The Stubborn Gifts of Breath and Life
"You must praise the mutilated world...."
—Adam Zagajewski, trans. Clare Cavanagh
It felt like being on the moon, walking on Mount St. Helens. Just a few years previous, that mountain had blown her top, destroying human and animal life, flattening vegetation and buildings for miles, and sharing its ash with the world. As we stepped from our car, we felt that ash drift like talcum around our ankles, rise in the air, enter with our breath. Other than occasional blacked memories of trees, all was grey, grey as far you could see.
Silence seized us for the longest time as we stood there, two irrelevant humans and this huge, mutilated world. Only gradually did our eyes slow and our hearts focus. Only gradually did we begin to see what was really before us.
How had we overlooked the fireweed, that perennial volunteer, its brilliant buds proclaiming, “Hey, world, we’re back!” What blocked us from celebrating the eager insect conversations around us? It was right there before us, and we nearly walked away. Overwhelmed by the devastation, we almost missed the tiny pond, its surface literally dancing with more tadpoles than I had ever seen.
We do this, you see – we ensnare ourselves with the magnitude of what the poet called the mutilated world. We get busy, and troubled, and frightened, and then, incongruously, it’s time for Thanksgiving. I, at least, need this season to remind myself to be grateful for intermittent beauty and the stubborn gifts of breath and life. I—maybe you too?—need this season, even if just quietly to say, “praise be.”
God of hope and healing, grant us courage to recognize life’s blessings, as we struggle to heal the wounds that shape our days. May we give thanks always, believing that, even in the world’s bleakest moments, the dance of life is always underway.