People have traditionally turned to ritual to help them frame and acknowledge and ultimately even find joy in just such a paradox of being human – in the fact that so much of what we desire for our happiness and need for our survival comes at a heavy cost. We kill to eat, we cut down trees to build our homes, we exploit other people and the earth. Sacrifice – of nature, of the interests of others, even of our earlier selves – appears to be an inescapable part of our condition, the unavoidable price of all our achievements. A successful ritual is one that addresses both aspects of our predicament, recalling us to the shamefulness of our deeds at the same time it celebrates what the poet Frederick Turner calls “the beauty we have paid for with our shame.” Without the double awareness pricked by such rituals, people are liable to find themselves either plundering the earth without restraint or descending into self-loathing and misanthropy.
― Michael Pollan, A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder
In the point of rest at the center of our being, we encounter a world where all things are at rest in the same way. Then a tree becomes a mystery, a cloud a revelation, each man a cosmos of whose riches we can only catch glimpses. The life of simplicity is simple, but it opens to us a book in which we never get beyond the first syllable.
After all, we were young. We were fourteen and fifteen, scornful of childhood, remote from the world of stern and ludicrous adults. We were bored, we were restless, we longed to be seized by any whim or passion and follow it to the farthest reaches of our natures. We wanted to live – to die – to burst into flame – to be transformed into angels or explosions. Only the mundane offended us, as if we secretly feared it was our destiny. By late afternoon our muscles ached, our eyelids grew heavy with obscure desires. And so we dreamed and did nothing, for what was there to do, played ping-pong and went to the beach, loafed in backyards, slept late into the morning – and always we craved adventures so extreme we could never imagine them. In the long dusks of summer we walked the suburban streets through scents of maple and cut grass, waiting for something to happen.
― Steven Millhauser, Dangerous Laughter
So much in writing depends on the superficiality of one’s days. One may be preoccupied with shopping and income tax returns and chance conversations, but the stream of the unconscious continues to flow undisturbed, solving problems, planning ahead: one sits down sterile and dispirited at the desk, and suddenly the words come as though from the air: the situations that seemed blocked in a hopeless impasse move forward: the work has been done while one slept or shopped or talked with friends.
I visit him a few times downtown
while he paints.
We talk about how he’s going to Spain
for the fall semester
and he shows me a painting he did
and points to this one part,
a bridge, and tells me he thought of me
when he painted it.
It is so sad
how knowing something
can make me so happy.
― Samantha Schutz, I Don’t Want To Be Crazy
Fireworks, Vernon Bridge, Theodore Earl Butler, 1908
The nautilus shell was exquisite, brown and white and perfectly striped. The math that lay like a dazzling creation spell over all who lived in the sea showed clearly in the spiral, each cell as great as the sum of the two previous sections. Everything in the ocean was a thing of beauty and numbers, even in death.
Mermaids could live for a long time, but their bodies became foam that dissipated into nothing when they died.
The poor little mollusk who lived in this shell had a very short life, but his shell could last for centuries.
Ariel sighed and brushed her fingers over it, feeling strangely melancholy despite the triumph she literally held in her hands. Years of being mute could be swept away in a second. Years of frustration, years of silent crying, years of anger.
And then what?
If she destroyed it, what would it change?
― Liz Braswell, Part of Your World
In the past, humans hesitated when they took lives, even non-human lives. But society had changed, and they no longer felt that way. As humans grew stronger, I think that we became quite arrogant, losing the sorrow of ‘we have no other choice.’ I think that in the essence of human civilization, we have the desire to become rich without limit, by taking the lives of other creatures.
― Hayao Miyazaki
Her delight in the smallest things was like that of a child. There were days when she ran in the garden, like a child of ten, after a butterfly or a dragon-fly. This courtesan who had cost more money in bouquets than would have kept a whole family in comfort, would sometimes sit on the grass for an hour, examining the simple flower whose name she bore.
― Alexandre Dumas-fils, La Dame aux Camélias
“We are like water, aren’t we? We can be fluid, flexible when we have to be. But strong and destructive, too.” And something else, I think to myself. Like water, we mostly follow the path of least resistance.
―Wally Lamb, We Are Water
Katherine McDaniel, Johnson’s Shut-Ins, Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, MO, 2016