I’m fascinated by snippets of strangers’ conversations. On sidewalks and in stores, I listen by chance to the sounds of people’s lives. Since I lack context, most meaning I draw from their words is only imagined. Listening brings me more amusement than understanding.
Today I’m standing in a grocery store line, noticing how the social-distancing markers on the floor resemble actors’ stage marks. I think to myself: This is a very strange play we’re in, but at least the theater sells cheese. I let my mind wander until a voice behind me cuts in.
“Gonna take somebody who can walk on water to get us out of this mess,” a man says to someone I can’t see. I have no idea which mess he’s referring to, but there are plenty. I could guess which water walker he means, but I might be wrong about that too. I simply step forward onto the next grocery actor’s marker, speak my lines, and go.
I decide the man’s voice was a cue to visit ones I know who can walk on water. Perhaps they can lead us out of one mess or another.
The water striders await me on the creek, right where I knew they’d be. Their lives are simple and consistent. They aren’t deterred from their purpose by our messes. That reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a friend, in which we agreed that our purpose hasn’t been changed by the world’s new disruptions. If anything, our purpose has only been strengthened by the new urgency of crisis. We’re still here to contribute what we came to create, give, love. The water striders are right: simplicity and consistency will lead us forward. We don’t have to design or solve the world, just live gracefully within it.
It’s a miracle to me that insects with little to no mind can accomplish what we can’t, in walking on water. I watch as other natural miracles are performed by different small creatures nearby. Birds soar above gravity. Frogs walk easily up vertical stone. Squirrels high in trees fearlessly leap from branch to tiny branch. There is a miracle within every life.
The creekside air is pure, and I breathe into how the pandemic shutdown has created a steep drop in air pollution and traffic snarls. It clarifies how many problems we can solve by doing less rather than more. By needing less and having less, our purpose is often fulfilled with more ease. The water striders would only sink if they carried money.
Yet there are limits to this. I think of friends who lost all they owned in this summer’s fires, and the deep damage to their lives. I doubt it’s what John Lennon imagined when singing, “Imagine no possessions…” It’s hard to sweep away the ashes when even your broom has burned.
The creek sings to me softly. Listening to it brings more insight than conversational snippets. Nature is a sacred context, offering pure wordless wisdom. To celebrate nature is to celebrate wisdom itself. Celebration becomes a meditation that reveals the depth of all spirit and soul.
The more closely I look into the creekside world, the more guidance I find for moving through messy days. The grocery store voice was right. I return to knowing what my next steps are, in fulfilling my own simple purpose. Sitting still is the most productive thing I’ve done all day. Silence will always be the wisest thing I’ve ever said.