I put my pen down
and took a walk
played with birds
who played with me
watched leaves fall
spoke to a squirrel
jumped in some leaves
followed the birds
from tree to tree
they led me where
I need to go
I ate pistachios
made some soup
tormented the dog
took a nap
in a hammock
smelled the flowers
played a song or two
sat on a swing
and picked up my pen
I took this picture on my phone early in the morning. I’m not a fan of the grainy filter, but there you have it. It’s the two birds that captured my imagination, anyway. They made me laugh, like they were having a conversation.
It’s hard for me not to personify them and imagine lovers sharing a secret. Or two friends confiding in each other.
I thought about these birds long after I took the picture because I couldn’t get out of my mind how human they seemed to me. They’re out in the middle of this lake, standing on a broken tree branch or something, surrounded by water. They have only each other. I imagine how a moment of intimacy like this can transpire between two people who love each other.
I know; they’re only birds. And we’re only human.
It reminded me of the people in my life that I can turn to and whisper a secret, share a confidence, or ask for help.
“What good is confiding one’s pains, miseries and regrets to those to whom one cannot say at the end, ‘pray for me’?”
I finally saw the visually stunning Gravity, a masterpiece for this child of 70s era science fiction. The effects were everything that people oohed and aahed about, and more. This, from the teenager who watched Star Wars over and over again and stood in line for hours to capture that long shot of the USS Enterprise in one of the lamest Star Trek movies ever made.
For this lover of sic-fi, space shots are eye candy. I saw it in an IMAX setting, and I’m still flinching from the debris field. So yes, this film captures what I’ve always imagined space to be. I won’t even stress over the fiction part, as I’ve heard people talk about the impossibility of the premise. Science fiction people.
But the thing that science fiction almost always gets right, no matter how cheesy the effects, is the human condition. Sci-fi as a vehicle for this analysis tends to work because it removes us, the frail, often broken and weak humans, from our comfortable surroundings and puts us in a position to face those weaknesses and dig deeper to find ourselves, who we are, who we can become.
I don’t suppose there’s anything more isolating than being alone in space. Even if you are out with a team, it’s still you against the universe, cocooned (or shipwrecked) in your own personal life-supporting suit. Gravity gives us this experience in spades — space is the perfect place for introspection. The backdrop of silence and eternity lends itself to a melancholic exploration of our mortality.
And here’s the thing, when faced with this end, do we choose hope or despair? Do we fight for the preciousness of life or do we give in to our fears and perish? Can we get past the creeping nihilism personified by Ryan, who, having experienced a deep tragedy in her life, merely “drives” on auto-pilot, with no meaning in her life? Or can we be like Matt, always looking for the prize (or vodka) at the end of the journey?
We don’t get any answers. But the questions raised are compelling enough to keep me wondering about my own journey. I’m not giving away a giant spoiler to reveal that Ryan doesn’t know how to pray, but I’ll add that not knowing how to pray is not the same thing as not believing in God. We’re hard-wired for that, even if we try to suppress it. You can’t be floating around the universe and be unaffected by the grandeur of Creation. At least I couldn’t. And it seems, neither can Ryan.
The audience sees, even if she doesn’t notice, that she’s accompanied on her journey by both a Christian icon (is that St. Christopher?) and Buddha. And, spoiler alert, the deus ex machina resolution to her plight could very well be God revealing himself to her in a manner she can understand. A bit much? Maybe. Maybe not. She does learn to pray, though, doesn’t she?
In the end, it’s the forces of gravity that bring her home. You could say that it was that moment of faith that, literally, grounds her.
The movie only hints at these spiritual themes. Perhaps it’s too generic to make a real impact. On the other hand, it can serve as a springboard for conversation. I would have enjoyed seeing it with friends who would have immediately started a discussion while the end credits were rolling. Instead you get a blog post
Happy writing all you Nanowrimos!
I’m attending a conference in downtown Atlanta this week, a STEM event where I presented with a colleague earlier in the week. Today, for reasons unknown to me, the session I wanted to attend was cancelled, leaving me with something like a two-hour window before the next session. I decided to take a little walk down the street to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
This lovely church was a part of my life as a child. We sometimes went to Mass in Spanish there when we first came to the United States. There was usually some kind of pot luck fellowship thing going on, but what I remember most was playing with my friends after Mass.
Years later, I went back with my teen-aged kids to work in the soup kitchen. The church is right smack in the middle of downtown, and while it is surrounded by beautiful hotels, luxury condominiums and professional offices, there’s an intense police presence in the area and what many folks might consider a bit of an unsavory crowd. The truth is, there’s a reason why there’s a soup kitchen in the church basement, and there’s a reason why some of the most important ministries there serve the poor and marginalized.
I was lucky enough to make it to daily Mass, and was struck by the simple beauty of the prayers of the faithful, which were not only for the residents of the area, but for the people who worked there, and surprisingly, for the visitors who come on business and find respite in its beauty, a retreat in the middle of the noisy city.
That’s certainly what I found there, and to my double delight, when Mass ended, there was Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I was overcome, thinking I was just going to slip in unnoticed and take some pictures, and not only Mass, but Adoration awaited me.
God is good, all the time. I needed that respite, the silence I can only find in Adoration which always begins with so much chaos in my mind and in my heart, and never fails to end with peace.
It seems like these days I bring a lot to the foot of the cross. Some of it I want to dash angrily, and other things, heavy with resignation, get piled up, one on top of the other. It’s quite a consolation, to lay myself bare, even though it’s something I’m still not comfortable doing — and yet it’s the most natural thing when I let go — it’s what I crave and what I need.
I was happy to have my phone with me to take some pictures. I don’t know when I’ll have the opportunity to return, but I’m grateful for the long visit today.
I need a new suit.