The mockingbird took a single step into the air and dropped. His wings were still folded against his sides as though he were singing from a limb and not falling, accelerating thirty-two feet per second, through empty air. Just a breath before he would have been dashed to the ground, he unfurled his wings with exact, deliberate care, revealing the broad bars of white, spread his elegant white-banded tail, and so floated onto the grass. I had just rounded a corner when his insouciant step caught my eye; there was no one else in sight. The fact of his free fall was like the old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest. The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.
I have been finding treasures in places I did not want to search. I have been hearing wisdom from tongues I did not want to listen. I have been finding beauty where I did not want to look. And I have learned so much from journeys I did not want to take. Forgive me, O Gracious One; for I have been closing my ears and eyes for too long. I have learned that miracles are called miracles because they are often witnessed by only those who can can see through all of life’s illusions. I am ready to see what really exists on other side, what exists behind the blinds, and taste all the ugly fruit instead of all that looks right, plump and ripe.
―Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem
I choose not to look upon the fact that I am healthy, have food in my refrigerator and have clean water to drink as givens. They are not givens for so many people in our world. The fact that I am safe and (relatively) sane are not givens. That I was born into a family who loves me and into a country not ravaged by war are not givens. It is impossible to name all of the circumstances in my life I’ve taken for granted. All of the basic needs I’ve had met, all of the friendships and job opportunities and financial blessings and the list, truly, is endless. The fact that I am breathing is a miracle, one I too rarely stop to appreciate.
I’m stopping, right now, to be grateful for everything I am and everything I’ve been given. I’m stopping, right now, to be grateful for every pleasure and every pain that has contributed to the me who sits here and writes these words.
Suppose two astronauts go to the moon. When they arrive, they have an accident and find out that they have only enough oxygen for two days. There is no hope of someone coming from Earth in time to rescue them. They have only two days to live. If you asked them at that moment, “What is your deepest wish?” they would answer, “To be back home walking on the beautiful planet Earth.” That would be enough for them; they would not want anything else. They would not want to be the head of a large corporation, a big celebrity or president of the United States. They would not want anything except to be back on Earth – to be walking on Earth, enjoying every step, listening to the sounds of nature and holding the hand of their beloved while contemplating the moon.
We should live every day like people who have just been rescued from the moon. We are on Earth now, and we need to enjoy walking on this precious beautiful planet. The Zen master Lin Chi said, “The miracle is not to walk on water but to walk on the Earth.” I cherish that teaching. I enjoy just walking, even in busy places like airports and railway stations. In walking like that, with each step caressing our Mother Earth, we can inspire other people to do the same. We can enjoy every minute of our lives.
During Hurricane Harvey our home flooded for the third time, this time with a staggering amount of water… the high watermark stood at 56″. That’s 4’8″. Enough water to come up to my eye level. Thankfully we were long evacuated at that point, and were able to remove many precious items. Our grand piano flipped over, crushing the television and landing upside down on the other side of the room, the lid floating down the hallway. We are tired of flooding. The silver lining is that we will be able to move on this time.
To add to the pain of losing a home, which we were somewhat prepared for after the previous floods, my beloved work home, the Wortham Center, where I have performed in the chorus for Houston Grand Opera for 12 years, was rendered inoperable for the entire season. During past floods, it had been a place of normalcy for me. Now I found myself without the stable work environment that had steadied me in the past. Difficulties loomed. In the midst of all of this a miracle happened, and continues to happen.
Here is a link to the NBC News spot that covers the opening of the Houston Grand Opera season in the brand new Resilience Theater in George R. Brown Convention Center. I was happy to speak about my beloved company and to share the roller coaster ride we have been experiencing since Hurricane Harvey.
I am so proud of Houston Grand Opera and so touched by the generosity they have shown me at a time when they, too, were homeless. This generosity shines in the kindness of donors who sent money to staff families flooded out of their homes and in the dogged persistence that refused to give up a season. Be inspired!!
What is the matter with these people, these people who won’t stop fighting, won’t stop hurting each other long enough to see that a body is a thing of beauty, is a miracle of rivers and oceans and islands and continents contained within itself? That the brain is divided into two hemispheres, each symmetrical, each perfect, each with its own system of waterways. These people of war should be shown an x-ray of an intraparenchymal hemorrhage, of a hemorrhage in an eighteen-year-old girl’s brain, a girl named Ivy. Take a look at that, people of war. See, you should not hurt each other, and this is why. Without you ever even trying, this is what can happen to your body, your beautiful body, and your brain, your beautiful symmetrical brain, and your heart, and your soul.
―Alison McGhee, All Rivers Flow to the Sea
We are the universe aware of itself. We let the miracle get lost in distractions. On a planet so rich with living companions, much of humanity sentences itself to solitary confinement. Late at night, I used to lie in my boat listening to radio calls from ships to families ashore. There was only one conversation, and it boils down to, “I love you and I miss you: come home safe.”
―Carl Safina, The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World
The magician seemed to promise that something torn to bits might be mended without a seam, that what had vanished might reappear, that a scattered handful of doves or dust might be reunited by a word, that a paper rose consumed by fire could be made to bloom from a pile of ash. But everyone knew that it was only an illusion. The true magic of this broken world lay in the ability of things it contained to vanish, to become so thoroughly lost, that they might never have existed in the first place.
“There was a man here, lashed himself to a spar as his ship went down, and for seven days and seven nights he was on the sea, and what kept him alive while others drowned was telling himself stories like a madman, so that as one ended another began. On the seventh day he had told all the stories he knew and that was when he began to tell himself as if he were a story, from the earliest beginnings to his green and deep misfortune. The story he told was of a man lost and found, not once, but many times, as he choked his way out of the waves. And the night fell, he saw the Cape Wrath light, only lit a week it was, but it was, and he knew that if he became the story of the light, he might be saved. With his last strength he began to paddle towards it, arms on either side of the spar, and in his mind the light became a shining rope, pulling him in. He took hold of it, tied it round his waist, and at that moment, the keeper saw him, and ran for the rescue boat.”