Excerpts from "The Kingfishers" by Charles Olson and associated text
What does not change is the will to change.
All is now war
where so lately there was peace
and the sweet brotherhood, the use
of tilled fields.
Into the same river no man steps twice.
Around an common appearance, one common model, we grow up
many. Else how is it,
if we remain the same,
we take pleasure now
in what we did not take pleasure before? Love
contrary objects? Admire and/or find fault? Use
other words, feel other passions, have
nor figure, appearance, disposition,tissue
To be in different states without a change
is not a possibility.
What is the message? The message is
a discrete and continuous sequence of measurable events distributed in time,
a state between the origin and the end,
change; presents no more than itself
and the too strong grasping of it, when pressed together and condensed, loses it.
This very thing you are.
The question my dear friend and I wrestle with most often is “Where does the power come from?” The ironic nature of that question is we are rarely talking about the same thing when that inquiry begins. The unsatisfying answer I usually come up with is”I don’t know, but it does come,” unsatisfying because it is unpredictable but oddly reliable. It does come.
Another dear friend and I like to bandy about the summary statement “It’s all one thing.” Whether we are talking about the economy, energy, ecology, health care, poverty, the arts, spirituality; the subjects span the breadth of the human condition and seemingly flow from naturally from one idea to the next. It is all one thing, the human condition,life.
My third dear friend I rely on for spiritual guidance. I usually turn to him at the end of my rope, thoroughly frustrated in my actions and efforts. A few months ago, I came to him ranting and raving that went on for an hour, maybe two, possibly longer. He sat there and listened intently, nodding and smiling, waiting for me to get to the question, which was, “Why do I bother to do anything at all?”
At which time he replies “We do nothing.” If that wasn’t bad enough, then he smiles.
Buddhists never give you a straight answer; they make you figure it out yourself.
Having said that, let me tell you about my weekend. Like many Americans, I did a “staycation” and chose to literally put my house in order. I’m a single father with two young daughters, hadn’t cleaned in weeks, and I pride myself in being a permissive parent so there are lots of toys and playtime to clean up. Work, work, work; not a great way to spend my Labor Day weekend but it had become necessary or chaos would result.
House cleaning is the most monotonous, boring thing I can think of, but I was up, physically active, heart pumping, and didn’t have to focus on what I was doing so my mind started to wander.
The statement “We do nothing,” popped into my head and I thought “You are so right.” I know my kids will be back making messes and I know I’ll let them because I like to see them happy, it gives me joy. I realized the reason that I have to work cleaning up is I love my children, I want to see them happy, it gives me joy. It was the counter-balancing of the work and the joy from my children that actually made me start to enjoy the work. I let the anticipation of those moments give me the strength and will to finish.
I knew it would eventually be undone, but, unexpectedly, as I picked up each toy, I saw my children at play. What appeared to be chaos was actually stations of play for them that they flowed in and out of, a continuum of their time and mind. The statement “It’s all one thing” popped into my head. As I put their toys away, I knew that if I didn’t put their favorites within easy reach they would dig through them all to find their favorites and my work would be quickly undone.
How can you tell a child’s favorite toys? It’s very simple; look for the most worn, dirty, scruffy, parts missing, disreputable and, chances are, you’re on the right track. My children remember them when they were new and the joy they have given them through the years. They know the history of each toy, how they came to be as they are and how much they love them. “It’s all one thing” was the thought of the moment and I realized the simplest way to explain the faith of damaged people is that God has loved them so much.
As I cleaned I had already decided I would write this. My three dear friends were unanimous in saying that it was a waste of time, that no one would see common ground, and that this was not all one thing. I believed them at first and I had written a companion piece and if I may be immodest it was fiery and brilliant. I was proud of it. I could never find the end to it however; it just went on and on, becoming more unfocused, and finally just wrong.
Then the question “Where does the power come from” popped into my head. I still don’t know the answer, but it did come and I wrote what you just read. When I knew I would rewrite this I prayed for guidance, that the words that would come to me would reach you, and that we would find that common ground.
We are who we are given in this time. We must keep faith with each other, faith with the continuing progress of life, and faith that the power to see it through will come. Let the seeming work of it be joy in anticipation of the better world we leave for our children.