The world is out of balance. And yet most of us have little connection to nature, at a time when an understanding of the natural world appears more crucial than it ever has before.
The climate change talks sponsored by the United Nations begin in Copenhagen tomorrow, in an atmosphere of confusion and anger.
What do we owe to one another, as human beings? What do we owe to our planet?
I have no proper answer. It's overwhelming. And when I'm overwhelmed, when I find I can't take refuge from reality any longer - by messing around on the Internet or getting caught up in the holiday "spirit" or just retreating into the everyday rhythms of life - I turn to poetry. This week it's been Rainer Maria Rilke whose words have been haunting and helping me.
In his early Book of Hours, Rilke writes about his conception of God - not as an all-powerful deity, but as a manifestation of humanity at its best (those are my words, and I am sure Rilke would put it better). Therefore God is near:
You, Neighbor God, if sometimes in the night
I rouse you with loud knocking, I do so
only because I seldom hear you breathe
and know: you are alone.
And should you need a drink, no one is there
to reach it to you, groping in the dark.
Always I hearken. Give but a small sign.
I am quite near.
Between us there is but a narrow wall,
and by sheer chance; for it would take
merely a call from your lips or from mine
to break it down,
and that without a sound.
- From Poems from the Book of Hours, translated by Babette Deutsch.
New York: New Directions, 2009.
What I take from Rilke, and from others I've been reading this week - from Keats, Auden, Donne - is this: each of us has to be our brother's keeper, our sister's keeper. Which does not mean that we are obliged to leave our own lives and loves behind. It means we have to do what we're capable of, steadily and calmly.
What words help you get through when times are hard?