Swimming, One Day in August
——By Mary Oliver
It is time now, I said,
for the deepening and quieting of the spirit
among the flux of happenings.
Something had pestered me so much
I thought my heart would break.
I mean, the mechanical part.
I went down in the afternoon
to the sea
which held me, until I grew easy.
About tomorrow, who knows anything.
Except that it will be time, again,
for the deeping and quieting of the spirit.
Red Bird: Poems p. 56
I was on a poem hunt this morning when my internet friend, Sandy, replied to a comment I'd left on an Instagram post where she had quoted this poem from Mary Oliver. I had forgotten about liking the poem and responding in the comments. Like so much information that flashes in front of my eyes every day, even a poem that hits a nerve at a moment in time is whisked away into some locked corridor in the mind until someone takes a key and lets it out again.
It’s not yet August, but it’s acting like it. I lost track of the days of July while we were in Switzerland. It was amazing that lost feeling without the anxiety. I think it could be best described as being present.
We weren't flying by the seat of our pants around Switzerland. We were on a "walking holiday" and had an itinerary that set the course for our days. The points on the journey became our guide rather than a calendar of dates. It was freeing to have a plan that was somewhat flexible which added to its appeal because it gave us the sense of getting lost in our mini-adventure. Even on our last two days in Lucerne, I didn’t feel offended that our glorious 30th anniversary trip was ending. What I felt was more like satisfaction, like turning the last page in a really good book or pushing away from the table after a superbly prepared meal. I was full and grateful even as the moments passed and hid themselves away among so many lovely things tucked into the corridors of my memory waiting for release at some later time.
We missed the tumult of some really horrible events in the history of this country while we were gone. The issue of race has been rekindled and the heat rose with the thermometer mid-summer hitting a boiling point that has been costly. Black men are dying from the bullets of policemen. The bullets were turned back on the men in blue in Dallas and Baton Rouge. And I remember---there will be wars and rumors of wars…
And not only at home, not too far from where we sat at a mountain restaurant eating locally made cheese and craft tea in giant beer mugs, eighty-four people were run over, killed, by a terrorist in Nice, France. Jeff and I acknowledged the loss, prayed for the grieving, but didn’t dwell on it. We took advantage of the distraction of beauty as if we had no choice but stand enraptured to its embrace, hypnotized, and unable to grasp what would have had us reeling if we had been at home listening to the twenty-four-hour news cycle.
I care about those things though when I think about a response, I feel small——maybe better said, helpless. As Christians, it's hard to know when to pray and when to demand justice. (I don’t think both can be accomplished at the same time.) It seems that it will be impossible for real justice to happen in this world now underscored by the philosophy of relativism. The moral law established through the ages, affirmed by culture after culture, is being cast aside and mocked as short-sighted and unloving. In this world, there is no plumb line. The earth seems to have shifted on its axis.
The summer day is warm and I’m so far from the ocean, but I can imagine being held by its soft warm water, buoyed even as I go into the deep, quieting of the spirit. Sitting in her gentle arms, I turn away from distraction, my back to the shore. I don’t read the banner trailing behind the Cessna teasing me to buy t-shirts down the street in the store next to the snow cone trailer. I avoid the thought of who's swimming lane I’m in, what gilled-creature might be following some feeding current moving me, with the waves, away from the place I entered this longing. I look to the horizon with its illusion, a dark gray line from east to west. I remember: the truth can’t always be seen even though it can be known. I hear the muffled sound of children laughing. I wonder about my blind spots; close my eyes so I can see.
I decide prayer is the better choice than placing demands on the world already with too many demands craning for its attention, a clamor like drums playing bass notes heralding a coming doom. If everyone quieted, they might have ears to hear the Whisper in the wind.
When the sun rises on a new day, I’m praying they'll run a green flag up the pole, call a truce and taste peace, sweet and salty like a meal of oysters on the half shell finished off with pecan praline on a sugar cone. If the ocean won't do, maybe we can find a mountain to climb, sit among the clouds, steep in hope and "grow easy."