Bittersweet Beauty

Bittersweet Beauty September 19, 2019

Guan Yin

Philodendron leaf
pales with fall
or because he shelters
a Goddess and wants
to become one with her
on these frail gray days
when we sink
toward darkness
and only an inner light beams
from Guan Yin’s face
upon my altar.

The white Goddess tilts
her head listening
(I like to think
she listens for my poems)
as she has listened to human
cries throughout millennia
ever steady font of mercy,
hand poised in blessing,
sea shell birthing compassion
for our wan souls.

from The Pantyhose Declarationsby Nan Lundeen

Bittersweet Beauty

Sunday was one of those perfect almost-autumn days here in southwest Michigan. The light hit the trees at a slant but full spectrum like the light promised at the end of our lives. Driving down an expressway toward home, I crossed the St. Joseph River and there the slant light struck a tall fulsome maple that wore a red beret tucked sideways above her green face.

It had rained most of the night and all morning. By 2 p.m., the temperature sat at 73 degrees F., a light breeze stirred leaves, making swoosh sounds, and the air was fresh.

I wanted it to last forever—this day—this beauty.

As we celebrate Fall Equinox, all seems in balance here although I know many parts of the world face extreme weather. As equal day and night arrives, we turn our minds to balance once again as we did at Vernal Equinox.

Is it too much to hope that our biosphere’s delicate balance knocked off kilter by the burning of fossil fuels will return?

I have chosen a poem honoring Guan Yin, Asian goddess of compassion, today because we’re going to need all the compassion we can muster in the coming years. Our climate is out of whack. Balance is lost.

Chrysanthemums illustrate this piece, because in Japanese art and poetry that I greatly admire, mums symbolize longevity and rejuvenation.

At an elementary school where I lead a writing workshop, a vivacious third-grader I will call Susan, had a comment for me: trees give us air to breathe; we’re human; we need air; and humans are cutting down lots of trees. She lifted her shoulders in a mystified shrug with hands raised, shaking her head in puzzlement.

I trust that Susan will be compelled by the compassion she finds in her heart for the island people and the coastline people whose homes disappear as oceans rise and for whole communities flattened by the strongest hurricanes we’ve ever seen. She and generations to come will need compassion for the billion or more climate refugees the U.N. has forecast. Much will be asked of Susan, being a U.S. citizen, the U.S. being one of the countries most responsible for climate change that will worsen in her lifetime and one of the countries well-equipped to mitigate its effects. She will need compassion—compassion laced justifiably with anger—to bring her energy to bear on the tough tasks ahead.

As Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.organd author of the bookFalter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? points out in Time magazine’s Sept. 23, 2019 special climate issue. It’s naïve to think economic expansion can continue to be a goal of government. Survival is the only goal that makes sense, survival with an eye toward economic and environmental justice.

I agree with Al Gore, who writes in the same issue of Time, that even as the pace of climate change outpaces our mobilization to battle it, hope lies with the current groundswell of youth activism. I feel sure Susan and many of her classmates will be on the front lines, perhaps dedicating their lives to science, perhaps writing about it, informing people how we can step more lightly on this blue planet we call home.

May it be so.

About Nan Lundeen
Nan Lundeen is the author of "Gaia's Cry." Visit her at You can read more about the author here.

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