(Caleb-3, upon finding two pennies.)
Though running late for work one morning, I felt a determination to take my walk on Rabbit Lane. Quickening my pace on the crunching gravel, I found myself thinking: If I hurry, maybe I can finish my 30 minute walk in 20 minutes. The absurdity of my thought struck me instantly. I chuckled to myself, but could see that my thinking deserved further study. I might as well have said, If I hurry, maybe I can short-change myself. Thirty minutes of exercise can only be had in 30 minutes. Thirty minutes of meditation cannot be experienced in anything less than 30 minutes. Thirty minutes of quality time with my children cannot be condensed into anything but 30 minutes. I lack the power to compress time. I cannot run it backwards, chop it up and rearrange it, hurry it along, alter its linear nature, or stretch or squeeze it. I can, instead, choose to use my time well, to make all 30 minutes of exercise exercise, play play, meditation meditation, work work.
Several weeks later I took my children to my favorite park, the county’s Legion Park in Settlement Canyon. The park sits on a narrow, flat, grassy area between two ridges covered with Mountain Maple and Gambel Oak. The children waded in the creek that trickled over rounded cobbles at the park’s edge, searching for Rock Rollers and her larvae. We enjoyed a picnic lunch under a huge willow, listening to the Red-shafted Northern Flicker chicks clamor as their parents swooped up to the nest hole high in the tree with food. The children then moved to the playground, in the shade of more giant willows. A young mother joined us at the playground with her toddler. After a short while, the mother called testily to the little girl, “Hurry up and finish playing!” My initial reaction to the mother’s demand was silent but harsh judgment. How absurd to tell the child to hurry her play. Hurried play isn’t play at all. It isn’t spontaneous. It isn’t fun. But my heart softened as I remembered my own recent ridiculous inclination to hurry what can’t be hurried. I, too, have frequently thought that maybe I could play more if I crammed it in, ending up with no play at all. I, too, have often worked to accomplish more by rushing impatiently through, leaving all enjoyment behind. My mist of thoughts cleared into a sincere hope that someday this mother could learn, just as I was struggling to learn, that you can’t hurry play.
Next to the park is an area with concrete pads for recreational vehicles. Every pad was full, forming a neat line of RVs parked very close together. These people had escaped their suburban subdivision homes to “camp” for the weekend in yet another subdivision.
* * *
Each day is a lifetime to be lived. Each waking is a birth with infinite opportunities to go here or go there, to do this or do that, to think sundry thoughts, to feel rainbow feelings, to peruse the scenery of choices and destinations, to study the horizon of consequences. Each night brings a new sunset, a new reflection upon the day and how we lived it. It is sometimes brilliant, sometimes sublime; sometimes dull and hazy, sometimes unspeakably beautiful; sometimes unspeakably sad, sometimes holding a glimmer of hope. Each sleeping is a passage to newness. Each waking begins a voyage. Do we know our desired destination? Wherever it is, at the sun’s setting we will have arrived. But is it where we wanted to be? Is it a place where we feel happiness and hope for tomorrow’s waking? We will always arrive . . . somewhere.
* * *
In my youth I hunted beauty. I hunted butterflies and moths and insects with a net made from a broom handle, a pillowcase, and a steel clothes hangar clamped tightly to the broom handle. I hunted and caught my prey, stilled it in an alcohol killing jar (I didn’t know how to get ether), and pinned it to a cork board. In high school shop class I built a display case, a full three by five feet, and filled it with nearly 200 different species, each checked off in my Golden Guide books. Thirty years later, I still remember their names: Red-spotted Purple; Pipevine Swallowtail; Tomato Hornworm; Question Mark; Cecropia; Polyphemus. The case hung in my bedroom, on the wall, where I admired the beauty of the butterflies and moths each day. It was important to me to capture this beauty, to hold it and to control it, to imprison it on my wall as my possession, my trophy. Returning from college, I found that tiny worms had worked their way into the display case and had ruined my collection. Only dusty, disintegrating remnants remained. The beauty was entirely gone.
In my middle age, I find that I am loath to capture beauty. I learned long ago that beauty captured quickly fades. Rather, I am content to let beauty fly beneath the blue sky, to land whimsically on this bloom or that, and to be carried away carelessly on a zephyr. I bring beauty into my home as often as it comes to me: an injured bird; a colorful leaf or berry; a start of wild roses; a bald eagle seen from the porch through binoculars. But I no longer attempt to make it my prisoner. It lives on alive.
Many of life’s great intangibles—like love, joy, and beauty—cannot be captured or held on to. We often try, however, because we don’t want to be without them. But the harder we try to grasp hold of them, to keep them close, to control them, the quicker they escape and are lost to us. Certainly feelings of love and joy follow our specific efforts to create them. Just as surely, our specific efforts to control them chase them away. Discover the principles of thought and behavior that bring happiness, and let it come. Resist the urge to capture. Let it be.
Laura (10) and I found a yellow-and-black striped Monarch larva on a Milkweed leaf while walking on Rabbit Lane. She brought the caterpillar carefully home. We made a safe box with air holes, a door for placing fresh leaves every day, and a clear viewing screen. The larva swelled as it ate. One morning it appeared as a powdery turquoise chrysalis with shining spots of gold, hanging from the box top on a button of sticky silk. After several weeks the pupa darkened to almost black. Then its thin, dry membrane cracked, and out crawled a Monarch body with shriveled, wet wings. It hung from the shell while it shivered to urge blood into the veins of the expanding, drying wings. Laura and I watched this miracle of metamorphosis in awe, appreciating but not understanding, filled with wonder. When the butterfly stopped trembling and its wings were fully extended, Laura coaxed the gentle creature to step onto the tip of her finger, then released it with a puff of breath into the wide world to be drawn to the Milkweed growing along Rabbit Lane.
Five years later, Laura and I went for a walk on Rabbit Lane. She talked with me about the biography of Helen Keller she had just finished reading. Helen “listened” to people either by placing her hand lightly on their lips as they talked, or by having people sign the letters into the palm of her hand. Laura brought up the question of beauty.
“How do you comprehend or appreciate beauty without light, color, or sound, when you can’t see or hear?”
Yet, somehow, Helen found beauty, in her own way. Our notion of beauty may in fact be superficial. We see and hear beauty, but do we really experience it, appreciate it, comprehend it? Does the beauty become part of us, or remain distant, separate? Laura’s thesis for a short essay she wrote is that the essence of beauty is simplicity, not complexity. The most beautiful things, perhaps, are the most simple in color and design: a daisy; the sun; snow on the mountains; a lullaby.