One of the most surprising gifts in earning the title of ‘senior citizen’ is to travel the regional rail for a $1 a ride. Another welcome gift in this aging packet is the capacity to enjoy vista; “a distant view through or along an avenue or opening or an extensive mental view as over a stretch of time or a series of events. Webster’s definition.”
Recently for me, vistas are showing up everywhere. Last week alone I silently reveled in: the largesse of sunrise over a sea-mist-shrouded river valley, the Los Angeles skyline nestled by bird chorus around the Hollywood Bowl and framed by lilac wisteria, and the vast brown solitude of 360 degrees on a high desert mountain outcrop near Joshua Tree, CA. And then the next day, the gaudy, glaring cacophony of lights and movement on the Las Vegas strip, stretched out silently below our hotel window. Quite a contrast!
All this long distance viewing caught my attention and I wondered why. Obviously there is something about us humans climbing high and looking out, it speaks to both our power and our insignificance. I have never ever felt as supremely insignificant as I did in those recent desert days. The awe and wonder of sharing the space with that ecosystem of the natural world still resonates within me – so does my brief overnight in Vegas. It takes a lot of courage to hold these differing realties inside.
This morning as I sat with Jan Richardson’s very fine Lenten series – Beloved, she asks the question, “If you imagine your inner life as a landscape, what do you notice? Of course I realized immediately that during this season of my life I see an inner vista. Yes! What a joy to have recently experienced from the inside our daughter’s 40th birthday. On this trip out West, not only could I celebrate with her but I am able to savor the exquisite landscape of being a parent and now grand-parent. I can hold more tenderly my own slimy pits and hair-raising jungle mudslides, often lost on the back-side of experiential wildernesses.
From this view I can rejoice in the abundance of the long-term harvest of consistent soul-gardening – younger friends please note – it is difficult if not impossible to see this when your head is down planting, digging and weeding. It has been said before, but there really is a season for everything. Growing older is the season to lift up our heads and rejoice in the bigger view of life, and pass on that knowledge to those down the line who are faithfully running circles around their own busy lives and families.
A vista offers us the capacity to engage the unique diversity of our experience. When we have spent years climbing obstinate mountains, it can truly be awesome in every sense of that word to stop, stand still and clutch on joyfully to the contrasting landscapes of our inner and the outer world – and then let it all go and begin again! This reminds me of a fragment May Sarton’s fabulous poem which captures the essence of the long-distance marathon of being human. An excerpt from Till We Have Faces:
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!
I always wondered about that weird Bible story about weary Moses holding out his arms over the battle below and stopping the sun. I get it more now, he needed his two compadres to hold up his arms, not because he was just some poor old leader who couldn’t do this work of change alone, but it takes intimate communal relationships to inspire change. Somehow we need not only our human friends and family to be like memory sticks etching ‘here and now’ truths on each other’s lives, but we also need the ‘natural’ view, the mountain-meets-human views. To realize the full vista of our lives we yearn and seek those liminal times. Those moments deliciously and frighteningly steeped and enlivened, visibly and invisibly, in the other-than-human world.
Moses’ friends needed him to ask for help. And like us who recognize that we are at war in so many forms on our globe, everyone is clear that change must come or we will be destroyed, one way or the other. I wonder now if the battle has moved inside. We urgently need help – not to save our planet, but to each find our soulful ecological place and work here. I wonder what is happening as more and more of our generation of idealists and dreamers are focusing our intentions on offering our best and truest selves to this good Work?
This weekend I’m relishing sitting in The Silence of Winter day retreats with about 20 others who have come here to Stonehaven – many for the first time. Young and old, we clearly have the desire to lovingly give of ourselves to this life with fresh faces. We are learning together to stop running so hard, to slow down and listen, and to gently hold up each other’s arms and wait in the silence in all of the vistas before and in us.
A question to leave you. Where does your soul find an opening, a space to sit and find the silence of solitude in order to engage the long-distance natural view, a deep and wide vista of your living community-of-Earth?