“What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare?”
– WH Davies.
On sunny afternoons in the house I spent my childhood in I would lie; a blond, curly haired starfish of limbs on the foam mattress in our spare room bathing in the cosy sunlight that would flood it in the afternoons. The house was old, and full of stories long before my family brought our own to it so dust a plenty would be in the air, and as the light poured through the window above the mattress, these microscopic particles of dust, suspended in the air would catch the light and make what I imagined to be a constellation of little stars floating above my head.
Either that or I was a giant, and outer space looked suspiciously like our spare room; the Imagination Jury is still very much out on the topic.
Laying beneath these constellations of dust, as brilliant and breath taking in my mind as any Milky Way, I would feel a wonderful calm; as though the world of my busy schedule (because who’s going to bloody well take Barbie to the doctors if I don’t? Ken? Yeah, right) could dissolve into nothingness, and my little constellation of dust and I could be peaceful forever.
Later in life, in another house, head full of University work of photocopied readings and quotes highlighted with more fluoro than a women’s active-wear campaign, I would lie on my own bedroom floor finding shapes in the lock wood ceiling, reanimating my tired mind below another dust constellation, marvelling at how beautifully these silly, little, inanimate specks of dust would float so wonderfully with only the slightest breath of breeze beneath them.
In The Bible’s Genesis 2, God sees his “pale blue dot,” (Google it) of Earth teeming with animals, water and flowers, but with no one to care for his droplet of creation; he creates mankind. Scooping up dust from the ground in his big God palms he forms the shape of a man, and breathing “the breath of life,” into the mould’s nostrils, makes him a living being. From this point to Revelation at the tail end of the Bible a whole bunch of shit goes down, but in the beginning there was just God, and a clump of dust.
I feel like I’ve spent the last eighteen months walking in an enormous circle.
This time last year I had just spent months wearing myself to the bone to get “a writing job,” and finally came to a place where I was still working in the exact same job, in the exact same shop, but with a new realisation of the importance of humility (although, I’m sure if humility were a person, it wouldn’t think itself so important).
I remember being so thankful for walks home in the evening, for smiles from strangers, and for the life that I have ; not disappointed by some life that I don’t. I spent months busy, unhappy and ignorant of Socrates’ warning to “beware the barrenness of a busy life,” and instead dove head first in to busyness and experienced the wasteland of unhappiness that it is to be constantly trying to exist as a human doing, and not a human being (thanks for that, Rob Bell.)
From that place of simple, humble delight in the little things, new “big,” things came in to my life, but somewhere along the way I forgot to be thankful for the little things again… and as it goes, when I forget to be thankful for life’s “small,” it’s not too long before I’ve forgotten to appreciate the bigger things too. I got so absurdly caught up in this desire to “get a writing job,” that I forgot to be thankful for a job, and for the myriad other things that make up this extraordinary life; and it left me more disappointed than ever.
But a few months ago, after this second round of self-imposed “I have to get a better job,” busyness and frustration I lay in my paint chipped, wall-cracked, dust filled room in Melbourne and accidentally looked towards the window where I caught the same old dust, moving in its same, gentle way in the light, and remembered.
I remembered that in the beginning, there was no having to quantify my own existence with an impressive title.
In the beginning there was no having to “prove myself,” no having to get a degree, and no formula to getting hitched, having kids, and finding a nice three bedroom in the suburbs.
“In the beginning,” there was God, and a clump of dust no more impressive or spectacular than that which filled my room.
What a tragedy if I never end up with a “writing job;” boo-hoo. But what a wretched poverty for my soul it would be to remain so hell bent chasing a career, that I missed out on the beautiful things that are in my life already. What a terrible blindness to walk through life with 20:20 vision that never had the time stop and be present in focussing on the existing good. What sadness to not be able to stop, and look at the dust.
I really like being alive you know, I love it in fact. It’s why I don’t write fantasy novels and do write poems. I love life’s seasons and spectrums. I love sunset and if I ever become an early riser (unlikely) I’m sure I’ll be bloody enchanted by sunrise. Sure, I love writing, and I love music, but mostly I love life; and I feel deeply humbled that I got given one. It is the greatest gift after all – something so wonderful that we never even asked for. What magic.
Almost two years ago I got an Instagram account, so that I could take little photos of the little things in my life, and remember to enjoy them. Instagram is after all the “pool room,” (The Castle) of the social media world, and at the top of my account, sits a quote from WH Davies’ poem Leisure which reads “What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare?”
And it’s true, this life is a gift – I believe that more than most things, and if it is so full that I can’t stop to look around, for me that isn’t really living.
So here I am, lying on the floor looking at the dust in the lamp light which, somehow manages to soothe, humble, and reanimate me in a strangely divine way. Maybe the same wind that makes it move so softly “breathed,” life into man all those years ago in the Garden… maybe it’s just nice to let your imagination roam fee.
T.S Eliot says that “we shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time,” and at the end of this loop-de-loop eighteen months of exploration, where I feel exactly where I was when I started, I’ll leave you with Davies’ poem… exactly where you started, and an encouragement to, whatever it’s worth, do less, and enjoy more.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
– WH Davies.
Beauty-full post and a resonant ‘call to arms’ to slow down world, slow down!
Thank you. (For after realisation of the divine in any (and all) moments of dust-staring meditation; gratitude is the logical step.)
Thanks Andy, and thanks for reminding me again too!