Carried Across the Sky
Yesterday, I sorted through 27 rolls of wrapping paper, most of it covered in snowflakes and skiing penguins. And then 20+ dishtowels. And napkins, which call to mind Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” (“the art of losing isn’t hard to master”) because I seem to have several sets of 3 cloth napkins. That’s an odd number of napkins to have, particularly so reliably, and reminds me also of Thoreau’s “three chairs for society”. I suppose if I want to have a dinner party comprised of more than my husband, myself, and one extra person, we shall have to go out and sit by the pond, Thoreau-like, so as to avoid needing a fourth napkin.
I’ve been losing other things lately. Some intentional, as we shed more than a decade of clutter in our home. Others not, such as the 4 houses we’ve imagined ourselves in which have (or will have) someone else living in them instead. Through the strain of decluttering and house-hunting, I keep losing myself.
There’s a beautiful reflection by Reverend Victoria Safford which contains a quote from an Ojibwe song - “Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while the wind is bearing me across the sky.”
I do not know this song, and I do not know the Ojibwe culture or people well enough to guess at context. All I know is how I hear this quote - the acknowledgement of common humanity that I find in recognition that we all have bouts of self-pity, of struggle. And the hopefulness that if life continues carrying us onward, perhaps the winds of time will deposit us on the other side of our present struggles intact and whole.
Rev. Safford ends her essay with a meditation that’s near and dear to me these days. Western Anglophile culture trains us to be independent, discrete points of self-sufficiency. Safford writes that while we may have to travel through our self-pity on our own, we don’t have to do it alone. Life calls for community care, also, found in the small gifts of friendship: a hand on the shoulder, a listening ear, tea and a smile for a friend, a surprise in the mail. Even if our darkest night resembles something more like a dreary and cloudy afternoon, these small blessings are a reminder that we are not alone, that we are still human, and that we matter.