Emily: Does anyone ever realize life while they life it?…
Stage Manager: No. Saints and poets, maybe. They do some.
Thornton Wilder, Our Town
On my way home from work yesterday afternoon, hurtling in a box of plastic and metal and rubber at speeds that could hurl me into the air, I listened to music electronically engraved onto discs and broadcast on waves of air from miles away. At virtually every moment, I passed by other commonplaces: buildings, billboards, wires with thousands of volts of electricity, asphalt roads, concrete overpasses, people transmitting messages hundreds or thousands of miles on devices no larger than a human hand. All of it so ordinary to us now. We are such children, such prisoners of novelty. We clamor and scramble for the latest shiny gadget, the newest must-have, then lapse back into our boredom. I pass by others, each of us burrowed in our private entertainments, failing to notice the wonder in one another. I see myself swept along and lulled to sleep. By what? Comfort? Convenience? Fear?
For me, the first and most essential discipline is attention. It gives life to my writing and running. I notice my body. I notice the people near me. I notice my surroundings. Maybe just for a while, for a window of clarity. But it is a discipline I have to cultivate. These are, as Paul Simon wrote, the days of miracle and wonder. The greater wonder is how easily I forget that fact. There is a style of literature known as “magical realism,” but when you really pay attention, is there any other kind of realism? A baby grows in my wife’s belly; my young son transforms himself every day, learning more and asking more; this spot on the earth rolls its face toward and away from the sun each day, and from the soil and across water and air life springs up and dies away. Meanwhile I tie myself in knots and wring my hands over matters that I won’t remember five months from now. In response to the miracles that surround us, is being a poet or saint too great an ambition? Or is it the least we can try to do?