On a sunny day on a visit to Seattle, I woke heavy-hearted, as the clouds in my head made me feel cold. Susan said, “Let’s go for a walk.” We ambled down University Street toward the harbor. Crossing Third Ave, she spotted the top of an enormous Ferris wheel poking above the buildings blocks away and exclaimed, “C’mon! Let’s find it!”
So we made our way to the pier. It took thirty minutes. And there was the Great Wheel, seven or eight stories high, painted white. We eagerly bought tickets and waited on line. The prospect of being lifted off the earth into the open made me feel lighter. Once the ride began, we were swaying in a glass gondola, rising above the harbor. To the left, we could see docked tankers, the sun wavering off their slick hulls. At the top, I looked to the right and there, bright waves of light were flooding into the glass windows of a boathouse. This wasn’t just a reflection but a threshold, a bright, compelling seam to the numinous world that informs everything.
From above the harbor, the sun reflecting off the water on the boathouse windows revealed a world of emanation that lies just below all that is physical. Swaying atop the Ferris wheel, I felt those windows open into a sea of shimmer. For me, this wasn’t an illusion or an alternate world to escape to, but a glimpse of the ineffable depth that lines the daily world we all move through.
It seems to me that the Impressionist painters, like Monet, Van Gogh, and Pissarro, tried to paint such openings wherever light let them glimpse the deeper world. They captured the shimmer of being in their magnificent attempts to paint light. Monet’s paintings of the Rouen Cathedral shimmer like these boathouse windows seen from the top of the Ferris wheel. As do Van Gogh’s wheat fields and cypress trees. As do Pissarro’s sunlit meadows.
This moment in Seattle was the culmination of different efforts that helped me see into the depth of things that day. First was the effort to outlast my heavy-heartedness and find my way, with Susan’s help, into the open. Then the effort to wait for the edges of things to line up: the Great Wheel had to rise above the day, the clouds needed to part, the sun needed to shine through, the waters needed to calm, the time of day needed to slow. And then, I had to be in the right position to see all the way through, the way you need to bend and close one eye to look through a hole in a fence.
The deeper world is always there, knowable and reachable. It is we who by turns miss it and stumble into it.
A Question to Walk With: Tell the story of a moment that has stayed with you though you can’t quite make sense of it.
Last month, Atria published my new book, The One Life We’re Given: Finding the Wisdom that Waits in Your Heart. To make the most of being here, we’re required to learn when to try and when to let go. This is our initiation into grace. The gift and practice of being human centers on the effort to restore what matters and, when in trouble, to make good use of our heart. No one quite knows how to do this, but learn it we must. There is no other way. By fully living the one life we’re given, we’re led to the wisdom that waits in our heart. The above piece is an excerpt from the book.
For more poetry for the soul, click here.
For more by Mark Nepo, click here.
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