A Sacrament

A Sacrament, by Paulann Peterson

This is a summer poem. So it feels, but then I recall watching stately crowds of bees on my Japanese aralia bush earlier this month. They were neither hurrying nor lazing from one small white bloom to another. I looked out the window just now and there they are again, just a few today.

I’m too far away to note their variety, but a few weeks ago I picked out at least four different bee-bodies. Entomology is not a practice of mine, so I have no idea what the English or Latin tongues have named these neighbors.

Here in the US, it’s the week of Thanksgiving. I won’t belabor any of the salient criticisms, griefs, or gratitudes. I will say that I think a lot about the way, as my friend Lucy puts it, big things are all made up of small things.

Big things like: gratitude, joy, justice, (injustice), getting through 2020. Big things like Divinity, or the sacred, a small piece of which Paulann Peterson’s poem reminds me to value for its own self—a reliable consolation—and also to feel as a beautiful metaphor, that can take up residence in my dailiness.

Dailiness relates to localness, too. Their scales are similar, and maybe cultivating one can engage the other.

One of the lessons I’m choosing to learn from 2016-2020—four years that will loom large in American political memory for some time to come—is to pay more attention to the local. Politically for sure, and also in ways that feel both slightly foreign and enormously more pleasant, at least to this reluctantly convinced civic agitator. Local business, local weather, local walking, neighborhood organizations and food drives and anti-hatred initiatives and lost-and-found pet signs, et cetera. My neighborhood, my city, my county—this is where I can be actually engaged, in the sense that my actions and thoughts and feelings can be useful, accountable, effective.

This is not to say that I will be ignoring civic and cultural engagement on the state and federal levels. But I have limited attention to give, and I want to give it intentionally and, yes, usefully. I think perhaps that starts close to home. As someone who has called multiple ecosystems, towns, cities, counties, and states home over the years, maybe this is a way to focus toward fidelity to the place I live.

I continue to be curious about localness in other places too. I’ve started listening, for example, to a podcast called Rumblestrip. The episode I got into today is a conversation about knots and nursing, with the woman who runs the Museum of Everyday Life. (Listen to that rundown of dailiness: tying knots; nursing bodies; a museum celebrating the artifacts of our daily lives.)

I was going to say something about Rumblestrip’s quirkiness or Vermont-ness, but that doesn’t really capture how earnest, how untranslatable, how resistant to categories it is. You can’t market a podcast like this. It’s got nothing to sell you. It’s here, and you’re here, to listen to some local stories you couldn’t hear anywhere else, that don’t lend themselves to sound bites or even summarizing. In case you were starting to wonder, I’m paying a compliment.

This is the kind of localness, and dailiness, and sacredness, that interests me.

Summaries and reactions and discussions about Current Events have their place. But I feel like they’re refusing to stay there. They’re taking up all the real estate, pushing out the small, quirky, joyful, weird, local, daily people and initiatives and events—and non-events, like the bees are in the aralia this month, where last month they were all about the marigolds.

Big things—your life—are all made up of small things. I want my life to be made up mostly of bees and flowers and reciting poems, neighborhood walks and local museums and handwritten letters that always include seasonal commentary, teaching myself to garden and to predict the weather right here, and contributing what I’ve got to the work of making my own city a kinder home for all my neighbors.

18th Street—Tara K. Shepersky

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