I close my eyes and crane my neck awkwardly over cold ceramic. Who doesn’t think grand thoughts, their head in the shampoo bowl?
I’ve been reading Annie Dillard‘s, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
One doesn’t actually read Annie Dillard. You dip your fingers in the ribboning chocolate of her prose, savoring the exquisiteness of each image, every sentence.
In this book, she describes her quest to see, recalling early on her childhood memory of surreptitiously hiding pennies in sidewalk cracks for strangers. Hidden pennies become the metaphor for beauty.
“The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But – and this is the point – who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kit paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go on your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a liftetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.”
I want this gift of seeing. If it’s true that I’m the only keeper of this story, if it’s true that these everyday moments are burning bushes and planted pennies, I feel the urgency of seeing it all well.
Maybe it’s because they’re growing tall and I’m growing gray. No one of knows the measure of her lifetime.
Annie Dillard again: “Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wide view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.”
I feel blindly along the hem of this mystery. What would it be like to really see? In her book, Dillard talks about the research done on patients who received sight when their cataracts were removed. In many of the cases, the patients felt overwhelmed by their newfound capacities. Many lapsed into the means of perception they’d used before the surgery, continuing to use their tongues and their hands, rather than their eyes, for discovery. One boy of 15 despairs, “No, really, I can’t stand it anymore . . . If things aren’t altered, I’ll tear my eyes out.”
Advent is mystery, God-Man in swaddling clothes.
I want to see, says the blind man.
But have you the courage?