Sunday, April 5, 2020

Hokusai says






.


Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing.

He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat yourself
as long as it’s interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient,
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive—
shells, buildings, people, fish, mountains, trees.
Wood is alive.
Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw, or write books.
It doesn’t matter if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your verandah or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.

It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
are life living through you.
Peace is life living through you.

He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
Look, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.


—Roger Keyes


.
thank you
beautywelove

.






when i was






.



When I was the stream, when I was the
forest, when I was still the field,
when I was every hoof, foot,
fin and wing, when I
was the sky
itself,

no one ever asked me did I have a purpose, no one ever
wondered was there anything I might need,
for there was nothing
I could not
love.


It was when I left all we once were that
the agony began, the fear and questions came,
and I wept, I wept. And tears
I had never known
before.
So I returned to the river, I returned to
the mountains. I asked for their hand in marriage again,
I begged—I begged to wed every object and creature,

and when they accepted,
God was ever present in my arms.
And He did not say,
“Where have you been?”

For then I knew my soul—every soul—
has always held Him.



—Meister Eckhart
Daniel Ladinsky version



.






say i am






.


Learn to distinguish the immovable in the movable, the unchanging in the changing, till you realize that all differences are in appearance only and oneness is a fact. 

This basic identity—you may call God, or Brahman, or the matrix (Prakriti), the words matter little—is only the realization that all is one. 

Once you can say with confidence born from direct experience: ‘I am the world, the world is myself’, you are free from desire and fear on one hand and become totally responsible for the world on the other.


Nisargadatta


.





Saturday, April 4, 2020

If you can see it, it can see you. That’s true of just about anything. —Margaret Atwood

 



 .



There was an epoch in the Night of Time, when a still-existent Being existed—one of an absolutely infinite number of similar Beings that people the absolutely infinite domains of the absolutely infinite space. It was not and is not in the power of this Being—any more than it is in your own—to extend, by actual increase, the joy of his Existence; but just as it is in your power to expand or to concentrate your pleasures (the absolute amount of happiness remaining always the same) so did and does a similar capability appertain to this Divine Being, who thus passes his Eternity in perpetual variation of Concentrated Self and almost Infinite Self-Diffusion.

What you call The Universe is but his present expansive existence. He now feels his life through an infinity of imperfect pleasures—the partial and pain-intertangled pleasures of those inconceivably numerous things which you designate as his creatures, but which are really but infinite individualizations of Himself. All these creatures—all—those which you term animate, as well as those to whom you deny life for no better reason than that you do not behold it in operation—all these creatures have, in a greater or less degree, a capacity for pleasure and for pain:—but the general sum of their sensations is precisely that amount of Happiness which appertains by right to the Divine Being when concentrated within Himself.

These creatures are all, too, more or less conscious Intelligences; conscious, first, of a proper identity; conscious, secondly and by faint indeterminate glimpses, of an identity with the Divine Being of whom we speak—of an identity with God. Of the two classes of consciousness, fancy that the former will grow weaker, the latter stronger, during the long succession of ages which must elapse before these myriads of individual Intelligences become blended—when the bright stars become blended—into One.

Think that the sense of individual identity will be gradually merged in the general consciousness—that Man, for example, ceasing imperceptibly to feel himself Man, will at length attain that awfully triumphant epoch when he shall recognize his existence as that of Jehovah. In the meantime bear in mind that all is Life—Life—Life within Life—the less within the greater, and all within the Spirit Divine.


—Edgar Allan Poe
Eureka: A Prose Poem



 .





odd discoveries







.


Martin Buber quotes an old Hasid master who said, "When you walk across the field with your mind pure and holy, then from all the stones, and all growing things, and all animals, the sparks of their souls come out and cling to you, and then they are purified and become a holy fire in you."


—Annie Dillard
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek


...


We leave traces of ourselves wherever we go, on whatever we touch.

One of the odd discoveries made by small boys is that when two pebbles are struck sharply against each other they emit, briefly, a curious smoky odor.

The phenomenon fades when the stones are immaculately cleaned, vanishes when they are heated to furnace temperature, and reappears when they are simply touched by the hand again, before being struck.


—Lewis Thomas
The Lives of a Cell


...


Go inside a stone
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.
From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.

Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill—
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.


—Charles Simic
The Voice at 3 A.M.



.






behind every atom hides an infinite universe. –Rumi





.


As is the human body,
So is the cosmic body.

As is the human mind,
So is the cosmic mind.

As is the microcosm,
So is the macrocosm.

As is the atom,
So is the universe.


—The Upanishads


...


In that high place in the darkness the two oddly sensitive human atoms held each other tightly and waited.

In the mind of each was the same thought.

‘I have come to this lonely place and here is this other,’ was the substance of the thing felt.


—Sherwood Anderson


.





Friday, April 3, 2020

other(wise







.


Where there is a duality, as it were, there one sees another; there one smells another; there one tastes another; there one speaks to another...
But where everything has become just one's own self, then whereby and whom would one see? then whereby and whom would one smell? then whereby and to whom would one speak? then whereby and whom would one hear? then whereby and of whom would one think? then whereby and whom would one touch?
then whereby and whom would one understand?


—Brihadaranyaka Upabishad (2.4.14)


...


The beginning of the spiritual journey is the realization - not just the information, but the real interior conviction - that there is a higher power, or God. I would make it as easy as possible for everyone, that there is an Other - capital “O”.

Second step, is to try and become the Other - capital “O”.

And finally, the realization that there is no other.
You and the other are one. Always have been and always will be.
You just think that you aren’t and then, as the spiritual journey unfolds, one lets go of these false beliefs that there is separation from God.

One begins to perceive in events and in all other people the same presence of God, more and more aware of it, once found at the deepest level. And thus, the words of Paul become something which makes sense, that God is all in all - in other words, in a sense, we not only become God but are God.


—Father Thomas Keating

...


The idea that there is a mind independent of thinking, a body independent of sensing or a world independent of perceiving, is a belief.

The mind itself is limited so it can never know whether or not such a belief is true.

The mind, body and world are never experienced as they are normally conceived to be. Our only experience of them is thinking, sensing and perceiving. Thinking, sensing and perceiving are modes of knowing or experiencing and the only substance present in knowing or experiencing is our self, awareness.

[...]

... the witness cannot stand alone.

If we truly take our stand as witnessing presence of awareness and look at the objects of the mind, body and world, we do not find any distance or separation between our self, this witnessing presence, and the objects of the mind, body or world that it witnesses. In fact, we do not find two entities there, a witnessing awareness and a body, mind or world.

We find only the seamlessness of experiencing utterly one with or pervaded by the intimacy of our own being. That is, it only finds itself.
[...]

In other words, we do not cease to be a separate self and become the witness and likewise we do not cease to be the witness and become pure awareness.

It is only thinking which seemingly reduces pure awareness to these apparently successive stages of limitation and localisation. And it is only for thinking that these layers of ignorance, or the ignoring of the true nature of experience, are removed. For our self, awareness, no such thing ever happens.

[...]
So, as we proceed back along this projected path, in the opposite direction from which it arose, it is understood that our only knowledge of the mind, body and world is thinking, sensing and perceiving.

And if we look more closely at the nature of thinking, sensing and perceiving, we find that there is no substance present there other than our self, awareness.


—Rupert Spira
Presence: The Intimacy of All Experience



.






the wisdom of nondiscrimination





.



My right hand has written all the poems
that I have composed…
My left hand has not written a single poem.
But my right hand does not think,
‘Left Hand, you are good for nothing.’
My right hand does not have a superiority complex.
That is why it is very happy…
My left hand does not have any complex at all.
In my two hands there is the kind of wisdom
called the wisdom of nondiscrimination.
One day I was hammering a nail
and my right hand was not very accurate
and instead of pounding on the nail
it pounded on my finger.
It put the hammer down and took care
of my left hand in a very tender way,
as if it were taking care of itself…
It did not say, ‘Left Hand, you have to remember
that I have taken good care of you
and you have to pay me back in the future.’
There was no such thinking…
And my left hand did not say,
‘Right Hand, you have done me a lot of harm
— give me that hammer, I want justice.’
My two hands know that they are members
of one body; they are in each other.


—Thich Nhat Hanh


.






the seed cracked open






.



It used to be
That when I would wake in the morning
I could with confidence say,
“What am ‘I’ going to
Do?”
That was before the seed
Cracked open.
Now Hafiz is certain:
There are two of us housed
In this body,
Doing the shopping together in the market and
Tickling each other
While fixing the evening’s food.
Now when I awake
All the internal instruments play the same music:
“God, what love-mischief can 'We’ do
For the world
Today?”
 

—Hafiz
The Gift


.






Thursday, April 2, 2020

the beautiful necessity






.


Light the fire.
This is now. Now is
all there is. Don't wait for Then;
strike the spark, light the fire.
Sit at the Beloved's table,
feast with gusto, drink your fill
then dance
the way branches
of jasmine and cypress
dance in a spring wind.

The green earth
is your cloth;
tailor your robe
with dignity and grace.

—Rumi


...




Let us build altars to the Beautiful Necessity, which secures that all is made of one piece; that plaintiff and defendant, friend and enemy, animal and planet, food and eater, are of one kind. 
In astronomy is vast space, but no foreign system; in geology, vast time, but the same laws as to-day. 

Why should we be afraid of Nature, which is no other than “philosophy and theology embodied”? 
Why should we fear to be crushed by savage elements, we who are made up of the same elements? 

Let us build to the Beautiful Necessity, which makes man brave in believing that he cannot shun a danger that is appointed, nor incur one that is not;
to the Necessity which rudely or softly educates him to the perception that there are no contingencies;
that Law rules throughout existence, a Law which is not intelligent but intelligence, — not personal nor impersonal, — it disdains words and passes understanding; 
it dissolves persons; it vivifies nature; 
yet solicits the pure in heart to draw on all its omnipotence.


—Ralph Waldo Emerson



.





each by 0ne





 .


Stone by stone and step by step
And heart by heart and head by head
The beautiful days do pass

Thread by thread and leaf by leaf
And one by one and each by each
The days are beautiful and do not pass

Grain by grain and body by body
Side by side and hand by hand
Good will win the battle

Stone by grain and each by one
And hand by heart and head by heart
Love is as vast as the world.


—Robert Desnos
Todd Sanders version


.




the dream keeper







.


Bring me all of your dreams,

You dreamer,

Bring me all your

Heart melodies

That I may wrap them

In a blue cloud-cloth

Away from the too-rough fingers

Of the world.


—Langston Hughes

.





Wednesday, April 1, 2020

hidden in the cave of the heart






.



Nachiketa asked:

When a person dies, there arises this doubt: “He still exists,” say some; “he does not,” say others. I want to know from you, what is the truth?

Yama, The God of Death, replied:

The all-knowing Self was never born, nor will it die. Beyond cause and effect, this Self is eternal and immutable. When the body dies, the Self does not die.

If the slayer believes that he can slay or the slain believes that he can be slain, neither knows the truth. The eternal Self slays not, nor is ever slain.

Hidden in the heart of every creature exists the Self, subtler than the subtlest, greater than the greatest. They go beyond sorrow who extinguish their self-will and behold the glory of the Self.

Those who know they are neither body nor mind but the immortal Self, the divine principle of existence, find the source of all joy and live in joy abiding.

That through which one enjoys form, taste, smell, sound, touch, and sexual union is the Self. Can there be anything not known to That who is the One in all? Know One, know all.

That through which one enjoys the waking and sleeping states is the Self. To know That as Consciousness is to go beyond sorrow.

Changeless amidst the things that pass away, Pure Consciousness in all who are conscious, The One answers the prayers of many. Eternal peace is theirs who see the Self in their own hearts. To none else does it come!

The supreme Self is beyond name and form, beyond the senses, inexhaustible, without beginning, without end, beyond time, space, and causality, eternal, immutable. Those who realize the Self are forever free from the jaws of death.

The self-existent lord pierced the senses to turn outward. Thus we look to the world outside and see not the Self within us. A sage withdrew his senses from the world of change and, seeking immortality, looked within and beheld the deathless Self.

The wise, realizing through meditation the timeless Self, beyond all perception, hidden in the cave of the heart, leave pain and pleasure far behind.

When the wise realize the Self, formless in the midst of forms, changeless In the midst of change, omnipresent and supreme, they go beyond sorrow.

The Self cannot be known through study of the scriptures, nor through the intellect, nor through hearing learned discourses. The Self can be attained only by those whom the Self chooses. Verily unto them does the Self reveal itself.

None else can know the omnipresent Self, whose glory sweeps away the rituals of the priest and the prowess of the warrior and puts death itself to death.

The immature run after sense pleasures and fall into the widespread net of death. But the wise, knowing the Self as deathless, seek not the changeless in the world of change.

It is but few who hear about the Self. Fewer still dedicate their lives to its realization. Wonderful is the one who speaks about the Self; rare are they who make it the supreme goal of their lives. Blessed are they who, through an illumined teacher, attain to Self-realization.

Get up! Wake up! Seek the guidance of an illumined teacher and realize the Self. Sharp like a razor’s edge, the sages say, is the path, difficult to traverse.

Know thyself to be pure and immortal!

Know thyself to be pure and immortal!



—the Katha Upanishad
selected verses



.





inside







.



How something is made flesh
no one can say. The buffalo soup
becomes a woman
who sings every day to her horses
or summons another to her private body
saying, come, touch, this is how
it begins, the path of a newly born
who, salvaged from other lives and worlds,
will grow to become a woman, a man,
with a heart that never rests,
and the gathered berries,
the wild grapes
enter the body,
human wine
which can love,
where nothing created is wasted;
the swallowed grain takes you through the dreams
of another night,
the deer meat becomes hands
strong enough to work.

But I love most
the white-haired creature
eating green leaves;
the sun shines there
swallowed, showing in her face
taking in all the light,
and in the end
when the shadow from the ground
enters the body and remains,
in the end, you might say,
This is myself,
still unknown, still a mystery.


—Linda Hogan


.






so





.


So a little spring prays to the ocean, so the beating heart prays to the heart of the universe, so the little word prays to the great Logos, so a dust speck prays to the earth, so the earth prays to the cosmos, so the one prays to the billion, so human love prays to God’s love, so always prays to never, so the moment prays to eternity, so the snowflake prays to winter, so the frightened beast prays to the forest silence, so uncertainty prays to beauty itself.

And all these prayers are heard.



Anna Kamieńska
In the Great River: A Notebook


.





Tuesday, March 31, 2020

underneath us, there is only instability. beyond us, there is only chance.






.


We might spend our lives trying to discern where we end and the rest of the world begins, but we save them by experiencing ourselves — our selves, each individual self — as “the still point of the turning world,” to borrow T.S. Eliot’s lovely phrase from one of the greatest poems ever written. And yet that point is pinned to a figment — our fundamental creaturely sense of reality is founded upon the illusion of absolute rest.

On March 27, 1964 — Good Friday — thousands of selves in Anchorage, Alaska came unpinned from their most elemental certitudes about reality, about safety, about the thousand small sanities by which we bestill this turning world to make it livable.

At 5:36PM, as the afternoon sun was slipping lazily toward the horizon — that quiet daily assurance that the Earth moves intact on its steady axis along its unfaltering orbital path — street lights began swaying, then flying. The pavement beneath them accordioned, then gaped open, swallowing cars and spitting them back up. Walls came unseamed and reseamed before disbelieving eyes that had not yet computed, for it was beyond the computational power of everyday consciousness, what was taking place.

Photograph by Genie Chance, taken immediately after the earthquake hit.
(Courtesy of Jan Blankenship — her daughter — and Jon Mooallem.


Buildings rippled “up and down in sections, just like a caterpillar,” in one observer’s recollection, before ripping apart and crumbling completely like the brittle simulacra of safety that buildings are. Inside them, books toppled from their shelves to take rapid turns levitating from the floor, flames engulfed school science labs as chemicals crumpled together, and cast-iron pots of moose stew jumped off kitchen stoves.

The city’s electric grid was snapped and uprooted — in the below-freezing cold, in the descending dusk, all power went out. Photograph by Genie Chance, taken immediately after the earthquake hit. (Courtesy Jan Blankenship and Jon Mooallem.)

When people tried running for their lives, they found their basic biped function furloughed — the Earth hurled each step back at them, tossing their center of gravity like a marble around a child’s cupped hand.

Water levels jumped as far away as South Africa. I picture my grandparents’ well in Bulgaria undulating in the middle of the night as they slept heavily under their Rhodope wool blankets, having celebrated my mother’s second birthday in the hours before Anchorage came unborn.

At 9.2 on the Richter Scale, the earthquake was more powerful than any previously measured — so violent that, as one seismologist phrased it, “it made the earth ring like a bell.” Just as the collision of two black holes ripples the fabric of spacetime with such brutality that it rings a gravitational wave, two tectonic plates had been in slow-motion collision for millennia, building up pressure that finally, on that early-spring afternoon, rang the planet itself and discomposed Anchorage into a level of trauma that would devastate the community, then jolt it into discovering its own entirely unfathomed wellsprings of resilience, solidarity, and generosity.


Photograph by Genie Chance, taken immediately after the earthquake hit.
(Courtesy Jan Blankenship and Jon Mooallem.)

Driving to the local bookstore with one of her three children was a woman who would emerge as the unlikely hero not only of the community’s survival but of its transformation through tragedy. As their world fell apart, she would magnetize people into falling together.

Genie Chance with dahlias, Alaska. (Courtesy Jan Blankenship and Jon Mooallem.)

Genie Chance (January 24, 1927–May 17, 1998) is the protagonist of Jon Mooallem’s uncommonly wonderful book This Is Chance!: The Shaking of an All-American City, A Voice That Held It Together (public library). Driving the heart of this scrupulously researched and sensitively told story about a singular event at a particular time in a particular place is the timeless, universal pulse-beat of assurance, suddenly rendered timely to the point of prophetic — the assurance that comes from the lived record of communities surviving cataclysms even more savaging than our own and emerging from them stronger, more closely knit, more human. Photograph by Genie Chance, taken immediately after the earthquake hit. (Courtesy Jan Blankenship and Jon Mooallem.)

In 1964, Anchorage had barely nursed its first generation of city-born citizens and Alaska itself had only just become a state five years earlier. The town existed, Mooallem writes, as “a blotch of Western civilization in the middle of emptiness,” on a patch of land “often disregarded as a kind of free-floating addendum to the rest of America.” Culture itself was in a state of disorientation — months earlier, JFK’s assassination and The Feminine Mystique had shaken the world with their respective dissolutions of certitudes. Anchorage was hungry to pin itself on the map, to self-create an identity and then to assert it with the fiery impatience of a teenager undergoing the developmental stage of individuation — a city that, in one visitor’s account, “reached aggressively and greedily to grasp the future, impatient with any suggestion that such things take time.” Mooallem writes:

That determination made it difficult for those who lived in Anchorage to recognize how indifferently the city they were building could be knocked down — to imagine that, early one Friday evening, the very ground beneath them might rear up and shake their town like “a dog shaking an animal he’s killed,” as one man later described it. Even while the earth was moving, the ferocious strangeness of what was happening to Anchorage was hard for people to internalize or accept. Buildings keeled off their foundations, slumped in on themselves, split in half or sunk. Four-foot-high ground waves rolled through the roads as though the pavement were liquid. A city of infallible right angles buckled and bent.

It wasn’t as though, before the quake, people in Anchorage pictured these things happening and dismissed them as impossible; they just never pictured them. They couldn’t. More to the point: Why would they? Like all of us, they looked around and registered what they saw as stable and permanent: a world that just was.

But there are moments when the world we take for granted instantaneously changes; when reality is abruptly upended and the unimaginable overwhelms real life. We don’t walk around thinking about that instability, but we know it’s always there: at random, and without warning, a kind of terrible magic can switch on and scramble our lives.


When the earthquake churned its terrible magic over Anchorage, Genie Chance — who described herself as “one of those people with an insatiable curiosity who wants to understand in depth what someone else is doing, thinking, or talking about” — was working as a part-time reporter for the local radio station, KENI. Part-time but triple-throttle: When she wasn’t racing on her daily rounds to the police station and the courthouse to report on local crime and punishment, she flew with the air patrol on wilderness rescue missions, trailed army units during Arctic training exercises, captured life on crab boats and in Inuit villages, forewitnessed death on nuclear missile testing sites, and had to be dissuaded from climbing a fire ladder with her tape recorder during a building fire while she was recovering from pneumonia.

All of this she did before rushing home to make dinner for her three children and their father. But she inhabited these two radically different worlds as one extraordinary, integrated self — “a woman who bore the conspicuous burden of always being fully and unflaggingly herself,” in Mooallem’s lovely phrasing — a self outside its time and place, for being a working mother rather than a housewife was already countercultural enough, but being a working mother of unstoppable ambition covered her path with the shrapnel of shock and the indictments of arrogance with which women’s confident competence is often repudiated.

She was the only female newscaster in the state and little seemed to have changed in the century-some since Margaret Fuller became America’s first female news correspondent during a major upheaval as she was paving the way for what we now call feminism. Once, after Genie spent three days reporting on the search effort for a major airplane crash off the coast of Alaska, NBC’s national newscast came calling for her coverage, but requested that a man be sent to redo all of her interviews for a more authoritative air on the air. But her persistent dedication to this essential community-building work soon eclipsed the dismissal and established her as the trusted voice on the radio — trust that threaded the community as a lifetime in the wake of the catastrophe, as fifty-two aftershocks shook the city after the initial rupture. Mooallem writes:

As Anchorage staggered to its feet, each person, or cluster of people, was cut off from everyone else. There was no way to know exactly what had happened, or how thoroughly their world had been jumbled.

This feeling of vulnerability saturated the city. One man, discovering he’d fallen to the sandy bottom of a pit, explained, “You just wonder, ‘Where are you?’ You don’t know if anybody else is alive. Maybe you’re the last man.” Another remembered taking stock of the erratic transfiguration of his neighborhood and assuming that no other part of Anchorage could possibly have gotten hit so badly. Others made the opposite assumption: that the devastation they couldn’t see must be far worse. Both assumptions provoked loneliness. Each generated a slightly different species of despair.

It was reassuring, then, to hear another voice on the radio, talking to you — especially a familiar voice like Genie’s. It urged your imagination outward, encouraged you to picture other people, still out there, listening to the radio, too.


That voice had risked her own life in the determination to serve — having ensured her family’s safety, she had raced back downtown as buildings collapsed around her to assess what was actually going on and how she could help. She had seen things one never forgets — incomprehensible objects that mere hours ago had been bodies animated by human lives and loves and favorite songs — and she had discerned her task: to inform without alarming, to comfort without deluding, to be the steady hand in the small of the back guiding the buckle-kneed and the disoriented survivors toward safety, toward sanity, toward some version of sense-making amid the senseless ruin of their reality.

Genie Chance quickly grasped what our modern media have failed to grasp again and again in times of crisis: that past a certain tipping point of quantity, past a certain threshold of reliability, past a certain pitch level of delivery, facts cease to constellate into information and instead become slippery corpuscles saturating a fog of fright. Genie Chance’s job was choice — she had to perform that taxing calculus of moral judgment, that ultimate curatorial task of choosing what facts to broadcast and what to withhold in order to render people maximally equipped to protect themselves and minimally inclined toward panic, which she knew would hinder all rescue and recovery efforts in what was going to be days, weeks, possibly months of people trapped together in a crippled city. “Mass hysteria would have meant total destruction,” she would later recount.

Stationing herself at Anchorage’s Public Safety Building as night fell on the powerless city, she began working with the police chief, the fire chief, and various officials. As soon as KENI was back on the air with a generator, she began broadcasting the essentials of survival: where to take shelter, how to purify snow for drinking water. She instructed people to limit the use of candles to the bare minimum of necessity — candles were a fire hazard, the city had just evaded a conflagration by what seemed like a miracle, and the water supply system was too savaged to fight a fire outbreak.

She then began collating eyewitness accounts to give people an accurate picture of what had just unworlded them, careful to convey the gravity of the situation without details so gruesome that people would lose hope, still performing the impossible informational acrobatics at the balance-point on the beam between paralysis and panic. Mooallem writes:

Information was a form of comfort. Each stunned, eye-witness account on the radio that night appeared to help people in Anchorage find the contours of this sinister abstraction they were living through — and to locate their places in it.

Genie Chance (Photograph Courtesy Jan Blankenship and Jon Mooallem.)

Within hours, Genie Chance had become the city’s first public information officer. But she soon became something more. Distressed people began turning up at her makeshift desk, bearing the impossible weight of not knowing whether their loved ones were dead or alive. Recognizing the psychological emergency beyond the physical first aid, Genie Chance became the human hub of a vast network of need and began broadcasting these trembling-hearted messages.

“A message to Clyde Wythe at Homer: Your daughter is OK.”

“We have received a call from Joe Fernbeck who said that he’d gotten word on his radio from the oil crews at Beluga and Tyonek. They want their families to know that they are all OK.”

“We have a message reporting that an elderly lady at 216 East Eighth Avenue who lives alone. We have no name on her, but we do have a request for somebody in that neighborhood to please check and see if the sweet lady is all right.”

Mooallem writes:

You could hear the potential death toll in the city gradually ticking down. And with each small declaration of survival that aired, you could imagine a constellation of affirming flames slowly lighting the emptiness outside.

The words of one listener from the remote community of Clam Gulch bellow across space, time, and situation with especially poignancy and relevance today:

It made us who were fortunate realize that no matter what powerful forces nature unleashes, it also releases similar forces in our men and women to cope with them.

By Monday, as Anchorage began stumbling to its feet amid heavy snow and below-freezing temperatures, Genie Chance observed from the airwaves:

Tension is showing on the faces of a proud people. The realization that the Good Friday earthquake will have long-range repercussions on the entire state is beginning to strike at their hearts.

She took it upon herself to steady those hearts. How she did that — how she was in a position to help in the first place, having risen in radio across the personal abyss of depression and the cultural barriers of sexism; how her public service paved the way for her election to the Alaska Senate; how it illuminated what Martin Luther King, Jr. had so poetically termed a year earlier our “inescapable network of mutuality” and how it still illuminates the timeless centripetal forces holding communities together into something larger and more alive than coexisting individuals — that and a great, largehearted deal more is what Mooallem explores in the rest of This Is Chance!, which he ends with a gorgeous glimpse of Genie Chance’s animating spirit. Genie Chance, 1964. (Courtesy Jan Blankenship and Jon Mooallem.)

The week following the earthquake, when her mother wrote from Texas beseeching her to send the children there for safety, Genie had a decision to make — a decision that might have appeared simple to a person of less penetrating vision into the innermost pillars of survival. Beneath that surface simplicity, which rests upon a view of safety as physical security, Genie Chance fathomed the layers of complexity: The very notion of physical security had just been unmasked as an illusion in the first place, in any place; but beneath it, she suddenly saw, there lay a stratum of psychological and emotional security from which we mine the building blocks of our only reliable human shelter. She wrote back to her mother:


I must admit that during that first dark, cold night, as I began to understand the tremendous scope of the problems that would be facing us in the months and years to come, I toyed with the idea of sending the children out on a plane to stay with you until everything settled down. Working there in the headquarters, where the reports were coming in from the survey teams throughout the city, I realized that there could possibly be a real health hazard for some time to come. I realized that the schools might not be able to resume for an indefinite period of time. It looked for a few hours as if the damage had been so extensive to all utilities and streets that even a semblance of normal life could not be resumed for weeks or months.

[…]

But this was just a fleeting thought in a weary mind. I would have been ashamed of myself had it not been for the next thought that came so swiftly: We must be together… That night I saw strain, heavy hearts, and fear in people separated from their loved ones by the sudden disaster… As long as we are together, we are confident of the future…

That Good Friday night I knew that we had survived miraculously. And for this reason, there must be a purpose to our lives. Apparently the children must sense this, too. For they have remained calm. They have been fully aware of the emergency, but they have not feared. We are proud that they are such dependable, responsible youngsters. I would not undermine their confidence in the future — in themselves — by sending them away for safety.

What is safety, anyway? How can you predict where or when tragedy will occur? You can only learn to live with it and make the best of it when it happens. These children have learned this — and they are all the better for it. They were in the midst of devastation. And they feel that they are a part of the tremendous task ahead in rebuilding this land we love… The children are not afraid. Their father and I are not afraid. Please, don’t you fear for us.


Mooallem — who previously composed the beautiful, bittersweet, and surprisingly buoyant ecological elegy Wild Ones — reflects on the disquieting confrontation with the nature of reality that the earthquake thrust upon the world it shattered, and wrests from the disquietude the kernel of a larger truth that makes reality not only bearable but beautiful:

What is safety, anyway? Genie seemed to be conceding how randomly our lives are jostled and spun around; that nothing is fixed; that even the ground we stand on is in motion. Underneath us, there is only instability. Beyond us, there’s only chance.

But she’d also recognized a way of surviving such a world. It was what Genie had created in Anchorage that weekend by talk- ing on the radio, and what she planned to stay focused on now: not an antidote to that unpredictability, exactly, but at least a strategy for withstanding it, for wringing meaning from a life we know to be unsteady and provisional. The best she and her family could do was to hold on to one another.

Our force for counteracting chaos is connection. 

—Maria Popova


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many thanks to the essential
brainpickings

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