“He had been a good man, always i think, but this tenderness was new. It was the tenderness of an old man who had been busy all his life but now had time to pay attention to useless things.” Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry.
Wendell Berry, with words that can almost make one long for old age, is describing a Kentucky farmer, one who utilized traditional methods – crop rotation, mules rather than tractors, small scale rather than industrial – and who, somewhat as a result, has become an anachronism in his time. The farmer is an honorable, thoughtful man, of few words, late in years.
And he has time “to pay attention to useless things.” Time has lost its fierce grip on him and the previously ignored has become worthy of attention and, just possibly, appreciation. By “useless,” i interpret Berry to mean objects – sunsets, spiderwebs, leaf buds, letters, running water, spoken words and facial expressions, maybe even experiences – small talk, contemplation, memory, walking, listening, which are financially meaningless and which popular culture might regard as wastes of time. Useless does not mean worthless.
And so, on this Thanksgiving Day, I hope for a heart that can regard, enjoy, be grateful for useless things.
Last week, while enjoying my time as a volunteer reader at the local elementary school, i posed a question to Mrs. Lane’s third graders, ”What are you thankful for this year, and you cannot say family or friends?” The answers were varied if somewhat predictable – food , football, books. It was good to see the children thinking “thankful.”
When the answers were all in we did something together.
For the count of 15 — which i measured slowly – we all held our eyes wide open without blinking (all tried, few succeeded). And then we talked about the gift of blinking.
“What would happen if we could never blink our eyes, if that little, tiny muscle, wherever it is, that lets us close our eyes?
“Your eyes would sting.”
“Your eyes would get red.”
“Your eyes would dry out and turn into jelly.”
“You would get blind!”
“You could never sleep.”
We concluded that we should be thankful for that little tiny muscle, wherever it is, that lets us close our eyes.
For the blink muscle which, like so many other useless, undetected, under-appreciated, taken-for-granted things, let me give thanks.
For smaller and smaller gifts, LORD, make me thankful. And make us wise to see that no gifts are small.
PS – December 4, 2008 –
The gift of blink, was front and center to a movie that I watched last night. “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” is an adaptation of the memoir of Jean Dominique Bauby, editor of Elle magazine in Paris, who, at age 42, suffered a massive stroke that rendered him totally paralyzed. For the rest of his life, his active mind and body were hostage to “locked in syndrome.” His escape came through blinking.
The one muscle movement that allowed him to communicate with the world outside his mind and body, even allowing him to dictate the memoir, was that of opening and closing his left eye. One blink for “yes” and two for “no.” Quite a remarkable story, if tragic. (The movie is in French with subtitles and is a
movie for adults.)