James Wright’s (1927-1980) poem “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” is a must read for every siesta lover on the path of mindfulness. The poem is short, and the title covers a lot. The speaker of the poem beholds the beauty of the moment: “a bronze butterfly”; cowbells “in the distance of the afternoon”; “a field of sunlight between two pines”; “a chicken hawk . . . looking for home.” Wright’s last line at first seems like a non sequitur: “I have wasted my life.”
I thought of James Wright, whose work I love, this weekend as that last line kept sounding in my head: “I have wasted my life.” I haven’t really “wasted my life.” A wealth of blessings surrounds me, and at fifty-one, I’m bold enough to accept that I’m a decent guy. But sitting in the Coleman family breakfast nook yesterday, I had a moment of awareness–shamatha, if you’ve read recent posts–that has graced my whole weekend. And this grace–what C. S. Lewis might call a mildly severe mercy–has made me wonder how much of my life I’ve wasted.
I’m a worrier. Give me a pimple, and I can turn it into a malignant tumor in a skinny minute. Give me a conflict, and I’ll work my stomach into an acidic lather. I’m better now than in years past, but still, as a wise friend says, I’m great at shoveling smoke. How many blessings have I walked mindlessly past because my guts were in a knot over minutia? Is it an exaggeration to say “millions”?
Yesterday (Saturday) morning, before I rushed off on some errand, words of wise wife Kathy slowed me down: “Did you see the flowers out back?” Of course not. So I went out the backdoor for five minutes and looked.
I have wasted my life. But not wasted it beyond redemption. If I’m lucky, I might still have some great years left during which, like James Wright, I can lie in a hammock, so to speak, and receive the blessings scattered before me like jewels, only more valuable.
Maybe wisdom is settling in. This morning (Sunday) as I was walking to my car, I almost missed these blessings–almost!
Even as I passed through the church office to the Pastor’s Study, I nearly rushed by flowers again. Michelle, friend and Parish Administrator, had these hearty blossoms in a vase:
As I stood in the Pastor’s Study, I finally got the hang of it–that is, slowing down enough to give thanks for flowers spotted on the way to getting work done.
So what is life? I’m not sure, but maybe it’s what I’m hurrying past on the way to making sure my work gets done.