“[I]t’s the little savors and little things that count more than big ones. A walk on a spring morning is better than an eighty-mile ride in a hopped-up car, you know why? Because it’s full of flavors, full of a lot of things growing. You’ve time to seek and find.”
(Grandfather Spaulding, in "Dandelion Wine")
Not writing the last several weeks, as I vowed I would do, has not been easy. As big a pain as it is to write sometimes --- the sheer discipline of it, you know, the audacity at thinking you have something to offer the world, the hyper-consciousness that makes you obsess over the mundane --- it may be as big a pain NOT to write. Almost, anyway. I feel like I missed things, that I have forgotten important things, that somehow I have not processed it all, that I have looked but not seen. And maybe I have. Maybe writing for me is essential to seeing. Maybe not writing is like trying to hold your breath when you need to breathe. Maybe words are the very air that I live on.
And then, maybe I’m too dramatic. "Words the very air I live on?" Oh come on. Still, I can’t help but sense I missed something in all my zeal not to miss something, to just live it without writing it, that maybe I didn’t live it well enough. I didn’t inhale deeply enough.
[insert deep breath here]
Looking around the airport where I am seated now, I realize that at least some of what I missed I did not really miss, that staring at the flowing water of Utah's Virgin River and a backdrop of jagged mountains is way better than what passes for commerce and society and even fashion. How trite it all seems.
There is the infernal din of CNN, the video monitors that play on even when no one is watching, the perkiness of commentators who move from the tragic to the comic with barely a blink. The other sound in my ears is that of people talking on cell phones, their private conversations suddenly and without consent a part of my world. Top it with the banal sameness of airport lounges. I could be anywhere, or nowhere. I feel small and anonymous here, small and yet known by that river, under that sky, feet treading the red dirt of earth.
[insert airline flight, a God-bless-you-honey 75 mile an hour harrowing taxi ride into downtown New Orleans, three somnolent hours in a oh-so-important seminar, and a blessed dinner with the just plain folks of a diner called "Mothers" (red beans and rice and bread pudding)]
[insert another deep breath]
I refuse to pay the Hilton $17 a day for internet access, so after dinner I hoofed it across the street and down the block-long casino cacophony of Harrods, and into a Starbucks for free access. It comes with a price though --- somewhat smokey air, a din from the slot machines and music, the whir of machines sucking Louisiana dry of money, the sober and solitary expressions of those victims perched before their fleecing robots.
But, thanks to the casino, I have a memory of Day One of our Summer vacation. We've alighted briefly, feet barely touching the ground of Las Vegas, here for one thing and one thing only, to see Cirque de Soleil's production of The Beatles Love. Oh was it good. But oh what you must endure to see it.
Some of the most poorly dressed and inadequately dressed people must visit Las Vegas. It’s a preposterous city, excessive in every way, a glittering R-rated Disneyland rising out of desert, dependent on the poor Colorado River and the pervasiveness of sin for life, a giant excuse for naughtiness by its surreal existence in a barren land, so far from home, so far from the people and responsibilities that check baser impulses. Anything goes here.
To get to the theater, which is in The Mirage hotel, you have to walk across the casino floor. What a sad and lost looking bunch of people mill about there. I explained to my children how many were at this moment squandering money that could be used to support their own families, to invest in companies, and for other worthwhile and charitable purposes, and yet here they were playing a “sucker’s game” in the hope of winning, all odds against them. Everything is geared to getting you in the game or back in the game. To get anywhere, you have to walk through the casino. Valet parking? Free. Free because if you waste time self-parking you’ll spend less time in the casino. The show? Unlike Broadway, these shows are amazing but truncated, limited to a mere 1 1/2 hours so you will return to the casino promptly to be separated from your money.
The antithesis of Vegas or Harrods New Orleans is the natural air and quiet of Utah. I love Springdale, Utah. I love Zion National Park. My favorite part of it all is the contrasts --- the red cliffs of the canyon walls against a cobalt blue sky, the green of ferns growing on a wet cliff wall, the chalky Virgin River that rushes through the canyon floor, the brilliant white of cumulus clouds floating over red mountain tops, blue pool water against stone walls. I’m listening to the thunder. It’s monsoon season here, which means occasional afternoon showers. Like that day when we took the canyon tram to the last stop, hiked in a mile on a mostly level path, and then dropped into the brisk water of the river, gingerly making our way upstream in search first of Orderville Canyon, the only break in the sheer canyon walls, and then to the aptly named Wall Street, where the canyon walls press so close, so “narrow,” the river rushing through it, wall to wall, mostly knee deep but on occasion chest high. We never made either. Short of Orderville it began to rain, and we heard thunder, and like most others in the water who had some sense we turned around and walked out, concerned about the danger of a flash flood. I found it tough going anyway. Because of the murkiness of the water, you could not see you footing, and the risk of a turned ankle or worse preoccupied me. I moved slowly.
But that was then, and this is now.
I treasure these memories of fresh air and bare earth. Little savors. Much better than the hopped-up life of the city. Full of flavors. Full of something or Someone that is for me, Who exists out there in Creation unmediated by human hands. Jesus said seek, and you will find. What do you find? You find lots of things growing. Lots of little things. You find a Kingdom without end world without end. Amen.