Driving fromVirginiato the beach a few days ago, a truck driver behind me on the road honked to tell me to move into the left lane so he could pass me on the right. Fifteen seconds later we were all stopped at the same red light. What’s the rush? Everyone is busy, engaged in perennial haste. To-do lists, agendas, deadlines. We don’t take the time to just sit and look out a window, to perch beneath a tree and watch the interplay of light and dark. To breathe in the myriad of sounds. I can remember yelling at my kids to hurry and get ready so they wouldn’t be late for….preschool. I had to stop and ask myself, “What are you doing? What does it matter?” Maybe we should all sit on the floor and take five minutes to scrunch a foot into a sock.
A couple of miles from my house, a heron lives on the banks of a stream that pulls in from the bay. I have to look carefully to find her, because her blue-gray plumage is neatly camouflaged to match the broken tree trunks that rise from the tall grasses. She can stand still for hours, almost invisible, a shadow among shadows. There in her stillness she watches, her eyes wide open or shuttered or even closed. Around her the world is busy. Insects skim the surface of the water or hover in buzzing clouds. Traffic whooshes by on the road, spitting asphalt, burping exhaust. Frogs gurgle and slip in and out of the cattail curtains. Air bubbles rise as fish dart here and there in their zigzag navigation. All around her is chattering and croaking and splashing and whirring. And she stands still, balanced perfectly like a calligraphic stroke.
When I think about the heron, I grow still. I think of T.S. Eliot’s line in “Burnt Norton” – “the still point of the turning world.” This morning I woke up and even without stepping outside I knew that the heavy oven heat of the past week had cooled in the night. The quality of light that came in my window was different. Patterns from the trees shimmered on the wall as if the sun had diffused itself into dancing sparks, pale and gold and alive like millions of tiny wings. I thought of what I had to do – that inevitable endless list – but I chose to wait, to taste the stillness, to let it fill me like honey. The image of the heron came to me, the way she wraps herself in her feathered arms and lets the world spin around her. I resolved to enter the day not as the impatient driver racing to beat the light but as the regal bird who takes it all in and makes herself a calm center.