“If I knew where the song came from, I’d go there more often.”
— Leonard Cohen
I started out writing something hopeful for the new year because, for me, hope is the fuel and the fire when certainty fades. So many people I know share a collective sorrow and hope right now — sorrow over the cruelty and deception so prominent in our public sphere, and hope that the spirit of kindness and truth will ultimately prevail.
My words wouldn’t be whole if I didn’t admit that I’ve struggled at times to keep my own hope alive. I’ve given in to hopelessness and despair, exhaustion and exasperation, even when I know better. There have been days when I wasn’t sure how I would possibly make it to the next, where my challenges left me flailing for answers that simply didn’t come. Even though grief and pain always connect you more profoundly to the experience of others, to the universal condition of being mortal in all of its complexity, they can also be desperately isolating. And that’s when hope can feel dim.
Somewhere in the time and timelessness of it all, I came upon the above quote from a speech by Leonard Cohen. He was talking about his inspiration, and how his creativity derives not just from the elusiveness of the muse, but also from the soil — a terroir that imbues us all as it does wine. His guitar was formed of wood that still carries the eternal scent of the tree, born of its own soil, strung by a luthier grounded in the same earth. It’s an earth so bountiful that even a handful of dirt or a cup of seawater holds a universe of tiny, unseen, living beings who share our origins.
Cohen’s words spoke to the elemental earthly connections I cherish, especially in urban life … how the Red-tailed Hawk I named Jomei seems to fly right by our window when I most need a lift … or how Hugh and I find impressions of ginkgo leaves in the sidewalk when we’re short on inspiration … or how a coyote will slink into a clearing for just a moment, fixed on us with the piercing gaze of the ancients. I love that paw prints in the snow or mud carry a history and future all in one, marking the past but still leading the way. They step so lightly on this planet, in sync with the sun, the stars, and the magnetism sometimes lost in our artificial constructs. And in those encounters, I’m reminded to observe and engage the rhythms of life as other species feel them … in gratitude for mere existence, and in reverence for the doggedness and grit that keeps us all here.
I don’t know where the song comes from, as Cohen said. It’s just there, when it chooses to be, in that cyclone of raw creativity and interconnection. It helps me get up and dust myself off for the next round. I do sometimes worry that the words, the birds, the songs, and the poets will one day be overcome by our noise, or worse, go silent, like Rachel Carson’s spring. But for now, they are still here, coming in from the storm and coloring life with all of its richness, meaning, and promise, especially when hope feels dim. Sometimes it’s enough to remember that others see and feel life just as intensely, and keep finding ways to call upon their own inner light to heal the darkness.
If you’ve had a difficult year, I hope this next one brings you much love, light, and deep moments of joy. And, for everyone, no matter what 2019 might have been, I wish you a kind and peace-filled 2020.
Keep fighting for all that’s right with this beloved, beautiful orb we share with each other, and with the feathered, four-legged, and animal peoples who show us the way home.
[Photo: Song Dog Mystic – one of my favorite earthly connections in recent times]