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QUINTESSENCE

Eyes On the Horizon

And the longer he thought
the more plain to him how much
still remained to be experienced,
and written down, a material world heretofore
hardly dignified.

And he recognized in exactly this reasoning
the scope and trajectory of his own
watchful nature.

- from "Roman Study," Louise Gluck

Fog has filled the valley and spilled over the rim of the bluffs I live on, threading gray and impenetrable through the bare trees. In this shifting uncertainty of cloud and cold I went for my early run. I ran through the quiet neighborhoods, noting families gathered at breakfast tables in kitchens that spilled yellow light, the harried parents loading preschoolers bundled up against the cold into warming cars. I began thinking about this year, 2011, and how it has been both wonderful for me personally, extremely tough on some of those I love, and difficult overall for our country both economically and for our soldiers overseas. Were all these twists of event luck and suffering on the way to a larger destiny, or simply accidental? Was a greater purpose, a meaningful impetus, behind each of our lives? Or was life merely chance made of fortune both good and bad? What ruled our daily experiences? Was it all a grand roller derby of impersonal collisions circling the risks of existence? I ran the streets thinking, What do we do with that? How in the midst of "the careless random" do we make successful choices, right outcomes, peace with the truly awful?

My late husband, Ken, used to say of his faith, "I work at the art of reasoning away bad luck." He was teasing me to some extent, as I am a tentative proponent of clinging to faith in the shape of greater things to come through both hard times and things I do not understand. Ken pointed out that you can't change what is, but you can deal with it. Your way. I would throw prayers out like a fisherman's net, hunting for the meaning in the misfortune. Both to understand if I could and to learn and possibly avoid future similar pitfalls, and to convince myself that at the end of the bad news would be a happy breakthrough into a better life. Which of us is the more correct? The one who accepts bad luck and rationally chops it into intellectual bite-sized bits better absorbed into the tasks of any given day, or the one who defends hope as the rough edge of a smoother evolution to follow?

I don't honestly know. To me, life is best symbolized by a sail boat tacking across open waters. The seas and winds change, and with shift, the set of sails and tiller change as well. Are we not at our best if the hand is steady, our gaze fixed on the horizon, regardless of the conditions we navigate? Perhaps any kind of philosophy that props us at our post, eyes forward, ensures survival and success. When we look back, some experiences reveal complete and meaningful narratives, while other events register like asteroid hits, shaking our foundations until the dust settles. Either way, life is lived forward. I embrace the spirit of the poem. How much remains to be experienced.


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