Tributes have been pouring in all weekend to Ruth Bader Ginsberg, may she rest in peace. Regardless of your politics, you can and should admire her tenacity, her endurance, and her long, rich life that was characterized by a fierce commitment to issues of justice, equality and dignity. She was a dynamo in a compact package, a fighter till the very end, and we will not see someone like her again for a long time. She was truly one of a kind.
For many people, the death of RGB feels like just one more thing to add to the growing list of depressing, challenging events/circumstances that have characterized our reality here in the United States these past months: a global pandemic, the painful confrontation with deeply-embedded racism in our society, an ugly, divisive political climate, and terrible wildfires in California and Oregon–the unmistakable evidence of climate change that, if left unchecked, is going to radically impact all of our lives, and not for the better.
All of these things together have made us anxious and depressed, and have contributed to a sense of living under the shadow of doom, wondering what no good, horrible thing awaits us next. I think many of us now regularly expect the worst, and have a hard time seeing any hope when we look to the future.
That reality has caused me to have a deep appreciation for a poem that I found on Friday, “The Peace of Wild Things,” by Wendell Berry. Here it is:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and I am free.
It is the phrase, “taxing one’s life with forethought of grief” that I find so arresting. To me, it describes exactly the sense of foreboding so many of us are feeling these days, which casts such a dark pall over the present, blocking our view of what a new day might bring.
Yet, in spite of those feelings, this poem reminds us how important it is to find places of peace, places where we are able to find renewal and restoration, places where we are able rest in the grace of the world and experience another reality, another possibility.
There is no question that there are reasons for sadness and grief in our current reality, but that is not all: this present moment contains so much more than just loss and foreboding. There is also sunshine–the wood drake and the heron; there is also beauty, there is also love, and there is also hope. Sometimes we need to be reminded to experience those things in the present moment as well, and not let gloom and despair crowd out everything else. Promise and wonder also await us.