Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Perfect Day

On my mind these last few weeks: E.O. Wilson and Social Conquest of Earth (see this month's article in The Atlantic , Sebastian Junger's War and our current human predicament. When I'm feeling down, I sometimes think we should look to animals to remind ourselves about the simplicity of things and the importance of living in the moment. Animals' needs are so basic, their actions so geared towards their immediate instinctual desires, that when those are fulfilled, they are contented. Indeed, what was so striking about Junger's book is that soldiers who had experienced combat found it extremely difficult to live a civilian life again because at war, every action is significant. Moreover, every action is significant not just personally, but towards the group. The possibility that someone's loose bootlace could affect everyone in the platoon, because if one person slowed the others down everyone could die, is not how most people live. The mundane in combat still requires constant vigilance, whereas the civilian prosaic is often so thoughtless.

This resonates with me--not because I wish to experience the intensity of combat that makes soldiers feel "alive", but because the thoughtlessness--indeed the selfishness-- of so many people around me makes me sad.

The best part of my last couple days--weeks really--have been my early morning runs. Now that sunrise isn't until after 7:30 a.m., all my runs start in the dark. Monday morning I saw two horned owls along 27th Street, out in the hinterlands of Cedar Falls. It was awesome to watch them swoop gracefully and hoot eerily in the morning mist. I took them as omens for a good day. On Tuesday's 6.5 mile run, I didn't see any neat wildlife, but for the first time in a month, I felt relaxed and mentally prepared--I was able to run in the moment rather than worry about my body or what lay ahead.

It's been very difficult for me lately to focus on the moment, to live in gratitude for the simplest thing. I've been distracted and depressed by the big picture--the constant degradation of our environment (eg: The Keystone Pipeline), the plight of the 99% (of which I count myself), the gridlock in Congress, money woes Europe, and the ignorance of Americans that if not glorified, is not helped by U.S. media. Junger notes that combat soldiers don't think about the big picture. Our pets don't either. And the best part about a great run is what I can only assume is a similar feeling--the love of the moment. The glory of fresh air in your lungs, the wind in your face, the misty light of dawn, the muted colors of fields put to rest for winter.

As humans, we have self-consciousness, and so can appreciate these moments. We also want to hold onto them, despite their necessary transience. We write poems, blogs, memoirs, take pictures, play music. A friend of mine photographs pets and local scenery (see Studio HDR). The photo above is his. Interestingly, they are photographs with vivid colors and contrasts, the kind of images we see when our senses are at the height of awareness; crisper than reality can be. Memories are powerful--and while humans have words, visuals, and sounds to heighten our awareness and appreciation of life, alone, words, images, and sounds--no matter how profound-- provide just a shade of the original moment. It may not fit perfectly here, but I've wanted to share Jon Katz's retelling of a soldier's gift to his dying dog. It is a gift of moments, of simple things that make A Perfect Day. The idea is one that I think is powerful not just for our animal friends, but all our loved ones, and even for each of us, as needed. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that it was a veteran of the Iraq war who initiated this.

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