swarm in thousands on the surface of the ocean).

Underneath the ocean, well, apparently, there are stingrays, that hang in the sandy benches behind the tidal rocks that are exposed at low tide. Mostly they just float with the tide, but, National Geographic says that "when they are inclined to move," they undulate their flat bodies like a wave. We were told to do the Baja shuffle when walking in the ocean, which attempts to alert any stingrays in the sand that a large creature is coming at them from the side. Footsteps from above aiming for the head of a stingray are almost certain to get stung.

Christian says he was standing still when he was stung, although stung is a euphemism really. Imagine a bone trident wielded by an irate, Smurf-size, basketball referee with little man syndrome. That's about what it felt like to him when the stingray hit him in the bone of his heel. The poison spread so rapidly that by the time he got up to the house, I could see lines of red stretching up both sides of his ankle into his calf muscle, with blood trailing out of the hole in the back of his heel. Laura, who had been bitten two years earlier but waited for a few hours until the pain got "worse than childbirth" before she went to the local doctor for a Novocain shot, bundled him into the car and we took off. The pain of the poison was so fiery Christian didn't know that the doctor's wife (el doctor was out) plunged a wide needle up to the hilt into his heel, and he was still waiting to feel the bite of the needle while she manipulated said thick needle in and out of his heel at various angles (seemingly the same motion the dentist uses during a root canal to reach all three roots). When she was done, he was still waiting for it all to start.

That put a damper on Christian's day. He retired to the sun chair on the deck, and his twelve-year-old cousin Jenny and her friend Brit, played nursemaid to him for the rest of the evening, including making up one-act plays reinventing new endings for Christian's social life and dilemmas with Star Wars Galactic Heroes figures.

On the ocean the next morning, kayaking across our own personal sea of glass, I wondered "Why a stingray?" Why, at a very simple level of necessity, does a sting ray exist? Laura offered a biological developmental theory: these creatures were put into play and evolution over the centuries has created mechanisms in them that allow them to survive in their environment. I wasn't looking for a Darwinian explanation. On other days, it might have worked, but I was on a more "Why did God start this?" train of thought. I didn't know then that ancient Greek dentists used to use the poison in the spine of the ray as an anesthetic—which perhaps slightly justifies a stingray's existence on a usefulness level.

But, I couldn't find an initial reason for the stingray. None of the criteria for justifying an existence really came into play: wasn't useful, wasn't necessary, wasn't beautiful, wasn't kind (like drowning sailor rescuing dolphins), wasn't comic relief, wasn't redemptive, wasn't a foil for some larger creature, wasn't an integral part of the food chain, wasn't a symbol of larger meaning (like the sand dollar husk). Stingrays just are. They are.

I felt a truth knock in me as I watched the pelicans with their clumsy heads sweep low over the blue surface. They were watched by a heron, standing so elegant in his knock-kneed slim silhouette, at the shore. "Each in its own sphere," came to mind. I thought about the human tendency to rank and to assign a value to a thing's existence based on criteria of need, beauty, power, and conformity or whatever comparison-based scale gives the ranker more power, rather than allowing each creature to stand unassailed in its own sphere. I thought of the uselessness of comparison in the natural kingdom. After all, how does one compare a lion with a sea cucumber? Better to just let them both be.

I thought about the word "variety." When the gods created (using whatever creative mechanism you prefer—six days, six creative periods, geologic eras, shifting planets, whatever) the life on this earth, a stated goal was "to give variety" to the earth. The variety standard necessarily denotes that difference and discrepancy will always exist. Designing for variety means that "sameness," variety's antonym, is and will remain, despite our best effort's to induce conformity, an impossibility. Variety means there will always be multiple ways of being, of moving, of looking, of making noise, of thinking, of eating, of protecting. At its heart, variety means that existing is justification enough for being.

That morning, as I contemplated the stingray, I came to see its purpose: to be a stingray. To float with the tide, to burrow into the sand, to move "when they are inclined" in sinuous waves of its wings across the ocean floor, and to sting, when threatened, with a spiny, poisonous tail. Because the stingray is, I cannot say that land and forward-looking eyes and a warning voice are the only, or even a better way of existing. When I look at nature's variety, I must conclude that water, land and air are equally suitable spheres in which to live, and that wings, bellies, legs, and suction cups are all effective methods of moving from place to place. I must allow for hide, skin, scales, jelly and shell as coverings. Orange, black, blue, brown, grey and green become equally suitable colors in which to live out one's life.

As I paddled through that Mexican morning, I found thinking these things and praying for the same equanimity of gaze that I saw in the solitary heron as it watched the flocks of bulbous, brown pelicans fly across its horizon.

Title: from "All Things Bright and Beautiful" by Cecil F. Alexander (1848).