Jack Kornfield is famous for his book “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry” I haven’t read it, nor any of his other books. So why mention him? Because it inspired my title. It will take a moment to explain why, though; maybe a few moments. Let’s start with last night.
Dinner is done – a melange of leftover roasted vegetables and a piece of bread with a smear of ricotta and olive oil. Very filling and satisfying. Dishes dealt with, I look into the dark street beyond my desk, thinking back on the day. It is time to record my diary. In events, I spent it on nothing momentous at all. The world is in turmoil and I did nothing to help that.
Wrong! There was Ecstasy.
Three times – no four! – I walked in clear sunlight, which is unusual around here in November, making what leaves remained on the trees equal to any Yuletide lights that shall be in short order stretched and strewn. Nature always trumps human imitations, though. Martin Luther probably never put candles on a tree to illustrate the experience of starlight through the branches, as a legend claims. The actual experience was never far away and, he could have taken them outside quite readily. And aside from setting the house afire, it was a poor illustration at best.
Four times I enjoyed the histrionics of sky and tree, each at full volume, more than equal to the SUV with deafening bass notes that rattled its windows at a red light as I passed up the hill. Four times I wanted to do nothing but ‘preciate’ as Alice Walker’s Sug Avery put it. I wanted to stop walking and just be there.
Why did I not? “After the Laundry, the Ecstasy”
In my case, the gym, the coffee date, the back yard, the carwash. These are no less real, after all. A friend from long ago told me a story about her grandfather. They were sitting at the kitchen table with a bowl of apples in the center. The woman, then a girl, picked up one of the apples, it had a bruise on it. The grandfather said, “Take a good one, not the bruised one. There will always be bruised apples, so take the good ones when you can.”
This was not about being selfish but about ‘preciation.’ In the midst of a world very bruised, in a life that has endless baskets of laundry, to take the good is no evasion of life but to embrace it all. The good is as real as the bad, the bruised no less or more real than the beautiful. When I lived in New York, I learned that the hard parts are required – the noise, dirt, crowds, prices. The good parts were optional. You had to find the good.
“Take the Good”
To be able to walk through splendor on the way to all those things yesterday, to notice them, which is the quintessence of Pilgrim Life, is to have them as interludes and incidental music to the laundry moments, is like a Mendelsohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” playing as you go. If I were truly attentive I would ‘preciate that even on those winter days when the wind howls and the ice crunches under my feet.
Let’s just say that I am working on that still. Yesterday though, it was easy. Between the stuff we think matters – chores, jobs, obligations, injustices and cruelties, the world stands out on either side, as the poet says, decorating your path if you care to notice. If you fail to take that too, the ecstasy with the laundry, you are less present even to the laundry.