Learn the Flowers

“The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us,
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light.”

-“For the Children” by Gary Snyder

“For the Children” is one of my favorite poems. Its simplicity is like fresh, clean water. The clarity of the language allows the reader to see into the depths of the water, to the bedrock, the foundation, of our present truth: how our world hangs in the balance, at the mercy of human selfishness, violence, and environmental degradation. Snyder contemplates the world we are losing, the desacralization of the world, and the cost of all of that for our children. Simple lines so saturated with truth – both material and spiritual – that I can think of no better poem to turn to tonight, as our country remains on the brink of the unknown.

Every day, most of us watch and read the news. We watch television, often and unfortunately, shows that are violent, not life-giving, that waste our time. We walk through landscapes or cityscapes that have been altered beyond recognition by centuries of industrialization. We know not what the land beneath our feet was called before our people arrived. We do not know the story of the landscape. We do not know the names of the other creatures and forms of life that inhabit space with us. And we are exhausted by it. We are exhausted by our stagnant government, by the scrolling, by the alienation. The information we absorb on a daily basis is anxiety provoking, incessant loops that feed themselves, accelerating to overwhelming speeds, making so much noise that we cannot hear our own original thoughts.

Snyder suggests, acknowledging the chaos, that we attune ourselves more gently to other forms of information, each other – community- the land, and other living things. By walking more gently upon the earth together, we travel more lightly, instead of trampling everything in our path; we seek greater guiding Light, instead of burying our heads in the damaging light of blue screens.

As I write this, cameras focus on a speech being delivered to the nation, a speech designed to justify a symbol of division and hatred, for literally, absolutely, no good reason. Statistics are being distorted to encourage fear and outrage. I cannot help but think, what if we were all impervious to this bigotry and misinformation that clouds our commons? What if we let hatred wash over us, not affected or changed by it, but instead turned elsewhere for meaning about who we are meant to be together? 

The power of words, words that weave the tapestries of fascism, only remains when we place our faith in those words, when we believe that those words hold truth, when we find that ‘input’ to have weight. Words of fear, us-and-them rhetoric, have no place in libraries of wisdom, where catalogs of the heart require discernment in addition to fact checking, where human history is held to a higher standard.

As this circus spins in Washington, worker pay, food stamps and food supplies, National Park service, public assistance, immigration proceedings are stalled. Useless posturing and manic egoism are causing palpable human suffering that will snowball the longer this government shutdown lasts.

So instead of watching collective airtime and a hallowed office be polluted with lies designed to breed violence, I am focusing my attention Snyder’s breathtaking advice: stay together, learn the flowers, go light. 

My faith and all the truth that is both measurable and poetic rests therein.