Wednesday, January 18, 2023

January 18: "Do Stones Feel?", Sister Starling, Interdependent

Mary Oliver contemplates the world . . . 

Do Stones Feel?

by:  Mary Oliver

Do stones feel?
Do they love their life?
Or does their patience drown out everything else?

When I walk on the beach I gather a few
     white ones, dark ones, the multiple colors.
Don't worry, I say, I'll bring you back and I do.

Is the tree as it rises delighted with its many
each one like a poem?

Are the clouds glad to unburden their bundles of rain?

Most of the world says no, no, it's not possible.

I refuse to think to such a conclusion.
Too terrible it would be, to be wrong.

For Mary Oliver, the world isn't just a random collection of rock and water and vegetation and creatures.  There is a kind of sentience in all things--rocks, water, rain, clouds.  The stones delight in their patient stone life.  The clouds are relieved when they're able to give up their bundles of rain and wind and thunder. Oliver refuses to believe otherwise because to do so would rob the universe of mystery and wonder.  

Think about it.  If Mary Oliver collects a pocketful of stones on a beach, takes them home, believing they now belong to her, and then finds out later that the stones are grieving for the sands and waves and sun, it would be "[t]oo terrible" a thing to endure.  She has caused misery purely for her own facile pleasure.

I have to admit that I don't often think about the feelings of stones or trees or snow.  If I cut some lilacs off the bushes in my backyard, do those bushes weep purple tears?  There's a snowstorm blowing my way this evening.  Do the clouds carrying that snow and wind and ice stumble and groan as they approach me?  And, after they unburden themselves, do they dance?

I think that we would all be a lot more careful in pretty much everything we do if we thought this way.  When he was alive, Saint Francis of Assisi called all the creatures he encountered "brother" and "sister."  A starling wasn't just a bird.  She was Sister Starling.  A wolf was Brother Wolf.  The world Francis lived in was intimate and close, everything and everyone a family member.

I think back to the first days of the pandemic when everything shut down.  Each house became a fallout shelter or bunker, and people feared the very air they were breathing.  Everything seemed alive with the virus, from the mail in our mailboxes to the groceries we brought home from the store.  And we isolated to protect ourselves.  My family lives two blocks away, and I didn't see them in-person for about a year.  It was as if they had moved to Greenland.

Yet, during this time, the planet itself seemed to grow healthier.  Because nobody was driving their cars or flying anywhere, air pollution fell.  And people started appreciating small, simple pleasures like walks in the woods and sunsets that turned the sky vermillion.  Stones sang, and trees danced.  We all realized, for a relatively short period of time, how connected we are to everything around us.

Of course, this shift in behavior and attitude was temporary.  Soon, we returned to our blind, divisive, day-to-day lives.  And climate change continued.  And wars proliferated.  And refugees died.  It was as if we learned nothing from those months when we became acutely aware of the fragility of our existence on this planet.  And how interdependent everything is--from kings and queens and presidents down to the very rocks under our feet.

So, Saint Marty is taking a moment this evening to thank all of his brothers and sisters--the sand and snow and stones and grass and trees and rain and waves and squirrels and deer and fish and whales and clouds and moons and stars.  His whole family, hungry for the possibility of love and joy.

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