How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!
— by Robert Louis Stevenson
When I was a young girl, sitting in the back seat of our family Studebaker while my father drove my brother, my mother, and me through the vast canyons above Salt Lake City for a Sunday outing, or swinging alone in our butterfly-filled backyard under poplar trees in my creaking metal swing set, dreaming of nothing, I’d suddenly feel a sharp, sweet ache suffuse my entire being. Sometimes the feeling was so intense I’d have to close my eyes to contain it, this sense of overwhelm at the beauty of the world. It was a big, big feeling, an involuntary full-body gasp of delight and also — I think — a tandem hit of fear that it was all too wonderful to be true, the earth, this life; that it might somehow disappear in an instant at the snap of some distant high god’s casual fingers.
I can recall the faded days of childhood only in flickering inner snapshots, but I remember that swooping wonder clearly, although the memory is only a pale echo of what I once felt so fiercely. The sights and sounds and smells and touch of life, which a child’s fresh senses drink in, translate effortlessly into love of the world. All lucky children share that early awe and ecstasy. They feel, we once felt, that to exist on this earth we are made for is joy.
I thought of that childhood sensation recently in the context of all the children coming to consciousness now who can’t comfort themselves, as I once did in my innocent ignorance, by saying: it’s OK, it will go on, and on and on and on … this heart-stopping precious world and the lives that are nurtured by it. Because now, we do not know if this is true.
Last week, when Engaging the Senses Foundation posted in support of the Climate Strike spearheaded by young people who should still be dreaming of forever, we received lots of responses from people who angrily denounced the movement, the reality of climate change, the “stupidity” of those who believe in it. As so many in this time of acute discord do, we felt the sting of their harsh attacks. But we didn’t engage in ideological debate with the commenters —preferring always to spend our energy on meaningful action — although others coming to our page did, leading to curses and arguments between people holding very different beliefs and agendas. We deleted the comments and the arguments without engaging in what seems like the online equivalent of people screaming at each other with their hands over their ears. And we deleted without censure, because if there is one thing we love as passionately as we love this world, it’s holding compassion for the world and all those beings who walk (crawl, swim, fly) it.
So here, again, we pledge ourselves not to argument but to opening hearts and minds through poetry and art, to sending out shafts of beauty, of tenderness and our belief in real communication. No wisdom is shared without kindness. No knowledge is imparted without mutual respect, without listening, to one another, to the earth. While we will always speak up for the truths we know, like the reality of climate change, and work for the changes we believe in, we will not fight. Instead, we’ll continue to stand in whatever light we find and to share it, as far as we are able. Just as the wild things do, who love this world unceasingly and do no harm.
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break