Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dappled Things

By Liz Adair

Last Wednesday, I sat around a fake campfire with my seminary students, and we spent the entire fifty minutes taking turns saying what we were thankful for. It’s a yearly tradition. I bring as many blankets and pillows as I can fit in my car, and the kids snuggle in, wrapping themselves in the warmth of the quilts and the spirit of the Comforter that is surely there with us. Several of the kids say that it’s their favorite seminary lesson of the whole year.

So, I’ve had thankfulness on my mind, but I’ve been struggling with how to say what I wanted to say in this Thanksgiving blog. I went to bed mulling it over, and woke with “Pied Beauty” running through my head. This poem, written by Gerard Manly Hopkins, a 19th Century Jesuit priest and poet, has always been a favorite of mine. It goes like this:

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

As I woke to, ‘praise be to God for dappled things’ (well, yes, I quoted it wrong in my memory), I thought, That’s it! I’m sooooo grateful for the swift/slow, sweet/sour, adazzle/dim parts of my life. Lehi told his son Jacob that ‘it must needs be that there was an opposition in all things’ as we live our lives. He was speaking about choosing good from evil, but I think opposition can cast the good in bold relief and cause us to be grateful.

My seminary kids were blown away when I said I was thankful for pizza, because I was eighteen before I had my first taste of that delightful dish. Here are some other things I’m grateful for:

I’m thankful for copy machines. When I was sixteen and worked in the typing pool at the Bureau of Reclamation, you had three options for copies: 1) carbon paper, and woe betide the person who made a mistake, because you had to erase all those copies, too (and you’d better put a shield in, or your erasure would smudge the sheets lying behind), 2) thermo fax, the newest in copying, a heat-sensitive film that became brittle and disintegrated before the year was out, 3) copy-eze, also a technological breakthrough, a 3-part photographic process that resulted in a wet copy that wrinkled as it dried. Cumbersome as it was, we were grateful for the copy-eze, because that meant we could copy any document instead of having to create a copy on the typewriter.

I’m thankful for forced-air furnaces. Growing up in rural New Mexico, we had small (unvented) space heaters, and though I remember with nostalgia my knees burning as I sat close and stared at the patterned glow of the ceramic backing, I remember how cold my backside was at the same time. Long live central heating!

I’m grateful for the infrastructure we have for electric power and water. My father worked construction, and several summers we lived where there were no utilities. The company hauled water in on a truck, and we carried it to our domicile (one year a tent, another, a home-made trailer house) in a galvanized bucket. My father made a food cooler out of a frame covered with burlap bags that wicked moisture out of a pan and evaporated it into the air. My job was to wash the chimneys of the kerosene lamps we used in the evening. And, of course, our bathroom was at the end of a path into the woods.

I’m grateful for Skype. With that free, downloadable program and an internet connection, I can talk to my son, who’s studying in Egypt, for hours on end without charge. As soon as he gets a webcam, I’ll be able to see him. My gratitude for this is heightened as I remember my parents’ five years in Afghanistan where it took three weeks for a letter to arrive and no phone service was available at any price.

And phones! You don’t have to be very old to remember when there were no cell phones. But I remember lots of years without a phone in our house. And then, when we got one, we had a four-party line, and when anyone on the line got a call, it rang in every house. Our ring was two shorts and a long. I remember the joy of getting a single party line, where no one could listen in on my conversation, and I didn’t have to note the ring pattern to know if it was for me or not.

There are so many more things to remember, lights and darks in the pattern of my life. The sweets that are sweeter because of the sour, the dazzles that are brighter because of the dimness. I've touched on conveniences here rather than social and family relations, health, and economic well being, but there have been couple-colors there too, and I'm grateful for the hard times as well as the good.

I love Hopkins’ penultimate line, “He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change,” because of all that it suggests to me about the nature of God.

And I do praise Him.

6 comments:

  1. Liz, your beautiful thoughts and words are perfect for this Sabbath day. They were exactly what I needed to hear.

    My little grandsons are sporting colds today, so we are snuggling in and avoiding spreading the germs and the risk of bringing more home to the new baby. Two in the nursery (kati now has 3 boys in diapers) would bring a slew of unwelcome invisible pests. Your blog was the icing for my personal study while the boys are resting.
    Thank you!

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  2. Liz, thank you thank you for quoting that poem. It is one of my forever favorites, too. I loved your blog, the things you are grateful for are so many things we take for granted. I wonder what our next generation will be grateful for, what new will come along - or perhaps it will be the deletion of some of the temptations our youth face now.

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  3. Thanks, Liz, for reminding me, not only of Gerald Manley Hopkins' poem, but of my childhood, my secretary years, and of how much I appreciate the contrasts in life. I've seen and loved many.

    This poem was in a Relief Society lesson I taught. I got very little from it on first reading, but by the time I memorized it, I loved it.

    I bonded even further with you as I read your blog. I relived my growing-up years on an Idaho farm in a tiny house with no electricity. I remember the struggle to make carbon copies. Or to remove the typewriter ribbon and cut stencils. My boss laughed because I could never mimeograph a ream or so without getting ink on my face. Or again, I put a steel roller in to literally bang out a letter with ten carbon copies. If I made even one little mistake, I had to start over. Much later, how could I, a mother of seven, possibly have made it through college without a computer? To add to or take anything out of a report, the whole thing had to be typed all over.

    But we did it. It's been wonderful to live in the generation that weathered the Great Depression, World War II, and all the ups and downs since. Wouldn't have missed it for anything, but neither would I want to go back.

    Yes, I echo your sentiment. We glory in God, who 'fathers forth' to bless us.

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  4. What a great blog. I found it tonight while googling Tender Mercies. I felt incredibly thankful today for Heavenly Father's Tender Mercies that He has given me. I wondered if I could find my own blog by googling my name and Tender Mercies. I am so excited to have found you ladies and ANWA tonight!

    Just one question, how do you write your own blogs, and keep up with all the amazing ones out there? I've been so distracted by it all that I don't seem to find time to write mine.

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  5. Deadlines, Terry. Deadlines! We each have a day to blog, and there's something marvelous about that deadline that spurs each to action. And...we don't want to let Marsha down.

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  6. I can understand not wanting to let someone else down. I do great when I have an assignment, but alas, now I have to give myself assignments. I'm a pretty slack professor with myself.

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