20 November 2006

whitman says what i tried to say in my previous post in five brief lines of poetry:

Do you guess I have some intricate purpose?

Well I have . . . for the April rain has, and the mica on
the side of a rock has.

Do you take it I would astonish?

Does the daylight astonish? or the early redstart twittering
through the woods?

Do I astonish more than they?
(Leaves of Grass, "Song of Myself" 1855)

these things do astonish. but not in the sublime way niagara or kilimanjaro do. not like a soaring eagle or an intense sunset. simply because in all of their ordinariness and commonality, they are intricate and purposeful and lovely in the way that they fulfill the measure of their creation. they astonish. but they are utterly ordinary. they are ordinary. but they astonish. shouldn't that be true of each of us?

13 November 2006

yesterday i spoke in my ward. it was a topic i chose myself because it is deeply meaningful to me. and because i have spent a great deal of time studying it recently. i spent a lot of time thinking about it, both in personal study before being asked to speak and over the last week as i tried to define a structure for my talk that would allow me to share some of the insights i had gained through my own study. it went well, though i don't think i fully articulated some of the points i was trying to make. it probably would have been better had i finished writing it more than half an hour before church started so that i could do some re-writing.

after i finished speaking and we had sung the intermediate hymn, the next speaker stood up and proclaimed me an asset. i bit back a smile, until i looked at caroline who was sitting at the back of the chapel, grinning from ear to ear. because i have complained to her and others many times over the course of the last month or so about being declared an asset. the very first sunday i attended my new ward, i bore my testimony. because i felt moved by the spirit to do so. after sacrament, a handful of people pulled me aside to compliment me. these were not pass-in-the-hallway-so-you-say-something-nice type compliments. i've given and received my share of those. these were heartfelt statements of appreciation tinged with a bit of awe. this was repeated several times throughout church that day. and then, during relief society, i made a few comments, as i am wont to do. and the teacher stopped her lesson--stopped it in the middle of a thought--in order to state that i would be such an asset to the ward.

this bothers me. immensely. and not because it feels impersonal or like i'm appreciated only for what i can give the ward. i know these comments are not meant in that way. it bothers me partially because i know how very different my reality is from the appearance created by my statements. not that i'm a hypocrite. just that i am articulate and speak well, that i know how to use rhetoric in order to communicate, which i think often gives people an idea of me that is a little more together than my reality is.

but that's not the biggest reason these comments and compliments bother me. the biggest reason is this: i don't think i should be complimented for simply doing what i should do, for simply being what god has asked me to be. god has given me certain gifts and i believe he expects me to use them. i do--at least i try to. i do not believe i merit compliments for doing so. heaven knows i don't use them as well as i could.

more importantly, i feel like such compliments almost nullify the potential for interaction, learning, and growth that comes with true discourse. i don't want someone to tell me how smart i sound, or how insightful i am, or that my talk should be given in general conference. i want them to respond in kind. i want them to share their insights with me. i want them to engage in conversation, because out of conversation, communion, discourse, come greater light and knowledge for everyone involved. what comes of telling me how great my talk was? nothing, really.

i probably sound ungrateful. and i don't mean to. i appreciate people's compliments. i know they are generally sincere and that they're being nice. i am truly happy if what i have to say helps someone else and i would never want them to keep that to themselves if they want to share that fact (which someone did yesterday; i was happy that the spirit could work through me to help her). but i can't help but be uncomfortable in the face of such comments and praise.

07 November 2006

i was in virginia last week, which made me remember some of the many reasons i love the east. this time of year, one of the primary reasons is color. everywhere you look, the world is bursting with warmth. red. gold. leaves burning brilliant against an indian summer sky. and the world is full of promise. it’s an odd thing--death bringing hope. endings filling you with wonder, not desolation.

the first few days i was there were chilly. perfectly autumnal. gray skies. rain. making color more brilliant. sunday was brisk, sunny, clouds scudding. and monday dawned beautifully clear--a perfect Indian summer day. the world was full of magic.

after a gorgeous drive into the city from loudoun county, i started my meanderings around the city at the east building of the national gallery--one of my art meccas. and by pure serendipity, i began on the lower level (which i usually save for last). i go there for the calders. i love the rothkos and the pollocks, among other incredible works from the last fifty years. but it's the magic of the calders, with their melding of concrete and nebulous forms and their magical shadows, that draw me back to the east building every time i'm in d.c. i love them so much that i save them for last, so that their magic leaves with me. but this time i went down first. and as i walked down the last half flight of stairs into the exhibit space, i discovered big beautiful rothkos that i had never seen before. in shades of red, orange, brown, maroon. warmth and peace. as if the palette of fall had been captured and transformed into these magnificent canvases that beckon you into pure color. and in that color you find your self.