Don't Let the Cynics Get You Down

Wednesday, March 2, 2016 - 6:05am

Don't Let the Cynics Get You Down

Here's a gorgeous poem to remind us that what the world calls a visual aberration, an affliction, or just plain wacko, might be a different way of seeing — a way that reveals realities not normally seen:

Monet Refuses the Operation
by Lisel Mueller, from Second Language

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

Artists like Monet and van Gogh saw the world in a way that was once rejected as crazy. But their work came to be prized in every meaning of that word. This Monet masterpiece is called "Parliament in London," part of the priceless collection at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.

You may not be a visual artist. But if you're one of those "crazy" people who sees hopeful possibilities in a world that others claim is going to hell in a handbasket, don't let the cynics do eye surgery on you!

You won't become as famous as Monet, but you'll achieve something equally important. You'll open other people's eyes to the daily opportunities we all have to help make this world a more life-giving place for all concerned.

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Parker J. Palmer

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.


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This was such a better start to the day than watching CNN recaps of Super Tuesday. Thank you for helping to restore balance.

Perception is significant, and this is a beautiful expression of the value of seeing the possible.
Thank you!

Monet and Parker...two of my favorites! On the day after Super Tuesday this is so appreciated! I voted my vision of what could be and believe in my heart America is. Thanks for the reminder to keep feeling the burn of my heartfelt beliefs!

"You'll open other people's eyes . . ." Thank you, Parker! Some days I need this to re-center on life's priorities.

oh, parker. i love this so much. "I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other." i'm an artist. i'm crazy. and i will not, cannot return. it's heaven all the way to heaven!

I'm an eternal, some might say 'infernal', optimist. Not that I see the world through the proverbial rose colored glasses. But I do try to see that world as it is while hoping for the best. Tom, cynicism is too easy. At most, all a cynic has to do is complain. All too often, it's just a rationalization to do nothing. I understand that the world can seem, and be, overwhelming. But to remain static in the face of the ever-shifting world is to give. And I refuse to do that.

Dear Parker, thank you, thank you ,thank you!
for your understanding about a different way to see.
It is such a great poem!
You once again are sharing such timely teaching!
My gratitude for reminding us of the daily opportunities we all have indeed,to help make this world a more life-giving place for all!
Allow me to share some of my favorite quotes:

All by Fyodor Dostoevsky:

"To live without Hope
is to Cease to live."

"It is by Beauty that the world will be saved."

Love all that has been created by God,
both the whole and every grain of sand.
Love every leaf and every ray of light.
Love the beasts and the birds,
Love the plants,love every seperate fragment.
If you love each fragment
you will understand
the mystery of the whole
resting in God."

with gratitude,

Given the context of the past several days of political mayhem, I found a sense of solace and of hope by reading and re-reading this paragraph from Marilynne Robinson's book The Givenness of Things.

When I read your piece this morning, I was reminded of the words once again. I hope that it will be meaningful to you as well.

…We poor dwellers in history. To what can our situation be compared? Only to earlier history.

Recurrences, atavisms, are by no means uniquely, or even especially, an American phenomenon. What are we to do? Prayer would be appropriate, and reflection. We should take very seriously what the dreadful past can tell us about our blindnesses and predilections. The haunting fact is that we are morally free. If everyone around us is calling for Barabbas, it is only probable, never necessary, that some of us join in. Since we have not yet burned the taper of earthly existence down to its end, we still have time to muster the dignity and graciousness and courage that are uniquely our gift. If we are making the last testament to the nature of human life, or if we are only one more beleaguered generation in a series whose end we cannot foresee, each of us and all of us know what human beauty would look like. We could let it have its moment. Fine, but would this solve the world’s problems? It might solve a good many of them, I think.

The Givenness of Things
Marilynne Robinson

Thank you for seizing those "daily opportunities" and so generously sharing your vision.