Winter has brought short days, cold nights, and muted colors. But even in this grey rainy gloom, you can find light. Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of hearing the pianist Roger Woodward and members of the Alexander String Quartet play Dmitri Shostakovich‘s Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Opus 67. It was January 20, 2018, the morning of the Women’s March marking a year since the Presidential inauguration. Shostakovich’s deeply moving music was inspired by the tragic discovery – as the Nazi armies retreated from their failed siege of Leningrad – of the Russian atrocities committed against Jewish People. I found the sobering music – particularly the strong chords of the opening of the third movement “Largo” appropriate for my reflections both political and personal. What was inconceivable has become all too real: capitalism flirts actively with fascism, and democracy is gravely challenged. Illness has struck my loved ones. Like standing in a field in winter, life seems almost absent. Time slips through your fingers; silence roars. Shostakovich’s music breaks your heart, but mends it just the same. Life continues, sleeping underground.
Winter is my favorite time of year; I love the journey to the year’s shortest day and the new pilgrimage for the year’s longest day. Precious the light of day and the warmth of the sun; most welcome is the night when blessed with a good book by the fire and my cat curled sleeping in my lap.
On Christmas Eve, I walked the landscape of Drakes Estero and Limantour Beach with my beloved wife and dear friend. Just a few days past the solstice the day remained short, and to commemorate the day, I made a watercolor sketch and reflected on darkness and light asking myself what can well-meaning souls do to make the world a better place?
And by a better place I mean: end the rapacious exploitation of the earth’s flora and fauna; take measures to resolve the increasing disparity between rich and poor; respect the diversity of global cultures; and stop the egregious use of violence. No small challenge. No simple answer. In fact, it sounds so impossible to resolve, I might as well give up and run away. Run as far away as possible from the suffering and the death, building tall strong walls to protect me from the pain.
It takes great courage to sit and listen to the suffering, the death, and the pain: within yourself and in others. Many of us feel compelled to fix the problems, and when we can’t we give up and salve our pain with whatever money can buy. Not knowing what to do or how to fix a problem is impossibly hard. But through my Buddhist studies, I have learned that there is a place to begin: listen, stay open minded and be generous. This is how the suffering ends and the healing starts. We are not born knowing all things, and will never learn all there is to know. Mitchell Thomashow writes in his essay Nature. Love. Medicine. Reciprocity. Generosity. “…we can cultivate generosity, open-mindedness, graciousness, and humility in the space of that glorious unknowing. I don’t have the capacity to love every species and every person, but I can develop the capacity to be more generous with those people and species that I do encounter.” Blessings on us all for this New Year!