In 1851, The Whale, the English edition of Moby-Dick, was published, differing from the American edition with thousands of punctuation and spelling changes, and over 700 different wordings. In 2003, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth book in the series, was published with 864 of similar differences between the American and British versions. Has our understanding English improved in the last 150 years?
Joni Mitchelle’s For The Roses this morning. Comfort music. Not quite my first Joni but the first album that I bought when it was released. Prior to Joni, I had been such a musical snob. I appreciated trained voices and songs that were a part of stories. Musical stories. Oh, there were the Beatles, The Dave Clark 5 (my best friend’s favorite) and other distractions. They were inconsequential, or so I thought. The American Musical Theater was my ‘real’ music. And then Joni, thanks to a boyfriend, and also our newest Noble Prize winner. I’ve been humming Dylan albums straight through all week.
Today, it is Joni and her luxurious self-indulgence, utterly personal and strikingly universal work. Listening to her, singing her songs, taking the lyrics in and digesting them taught me about using life in art, in a way that Rodgers and Hammerstein never did. And it got me a few boyfriends as well. High cheek bones, long straight hair, big front teeth and a reedy soprano. I was no ringer for Joni but a guy could get a little closer to his dream.
Today, I needed the sweet, melancholy. Another morning of pulling up plants. Another morning of almost finishing the emptying of beds.
I thought I had let go a few weeks ago.
And yesterday, I found out that what I had let go of was the design, the fullness, the loveliness of a garden bed. Since then, I’ve worked on rehoming plant after plant. I reworked two beds—one on the side of the house, one in back—that had been needing a good re-do for years. It was sad digging up healthy plants and moving them. Always the chance that what thrived in one place would die in the next, but those plants would still be under my care.
But with all of my flower beds filling up and gifting as many plants as I was able, there were still stragglers. Healthy, thriving perennials that had to be torn out and put on the compost pile. And there is the new letting go. I have coddled plants that I didn’t even like because they were in garden beds that I had inherited and they were alive. I pull only weeds and if they would only cooperate and not hog all the space, I would probably cultivate them as well.
And as I pulled and laid leaves and roots and corms and runners into my bushel basket, I found myself thanking them, begging their pardon and explaining over and over what I was doing and why.
And then, again, I had to let something go.
Working the garden is joy. Wordless, complete. I’ve come to it holding the sadness of loss of friends and beloveds, the frustrations with work from which I could not see justice, the fears for my daughter’s limitations, the terror of our broken family and the work righted my teetering soul. Of course, the joy of beautiful days spent outside in sun, by a pond amidst the water lilies did not go unnoticed. These are way too many works to explain that I’ve never worked in my garden holding anger or sadness or ill will related to the doing, or in this case, undoing of my garden.
So, now this letting go. This creating of a brown moon scape. This destruction. The doing it for weeks. I so want to grasp and hold tight to anything so that I don’t have to let go and hurt, but I let go. And let go again.
. . . . So you get to keep the pictures
That don’t seem like much
Cold white keys under your fingers
Now you’re thinking
‘That’s no substitute
It just don’t do it
Life the song of a warm war body
Loving your touch.’ . . .
Judgment of the Moon and Stars, by Joni Mitchelle
Last evening’s Quest Integration Group meeting closed with this poem. It folded into the stories told last night and it folds into my morning today.
The time has come to put our stones down.
For hands clutching stones can’t freely drum.
And hearts fisting the past can’t freely sing.
It only took me a lifetime to learn. But the lesson is as profound as it is simple. As long as we clutch to one thing – be it a stone, or rail, or weapon – our hands cannot open or reach for anything else.
The timeless and essential drama of living into the unknown resides in this simple sequence. We must risk putting down the stone or stick or gun we are grasping, in order to build or touch or make music of any kind. . . .
It is unavoidably true: hands must be emptied before they can be filled anew. It is the same with our hearts. It is why courage, day by day, is necessary.
Putting Down Pain, by Mark Nepo