Rilke has a word for today, from his Letters to a Young Poet:
Here in this vast landscape, swept by winds from the sea, I wonder if there is any person anywhere who can answer the questions that stir in the depths of your being. For even the best miss the mark when they use words for what is elusive and nearly unsayable. But nonetheless, I believe you are not left without a solution, if you turn to things like those that are refreshing my eyes. If you ally yourself with nature, with [its] sheer existence, with the small things that others overlook and that so suddenly can become huge and immeasurable; if you have this love for what is plain and try very simply, as one who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, perhaps not in your conscious mind, but in your innermost awareness.
One week ago, I took my beloved to the airport, and drove on down to the coast with my son. We were stealing away to the beach for part of two days, before the crush of school was upon us. We arrived mid-morning, and took to the cool morning ocean, silver and green and rushing over our feet. Time slowed and the few hours we had stretched out. We swam, slept, moved from sun to shade and back again. Walking out to the waves alternated with body-surfing in; after a while, I floated, feeling clearly that the water just was, as energy moved through it, changing its shape from moment to moment. Now wave, now still. Like the belly of the world breathing under us and around us.
The morning of our second day, we noticed a difference in the ocean. The waves came more quickly one upon the other, at a sharper angle to the shore. The sucking pull between waves was harder; going deeper did not feel safe. We stayed closer to the beach, until suddenly it was time to go.
Driving north, we completely missed the earthquake, in motion ourselves. As the days of the week went by, busyness wrapped itself around us again, the news shifting from earthquake to hurricane. My beloved came home, our little family prepared for the storm, and then the media brought us images of Irene coming ashore where we had just been, days before. The small, premonitory tugs and pushes of energy we had felt washing through us in the surf were becoming huge, and humanly immeasurable.
On our edge of the storm, we watched the clouds gather, with an unusual depth I remembered from the hurricanes of my South Texas childhood; nearer gray clouds seemed almost light against miles of more darkly clouded sky behind them. As the day wore on, the winds came in waves, a hushed and distant roar growing closer until the trees around us bent and danced. The pines swayed in a full-body swirl, while the trunks of the hardwoods held stiff, branches in a flexible frenzy. Yellowed leaves let go, littering the lawn with the confetti of an early fall.
We sat on our front porch at the bottom of an ocean of air, waves of wind rushing up to us and flying on. Once again the hours stretched out, each second full of something to sense: the flash of leaves’ bright undersides, flirting with the wind. Thump of heavy, tight green pine cone hitting the ground. Slow twirl of a sweetgum’s star-shaped leaf, spinning down from the sky. Bands of raindrops falling as silvered needles, benediction to dry ground. The warmth of my lover’s hand, the storm having stilled us both.
Irene’s wide skirt entranced us. But I know others had no leisure for the poetry of the storm. Bad enough to be without power; what of those who have no home to light?
I sit with this. Feeling the tug of not doing enough … of even not being enough, in the face of the great needs of this time. What gift will the storm give now?
Perhaps the wave memory of ocean and of wind. Standing in the surf, I feel the water drawing away, as a wave builds itself and then rolls forward. (Drawing away is part of moving forward.) Standing in the wind, I hear the wind announcing itself far in advance of its arrival. (Impatience is a premonition of change.) Standing in this moment, I can know that huge hurricanes are made of an immeasurable number of raindrops, none of which are wasted as they fall. (The huge love this world needs is made of an immeasurable number of small loves, and nothing I am capable of now is wasted.)