One of my favorite writers, the melancholy anthropologist Loren Eiseley, wrote an essay called “The Most Perfect Day in the World”. In it, he describes a day when, utterly impoverished and riding freight trains across the country, he and a friend stopped in a small town on a sunny day, pooled their resources to buy a case of grape soda, and lay on the grass in the shade of a big tree all day, drinking soda and watching the clouds. This notion of perfection would not suit everyone, but it strikes me as a fine expression of the pure enjoyment of living: when time stops and you can live in this one moment, freed from fear and worry.
Today I am home from the office, ostensibly to proof my manuscript. But I have not done much work. It is a delightfully cool, breezy June morning, the first time that sunshine has combined with the full fresh bloom of early summer. The dogs and I lolled on the grass before attacking the long list of procrastination–I mean errands–on my list. I walked in the garden where the irises are an edible deep purple, the pink roses are in bud, and the peonies are tight balls waiting to burst. I rambled out to the garage to find the loppers to prune the dead branches from the climbing rose on the arbor, and wrestled them to the ground without too many thorn pricks. It is impossible to breathe in the air on day like this without experiencing a deep sense of wonder and gratitude. This is how I would like to spend my mornings forever.
But the day’s beauty makes a hard contrast to the suffering happening in this moment in other parts of the world, of the people who are terrified, in pain, in fear of horrible deaths, in an agony of despair for their futures. Marcus Aurelius counsels the practice of these contrasts as a method of valuing each moment of life and of inuring the soul against too much dependence on the vagaries of fortune. I read his teachings, and I have tried to absorb them. And I believe that we must all do what we can to make what we touch better, and to broaden our reach to others. But I think that modern angst is the result of our knowing too much about the suffering we cannot control. We are bombarded by war and poverty and natural disasters in every corner of the world, by the sufferings of people and the sufferings of animals. There is no doubt that we are meant to endure the suffering around us. But the suffering of the whole world is not a burden a human being can bear.
And so, Pete, and Moses and I will go out into the orchard and play ball in the sunshine, grateful for our blessings. But I will also offer my prayers for the souls in the dark, knowing that I am helpless to give them any relief. For us, it is the most beautiful day in the world. And that is how it has to be.