Say What You See

When my friends who know something about astrology told me this past July that there was a serious retrograde of six planets, including Mercury, I was not surprised. Every project I was working on was due yesterday. On the second day of Merc Ret (my nickname for it) our beloved cat Tangy died suddenly from an age related stroke. I was so busy at work that I had no time to grieve his passing. Electronic devices went on the fritz including our tv. The servers at work kept crashing, upending schedules. I thought of the lyrics “last night everything broke” from the X song We’re Desperate.

Two weeks in, I twisted my right ankle getting up from my desk. The crunch of tendon, bone and soft tissue was so loud I thought I might have fractured it but x-rays showed no broken bones. But I felt broken and the mantra "this too shall pass" had worn out it's welcome.

Physically I was not in much discomfort but a foul mood took up residence in my psyche. I iced the swollen region and wore a compression sleeve which made it less painful to walk. The day after my fall, instead of commuting to the nyc office, a town car arrived to take me to a press check at a printer located an hour south. It was a super luxe ride with a passenger controlled console for air conditioning and radio.

Instead of feeling delighted to not have to hobble into New York City, everything around me felt like an insult.  I looked through tinted glass and I hated how the houses we passed had been built too close together. I hated the slow moving rush hour traffic even though we had ample time to reach our destination. I hated everything. I wove stories of frustration and grief that became my reality. After some friendly banter with the driver, I sunk into my seat.

As we passed through the semi-residential streets of Fort Lee, something caught my eye. In the small front yard of one of the houses was a small patch of grass with a plastic whirligig planted in the center. It was in the shape of a sun flower.

"Hello plastic sun flower spinning in the breeze." I thought. A basket of stuffed animals, a big wheel and other toys sat on the porch of a house three doors down. "Hello toys on porch, hello stop sign with dents in it, hello trees with parrots, hello garbage can, hello cat on sidewalk." The negative thought threads that had me in their clutches began to unravel.  

Soon we were on the New Jersey Turnpike. 

"Hello toll booth, hello teenagers in sports car with the radio turned up, hello pollution from power plant, hello big roaring truck, hello man in car with dog, hello airplane taking off, hello exit, hello billboard with ad for casino." 

Suddenly the world was teeming with life and everything that existed had an inexplicable innocence to it, even the polluted exhaust rising from the power plants into sky . 

I spent the rest of the morning with my foot and my mood elevated. Sometimes I would let this seeing practice out on a string, like a helium balloon that I could pull back to me. At the printer, every proof that Charlie, the press man, brought into the room was perfect. He had matched our color on the first pass and we finished early.

On the ride back I continued to name what I saw. I noticed for the first time the rock formations that sat in the shadows of the overpasses on 495. Although they were littered with waste and what we call weeds, they were a grand sculptural presence. As with all moods, this was a temporary state, but it was one I had reached with surprisingly little effort.

I turned 60 two weeks later. It was a confusing birthday. People asked me what I wanted. I could not answer because I felt like an infant who had not yet learned what a birthday celebration was. I felt like time was suddenly precious and the hourglass might never be turned over again. So I went to the movies, returning to a childhood source and an old nickname my parents had called me, Winnie the Pooh.

Directed by Mark Forster, CHRISTOPHER ROBIN was the least Disneyfied of WINNIE THE POOH films.

In this story, Christopher Robin is now an adult, a workaholic who has lost touch with his wife, his daughter and his life. Pooh shows up asking for help. He has lost track of his friends. Christopher Robin has no patience and little use for Pooh. His only desire is to return Pooh back to the forest where he belongs. They board the train back to his childhood home, and this happens:

Christopher Robin: Pooh, do you think you might be able to amuse yourself for a while? I have some rather pressing work to do.

Winnie The Pooh: [looking out the train window] House. Clouds. Tree. Dog.

Christopher Robin: Pooh, what are you doing?

Winnie The Pooh: Oh, I'm playing a game. It's called "Say What You See".

Christopher Robin: Well, could you "Say What You See" a little more quietly?

Winnie The Pooh: [whispering] House. Grass. Tree.

Later in the film, with the help of Christopher, Pooh has found his friends. They have boarded a train for London with Christopher’s daughter Madeline and none of them (except Madeline) have ridden a train before. They are terrified by this new experience. Pooh shares his game to help dial back their fear:

Winnie The Pooh: It's called "Say What You See". You, first, Eeyore.

Eeyore: Disgrace. Shame. Humiliation.

Winnie The Pooh: Well, that's one way to play it.

I love the way his friends completely accept Eeyore’s experience of the world. He is beloved. We as humans have little tolerance for negativity, myself included.

These scenes were a perfect 60th birthday gift, an echo from something so much bigger than myself that seemed to say ”No matter how lost you might feel right now, you are on the right track.” Every invisible benediction (some call it synchronicity) astounds me with it’s specificity and never fails to take my breath away.

A few days later I was listening to a reading of David Whytes’ poem “Everything is Waiting for You” on Krista Tippett’s onbeing podcast when that feeling of being held so kindly visited me again.

by David Whyte

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Your great mistake is to act the drama
 as if you were alone. As if life
 were a progressive and cunning crime
 with no witness to the tiny hidden
 transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
 the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
 even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
 the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
 out your solo voice. You must note
 the way the soap dish enables you,
 or the window latch grants you freedom.
 Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
 The stairs are your mentor of things
 to come, the doors have always been there
 to frighten you and invite you,
 and the tiny speaker in the phone
 is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
 conversation. The kettle is singing
 even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
 have left their arrogant aloofness and
 seen the good in you at last. All the birds
 and creatures of the world are unutterably
 themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

– David Whyte 

The universe is a generous place indeed.