On the floor of the room where I write, a little round rug, a souvenir from the trip to Las Vegas where we saw the Cirque du Soleil “Love” show, proclaims “ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE” in friendly capital letters. The rug was expensive as souvenirs go, but Fred and I both knew when we saw it that it belonged in our home.
Lately I’ve been caught up in the gentle things of the world. I proctor a study hall every other day at work. Ninth graders who are finding their way in the world of high school come for about forty-five minutes, take out their books, and, for the most part, study. We meet in a beautiful classroom; sunlight pours in from a wall of windows overlooking a grassy quad. It’s peaceful in study hall.
Sometimes when I’m working at home in my office, my dog comes in and stretches out on the love rug. When he does this while I’m practicing the violin, I know that what the rug says is true.
Last week in study hall, the students were playful. Ninth grade homework must have been light. They were playing on their phones, I was pretending not to notice, and Google was celebrating its 15th birthday with a piñata doodle. (If you know what I’m talking about, let me just say that I stopped at 48 candies. I was proud of my restraint.) One of the boys announced, in my favorite part of study hall that happens after the kids are free to go and four or five of them stay around and argue about math formulae, that he had just realized that “If Google played soccer, he’d be on my team.” This is what it means to be fifteen.
Sometimes after I play my violin for too long, when I’ve gotten obsessed by the challenge of shifting to play an A harmonic in tune, or when I’m trying to memorize Beethoven’s Minuet in G without sounding like the band in The Music Man, I lie on the rug and stretch. After freeing my neck and shoulders, I press up into downward dog. Sometimes, if Rusty has stuck around for the whole practice, he walks under my downward dog, stretches effortlessly into his own, folds his paws, and settles like a sausage in the space between my body and the love rug.
This past weekend, the Animal Injustice Prevention Society at my school held a dog-a-thon to raise money for Watermelon Ranch, a no-kill animal shelter. Kids in purple t-shirts filled a grassy field with plastic kiddy-pools full of soapy water. Happy dogs meandered among the pools after their baths, sniffing, licking, frolicking, loving strangers indiscriminately. It was Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grand Jatte come to life, tempered with Chicago’s Saturday in the Park, a song I danced to with an umbrella in Susan Pierson’s basement, when I was even younger than those kids in my study hall. I want to say to them now, “Listen, children, all is not lost, all is not lost, oh no, no…”
Sometimes in the room with the “All you need is love” rug I read the news on my iPad. This is where I am when I read the Pope’s interview in America and feel myself beginning to forgive the Catholic Church for not being a place I could stay. This is also where I read about the recent death of a dear friend’s wife, and where some mornings I read from “My Daily Spiritual Companion,” a little red journal my uncle Larry gave me last year after my Uncle Don died. Sometimes in this room I notice the night lifting, or the white plum casting shadow shapes, or something Rilke said, like “I am learning to see. Yes, I am beginning. It’s still going badly. But I intend to make the most of my time.”
Last Sunday I could feel my body vibrate as I sang. I have been feeling my breath deepen as time expands out to the horizon and ebbs, leaving me, sometimes gentled, sometimes sad. I have been reading the letters my mother sent to her mother from Germany in the late fifties. In April, 1953, she writes that she lives near the site of the Battle of the Bulge and sees the soldiers clearing landmines. “Don’t worry,” she tells her mother, “they don’t let you go where they aren’t sure it’s safe.”
Do you know that if you Google “gentle poems,” thinking that this time you’ll reach beyond your bookshelves to ground your meandering thoughts, the first fifteen entries will be Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night,” even though you were determined, this one time, to write about something other than the fact that after we live, we die? Do you know that the next entry takes you to a link to The Guardian, and a story about Taliban poetry, where you will read, “Evening the twilight arrives slowly with its lap full of red flowers”?
It is still true that the world is hard. Tonight as I write, the government remains shut down. No one seems to know how to get from here to the day after tomorrow. Recently, though, when it seemed as though we were about to bomb Syria, it became possible to believe that all that needed to happen to prevent war was for the pope to lead a day of prayer and the American people to lose their taste for killing.
Some early mornings I sit on a zafu on my little blue “all you need is love” rug with the dog breathing beside me and I believe.