Venus hangs fat and gold. The old ring-barked sycamore gleams white under a pale blue sky. Leaves fidget in the first breeze. I sit on a cushion and light a candle in the window where a fine-limbed spider makes delicate purchase, trying to climb the glass. The tree, the spider and the star are reassuring, each in its own way, steadfastly doing what its species does: living and dying, web-making, burning bright.
Reassuring because I feel increasingly uncertain what’s required of me on a planet that’s quivering with its own potency and undermining centuries-old assumptions about our place upon it.
Usually we spend a lifetime assimilating the facts of our frailty, realising the provisional nature of our dwelling on earth. On Friday the whole world realised it together, in the 12 or so hours it took for all sleepers to awake and take in the images of Japanese cities scraped up and thrown into monstrous heaps.
In a calamity we see for a moment that we will all die; that although we weave into our lives vast complexity, the final fact is very simple. We are faced with the knowledge of a finite number of days remaining to us — whether ten or ten thousand.
At a time like this we ask ourselves what makes life meaningful: our loved ones (but what if they’re dead or disappeared?); the beauty and comfort of nature (but what if your place is lost amongst towers of mud and debris, and it’s beginning to snow?); work (but of what relevance is that if the air is poison and anyway the workplace no longer exists?) A Japanese woman says on a youtube video: I don’t know yet if it is a good or a bad thing that I have survived.
At a time like this we fear that we don’t have enough love or resources to help and heal what’s broken; that beauty will fail to console because nature has bared her destructive arm; that work is merely an escape from our own deep unease.
Although I can’t recall their detail, my dreams this week have been benign and comforting. I wake feeling soft and warm towards life — until I start to remember what’s happened in Christchurch and Japan, and start trying to work out what is still important to do (even though life goes on quite normally in this placid city).
I can only conclude that the things that gave meaning yesterday are those still called for today — but in greater measure.
May our love be enlarged.
May nature be honoured, restored and restorative, starting with the first spring greens of Sendai.
May we each do the work we find in ourselves to do — heartfelt, dignified and creative work — our particular offering to the quivering world.
Speaking of heartfelt, dignified and creative, Claire Beynon is still gathering art and donations for Christchurch with her fine initiative, Many as One.