On January 1, Doug pointed out to us that we had just been presented with 365 ‘unwritten squares of opportunity.’ I don’t think it matters all that much whether we take those squares to be blocks on our calendars, blank pages in our notebooks or photo albums, or leaves in the ‘book of our lives.’ However we see them, they represent the chances we have of making our mark in some new place or some new way in the days ahead. And the course of action in each case is the same, and exactly that: take action. If anything is going to appear on the squares, you have to get out of bed, show up for the appointment, and pick up the camera, paintbrush, pen.
The thing is, although the pages are blank, they don’t exist in a pure white, sterile vacuum. Where we have been and the direction we hope to be going, what we have seen and what is happening around us now, will almost certainly lend the paper a hint of a watermark, perhaps imbue it with a faint scent, maybe influence our choice of pen and color of ink.
One of my favorite poets, Wendell Berry, captures something of all of this – season and environment and sorrow and hope and responsibility – in this poem:
February 2, 1968
In the dark of the moon, in flying snow, in the dead of winter,
war spreading, families dying, the world in danger,
I walk the rocky hillside, sowing clover.
He doesn’t tell us whether the clover seed was washed away in a flood, or sprouted and was then scorched by drought, or by some miracle grew and flourished. And this omission is, I think, a powerful part of the poem as well. This is how the story goes, a page at a time. We don’t know whether anyone will ever read our words, or if they’ll be spoiled when we knock over our own cup of coffee, or lost in a fire, or – by that one chance in a million – mean something important to someone we’ve never met.
What matters is that we fulfill our calling, to the best of our ability, despite the circumstances, and offer our efforts to the world in good faith, and let happen what will. Wendell Berry gets this, too:
For the Future
Planting trees early in spring,
we make a place for birds to sing
in time to come. How do we know?
They are singing here now.
There is no other guarantee
that singing will ever be.
Becka Choat is a lifelong lover of words who spends many hours each week in a room of her own, writing or reading and drinking coffee. Her book reviews can be found at www.beckasbookreview.wordpress.com, and her poetry and other musings at www.beckachoat.wordpress.com. You may also follow @beckachoat and/or @booksbybecka on Twitter