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The Simple and God-Awful Truth

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Outrage fades in summer lassitude, summer bliss, pain, forgetfulness….

There's plenty to get worked up about, sure, but not now, not yet, I tell myself as this column's deadline approaches.

I'm supposed to speak truth to power, but can't seem to work up the old outrage, though there's no end of things to get angry about. Dictatorship dawns, accountability drowns, horrific weapons leap from drawing boards, perfected and sold, treasuries and precious lives get squandered for a pocketful of platitudes and lies. World War III starts to leave the planning stage somewhere in Cheney-land and yet…

It's all beside the point, just now. Just now....

Just now I want to bask in reflected glow from Edisto, a darkly bright southern island off low-country coasts 30 miles south of Charleston, a scant six or seven hours from Knoxville. You drive half of them threading high peaks eastward around Newport, Asheville, Black Mountain, Hendersonville and Blue Ridge regions of Tennessee and North Carolina. Then you coast on down through rolling Piedmont terrain of South Carolina, over plains, swamps, through woodlands where Spanish moss haunts and feasts on live-oak trees. Their branches rise and fall to meander along "uttering green leaves" in the words of Walt Whitman. Palm trees thrust up now to proclaim fountains of fronds above sandy terrain swarming with fiddler crabs, frogs, sandy empires of ants, beneath skies beaded with pelicans, egrets, ravens and gulls.

Leave here in the afternoon, as Jeanne and I usually do despite our best efforts, and you'll arrive in darkness. Park on beach-access grounds and open doors to ceaseless songs of an ocean that has a name only if you think about it. If conditions are right you'll stroll under far-flung galaxies of outrageous radiance washing all horizons. Such constellations also have names only if you arrange them into dipper, bear, goose, queen, warrior or river. Yet something's lost in that transaction, some greater glory.

If you're lucky beyond belief, as we've been twice in 20 years in just this way, you'll reach the sea in time to witness a dark mound and limbs of a great mama loggerhead--fresh from laying and covering dozens of eggs. She's nudging toward sparkling surf to rejoin the sea in answer to urges old as the moon, just rising.

Pitch your tent in the state's campground, other side of a single dune's lush rise from the sea, then sleep and lose yourself to dreams laid down in brush stroke after brush stroke by master composers.

Ah, don't we need this, dear? It's been a tough few weeks, with a friend in hospice, dear friends losing parents, your mother sick with heart ailments, a world growing weary and cynical, squandering last chances? Forget about it, darling, bask in dreams of Edisto….

Beware. Mosquitoes can be thick and ornery, temperatures oppressive. Thunderstorms might turn your campsite into an island, but if you know what you're doing, crosswinds and common sense can carry you, cool you, protect you, so that transcendence may be yours from time to time.

Don't wait until you've changed the world to seek such bliss says Joseph Campbell, the philosopher whose voice on CD informed our journey to and from Edisto. Rather, recognize what Hindus and Buddhists acknowledge. Life is part bliss, part monstrosity. Even if you long to make the world a better place, begin with knowledge that corruption will always be a part of it. Life feeds on life. It's the great tragedy and glory of living. You'll never change that.

No, never wait until you've changed the world to embrace its granduer, implores Campbell's gregarious voice—a voice which, if it were an eye, would twinkle. Rather, embrace the beauty, the wonder, the monstrous glory.

And so I do from time to time. Maybe that's why my first blog entry for began like this: "Two days ago as this is written, my wife Jeanne and I were kayaking amidst 20 or so glistening, feasting and amorous dolphins off the coast of Edisto, South Carolina. It was otherworldly. They were chattering, blowing, leaping, plunging, as they shot in and out of the waves, tails slapping water in courtship dalliance--and something even more remarkable--rounding up fish to drive onto an island beach, then hydroplaning onto the sand to feast on the catch. Maybe you've seen the recent 'Planet Earth' or other documentaries about this unusual learned behavior. We exulted in the awesome power and beauty of the sea...."

Sure, it was an odd first-entry for a mostly political blog, but in planning for all the things I want my blog to be, this sense of wonder and love for the world must be primary. It's the birthing grounds, after all, for longing, sorrow, hope and outrage.

I don't know about you, but it's the part of myself that's also contained in the most distant star, the most ancient ocean, the most fragrant flower, the hungriest mouth, the most alien concept that sings its truth most insistently. The outrage, anger, despair and joy that carry me through each succeeding day to "the last syllable of recorded time" in the words of Shakespeare, all spring from love of this good earth, this glorious and awful cosmos.

It's a love my dear aging Mama taught me, and teaches me still in walks in the woods, tours of her gardens, the songs she sings. As this is written she's touring San Francisco, Big Sur and redwood forests with my sister Kathleen—a land conservationist, surprise.

It's a love my late Daddy knew. He could call birds down from the trees with his songs.

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Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, short story writer, freelancer, and the founding editor and publisher of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of literary stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the (more...)
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