Somehow, I have the ability to unlearn everything I learned only a few days ago. A week ago, I was sitting in a hammock, ginger beer in hand, reading a domestic thriller under the canopy of pine trees. I went partially outside of my comfort zone to go camping (pretty normal for me) with 3 married couples (not normal for me) and it was wonderful.
I had made up my mind the week before the trip that I would enjoy it. There was that one moment of panic and dread when I found out I would be the only single person going, but I took that thought captive like a pro and decided I’d go into it with a great attitude, reasonable expectations, and the goal of trying to get to know these couples better.
In the early mornings, just as dawn started to peep out over the treetops, I would sit on the picnic bench reading and journaling alone as everyone else slept. I’ve been rereading T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” since I was in England last fall, a little here, a little there, and then again. It’s one of those pieces of art you can peruse over and over again but never grasp in its entirety, which keeps me coming back to it. The first of the quartets, “Burnt Norton,” introduces the theme of time past, future, and present. One set of lines in particular keeps circling around my mind:
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Now there is a lot to get from this poem, dissertations could be written on these lines alone, but up there in the fresh air of the mountains, dodging mosquitos, bundled against the cool morning, I kept thinking how important it is to be present. As the bird says, I often feel I “cannot bear very much reality,” but dwelling in “what might have been and what has been” will get me nowhere.
At L’Abri, something I was reminded of by one of the workers is that we are already in eternity. It doesn’t just start when we die or when Christ returns again – eternity includes our current earthly lives. God is eternal, was, and forever will be. My life entered into this eternity – I am not eternal, for I had a beginning – but I have joined God’s timeline. These thoughts, hard to put into words, “point to one end, which is always present.” Last weekend, when camping, I made it my goal to work at this presence.
This is easier to do on a mountaintop where there is no cell phone reception, I admit. And monster mallow mushy s’mores, giant telescopes staring up at Jupiter, wine, and friendly people help. So instead of feeling left out or awkward or uncomfortable because I was the lone single surrounded by 3 couples, only one of which I knew very well, I asked questions. I listened. I laughed. I rambled on. I stayed behind by myself as couples broke off for walks on their own and enjoyed reading in a hammock, just me and the birds. I learned the pleasure of having a tent to myself for the first time in my life – my gosh, the space!!! A tent of one’s own is a magical thing, especially if you’re an insomniac like me. It ended up being one of the easier weekends away I’ve experienced.
Coming back, I was tired but happy. Due to the exhaustion, extra work hours, and time with my family I decided to take last week off blogging, but planned to write about being present and that weekend today. But then it got hot, very very hot as only the desert can get, and work got a bit more complicated, and the Philando Castile verdict still weighed upon my heart, and the Senate healthcare bill proposed taking away coverage for many people I love and possibly myself, and Trump tweeted stupid things, and Panda Express forgot my orange chicken. And I got tired. And grumpy. So right now, the last thing I want to be is present. Instead, I want to “go, go, go” as the bird said, for I “cannot bear very much reality.”
This Saturday, we had a blackout which affected a few blocks, our house included – and instead of staying home to deal with the increasing heat as the AC didn’t work and the encroaching darkness of night, my mum and I hopped in the car, and drove to the movie theater to see “Wonder Woman” again. And it was fabulous. I cried, again. We both adored it, again. And we came home to a house with electricity. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that at all – going to see “Wonder Woman” is a good life choice. But it shows my reluctance to bear with reality.
And tonight I cannot dodge it – I must be present, for tonight is our biweekly global prayer meeting. In 15 minutes, I need to be present to discuss current events in our world and pray through them with several women who are equally concerned about our world and our country. So I will turn to Philippians once again, and beg God to help me be able to both be present and yet still find peace and rejoice.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise,think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Here’s hoping I’ll be able to better remember my mountain top lesson throughout the rest of this hot, busy week instead of only around the campfire. Here’s hoping you will all be able to find a way to be present, not dodge reality, not dwell in the might-have-beens, and yet still experience true peace and joy.
7 thoughts on “Human Kind Cannot Bear Very Much Reality”
I love this blog entry…. I have fond memories of sitting quietly on the car during road trips, candle-lit conversations with friends in high school that seemed to never end, etc.. I think reflection and quiet are so essential to our understanding of life and our beautiful Creator. I also think reality is hard… but these things go hand in hand. Praise God He will walk us through it all — never-ending everlasting … beautiful.
Beautifully written response, Mai. Thank you!
The last three lines then serve to explain what the bird meant, which is that everything points to one end, which is always present. and of which the bird says human kind can not bear very much.
Very true! We have to work at presence because it is so difficult for us to bear. It does not come easily.
I really like this post. You write with such honesty. I too am learning to practice compassionate presence and call it mindfulness. Reminding myself to find a beat before reaction, to allow feelings to come and to let them go just as easily, to gently remember that this present moment is enough.
Oh and I love that you built this on TS Elliott!
He’s my favourite poet, so it was fun to weave him into my blog.
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