“I am grateful, not in order that my neighbour, provoked by the earlier act of compassion, might be more prepared to benefit me, however merely in order that I might perform a most lovely and pleasant act,” Seneca composed two centuries earlier as he contemplated thankfulness and what it implies to be a generous human.
It is only from such a place of gratitude that we can carry out gorgeous acts– from a place of absolute, ravishing gratitude for the sheer marvel of being alive at all, each people a short-term and unlikely triumph over the incredible chances of nonbeing and nothingness inking the ledger of spacetime. However because we are human, since we are batted about by the violent immediacies of everyday life, such thankfulness eludes us as a constant state of being. We access it only at moments, just when the trance of busyness lifts and the blackout drape of day-to-day needs parts to let the glow in, those delicious minutes when we find ourselves awash in nonspecific gladness, grateful not to this person, grateful not for this turn of occasions, however grateful at life– a scattered gratitude that irradiates every aspect and atom of the world, nevertheless little, however typical, however covered with the dull patina of routine. In those moments, everything sings, whatever shimmers. In those minutes, we are most alive.
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins shines a playful sidewise gleam on this realest and most severe wellspring of gratitude in his 1998 poem “As If to Demonstrate an Eclipse,” found in his poetry collection Nine Horses (public library) and brought to life afresh, with a corona of radiance and a perfectly adjusted performance partway in between wink and wonderment, by continuous comic and sometime StarTalk Radio co-host Chuck Nice at the 3rd annual Universe in Verse, prefaced by his poignant and funny meditation on the individual gravity of gratitude and why being grateful is “one of the most powerful things that any someone can do.” Please enjoy:
It is just from such a location of gratitude that we can perform gorgeous acts– from a location of outright, ravishing appreciation for the sheer marvel of being alive at all, each of us a short-term and unlikely triumph over the staggering odds of nonbeing and nothingness inking the journal of spacetime. Since we are human, since we are batted about by the violent immediacies of everyday life, such thankfulness eludes us as a constant state of being. We access it just at moments, just when the hypnotic trance of busyness lifts and the blackout drape of everyday demands parts to let the radiance in, those scrumptious minutes when we discover ourselves awash in nonspecific gladness, grateful not to this individual, grateful not for this turn of occasions, however grateful at life– a scattered appreciation that irradiates every element and atom of the world, however small, however average, nevertheless coated with the dull patina of routine.
Enhance with Billy Collinss homage to Aristotle, then savor other highlights from The Universe in Verse– my yearly charitable event of the science and splendor of life through poetry: Patti Smith reading Emily Dickinsons ode to how the world holds together, astronaut Leland Melvin checking out Pablo Nerudas love letter to the forest, astronomer Natalie Batalha reading Dylan Thomass cosmic serenade to trees and the marvel of being human, astrophysicist Janna Levin reading astronomer-poet Rebecca Elsons staggering “Antidotes to Fear of Death,” and an awesome animation of Marie Howes poem “Singularity.”.
IF TO DEMONSTRATE AN ECLIPSEby Billy Collins, as
I pick an orange from a wicker basketand place it on the tableto represent the sun.Then down at the other enda blue and white marblebecomes the earthand close-by I lay the little moon of an aspirin.
I get a glass from a cabinet, open a bottle of white wine, then I sit in a ladder-back chair, a benevolent god presidingover a miniature creation misconception,
and I begin to singa homemade canticle of thanksfor this perfect little plan, for not making the earth coldnot or too hot making it spin too quick or slow
so that the grove of orange treesand the owl ended up being possible, not to point out the rolling wave, the play of clouds, geese in flight, and the Z of lightning on a dark lake.
I fill my glass againand offer thanks for the trout, the oak, and the yellow plume,
singing the room full of shadows, as sun and earth and mooncircle one another in their flawless orbitsand I get more and more cockeyed with thankfulness.