"One wanted, she thought, dipping her brush deliberately, to be on level with ordinary experience, to feel simply that's a chair, that's a table, and yet at the same time,
It's a miracle, it's an ecstasy."
In reflecting on the act of finding beauty, meaning, and the sacred in the ordinary: a blackberry, a bush, I am reminded of this passage from Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse (202).
Finding joy in the ordinary, the every day, is both a starting point and a wellspring of gratitude and awe. It can heighten into art an otherwise seemingly humdrum hour: this propensity to be arrested by simple things. A certain glorious cast of morning light falling just so upon a flower or lighting up a cat's ear, setting it aglow. The sun through the fuzz on a baby's head, creating a cheerful halo. The flecks of golden light in the hazel eyes of the person to whom we are speaking or the rush of freckles lining their cheeks.
To press into Woolf's suggestion that more mundane objects can inspire elation: think for a moment about a sturdy wooden table. This utilitarian and perhaps lovely, perhaps unlovely, object is made from a tree. And think what miracle is a tree! Think with what skill this useful object has been rendered from a tree: with what impossible perfect workings of the human body's systems to cut, to whittle, to shape, to mold, to hammer. How many years did that tree grow where it did? Presiding over the immature sapling, the fallen dead wood, the chipmunk, the porcupine, the mounded dunes of maple and oak leaves. And now, a table stands before you. Inviting you to eat, to sit, to discuss with family or friends, to place your book upon it, your laptop, to think. Perhaps not at first, but when we slow down and open ourselves up enough to appreciate all the glory that surrounds us, we can think "that's a chair, that's a table, and yet at the same time, It's a miracle, it's an ecstasy."
I have never forgotten my first reading of "Fulbright Scholars," a Ted Hughes poem in Birthday Letters. What sticks with me most is Hughes' description of his first tasting of a peach at Charing Cross station, his recollection of being able to "hardly believe how delicious" it was.
"At twenty-five I was dumbfounded afresh
By my ignorance of the simplest things."
It's a gift, I think, to live "dumbfounded afresh" by simple things, things we could easily be only half cognizant of much of the time. These sudden bursts, sudden jolts of recognition of the majesty before us, are moments when we are like children again: seeing unveiled, with 20/20 wonder, the blue vein on a loved one's temple, the spores lacing the back of a fern,
and feeling and tasting, with undulled sense, a peach's velvet-sweet tang upon the tongue.