I didn't know, I never have known, what spirit it is that descends into my lungs and flaps near my heart like an eagle rising. I named it full-of-wonder, highest good, voices. I shut my eyes and saw a tree stump hurled by wind, an enormous tree stump sailing sideways across my vision, with a wide circular brim of roots and soil like a tossed top hat.
I think that Dillard is talking about grace here. That feeling that descends upon a person unexpectedly, lifts the heart like an eagle rising, as she says. She tries to label it, give it its proper name, but, like most human endeavors, she falls a little short. So she resorts to metaphor and image. A force strong enough to uproot a redwood, send it hurtling through space.
I know that I've written about grace many times before. I think that I keep returning to the subject because grace is so illusive, as Dillard points out. I've felt it in church at times, when people are lifting their candles on Christmas Eve. I've felt it reading poetry, when the words flutter in my chest like sheets on a clothesline. Going down the highway at sunrise or sunset. Watching my daughter or son sleeping. The world is full of grace.
Tonight, I'm going to sit down and watch the Rio Olympics. On the docket tonight, swimming and gymnastics and beach volleyball. Every two years, I spend over two weeks watching sports. It's the only time in my life that any athletic event interests me. Sure, the physical and mental competition is inspiring. Seeing athletes push themselves to accomplish seemingly impossible acts of strength, speed, and stamina. But I watch for another reason.
Once or twice a night, a person stands on top of the podium to receive a gold medal. As the flag rises, and the country's national anthem starts playing, something happens. I see it in the eyes of the athlete being honored. The gaze becomes distant, maybe a little teary. The chest inflates a little. For a few moments, everything seems to stand still.
I can sort of imagine what's happening. Years and years of practice and sacrifice. Time away from family and friends. Maybe missed birthdays and anniversaries. Skipped high school proms and graduations. And hours and hours on the track, in the pool, on a bicycle, whatever. It all comes down to these few seconds. And the moment, I think, is full of a kind of grace and thankfulness.
I will never win an Olympic gold medal, take first place in the Boston Marathon, or throw a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
But Saint Marty recognizes an eagle rising, highest good, full-of-wonder moment.