June 9, 2020
After last night’s brisk wind, the morning was fresh and cool as we walked along the ditch banks. There is often a certain progression in my thoughts as I walk, not guided by me, but seemingly birthed from the motion of my legs, the swing of my arms, the pounding of my feet, and the quickness of my breath.
This morning, thoughts overflowed. I thought of Philip Young, the gifted English literature professor from whom I took a class on Hawthorne and Melville long ago at Penn State. One day he said, “I am rich!” referring to his fertile mind. “I give you a footnote. Others would write an article, but I have so many ideas, I can give them away in footnotes.” I was feeling rich myself in those days, newly pregnant with my first child, but I had a hard time coming up with an original and compelling idea for my final paper. Because I was a librarian, I had done endless research. What could I say about one of these authors that had not already been said? At last, pre-occupied and immersed in creativity, I had one small idea in response to Hawthorne’s short story, “The Artist of the Beautiful,” a story about the artist’s creation of a mechanical butterfly (which is smashed by the infant of the woman he loves) and the essence of creativity. I no longer remember what my small idea was, (probably something about babies, butterflies, and nature versus human invention), but it was enough to satisfy Professor Young
So, this morning, I, too, was rich. First, as we walked, I shared ideas with Kent about the memoirs of his life on boats, which I am editing. Then I practiced, as I often do when walking, reciting (1) “The Lord is my Shepherd,” (2) “The Road not Taken,” and finally, (3) “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
At the turn-around point, looking over the green fields and t riverside trees to the volcano Vulcan, which along with several others marks the skyline west of Albuquerque, I did my usual standing yoga poses and stretches. It was while heading back, after half-an-hour of motion that, as usual, my thoughts began overflowing. This is why I think walking is the cure for everything.
I thought about a friend who had gone back to the Catholic Church from the Episcopal church. I wanted to ask her more about why, and I wondered what differences between the two might matter to me. “Mystery,” maybe, and “Authority.” The priest who presided at the Aquinas Newman Center on the Sunday following the dismissal of the Dominicans, had proclaimed, “Church was made for man, not man for the church.” I despised those words and the top-down practices they represented. I began weeping a few minutes into the service, left when it was over, and never went back.
Then I thought about the Compline (late night) service I’d attended via Zoom twice in the past week, and how comforting it was, like being tucked in by my mother and my aunts when I was a young child. “Now I lay me down to sleep…” and “Good-night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.” I wondered, did I do this for my children – tuck them in with prayers and give them a sense of security? The words of the Compline service were comforting and soothing in this time of sadness, upheaval and uncertainty. “The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end,” the service began. And later:
Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
For you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth.
Keep us, O Lord, as the apple of your eye.
Hide us under the shadow of your wings.
— The Book of Common Prayer
I think I slept more soundly last night that I had in a long time, like a young chick sheltered under its mother’s wings. The words and prayers, in the lovely language of The Book of Common Prayer resonated with me. One of my favorite nighttime prayers, which we didn’t say last night, is from The New Zealand Book of Common Prayer:
It is night.
The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.
The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world
and of our own lives
rest in you.
The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.
The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
In your name we pray.
I thought of Shakespeare’s “Sleep, gentle sleep, that knits up the raveled sleeve of care.”
Ha! I misremembered, conflating two different sayings, “Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care,” from MacBeth, and “O sleep, O gentle sleep, Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frightened thee. That thou no more will weigh my eyelids down, and steep my senses in forgetfulness?” Henry IV, Part 2.
And, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Matthew 6:34
Now, “Morning has broken, like the first morning.” Eleanor Farjeon
My ideas have bubbled over. I have a day’s work ahead of me, which I will tackle with energy gained from my walk and strength from my good night’s sleep. When the day is over, I will no longer have “miles to go before I sleep.” Night will one day come to each of us.