On December 30 I wrote a draft of this for myself. I was not going to post it. This changed my mind: The Joy of Quiet, published the same day in the New York Times
Today, 38 years too late, I grasped an important fact. I seem to be living on some sort of a different planet. I am here in body (more or less, depending) but somewhere else, in my soul.
I am on holiday - at home, but away. Blissful weather. The sun rose and shone and fell and rose and shone again, for days. Apricots and raspberries blushed and were eaten. I burned my neck, and tanned my nose - and am luxuriating now, in plentiful summer rain.
All day it has rained, quietly. When I woke in the night, it was pummelling on the roof and the porch and everywhere. Instead of dust, parched grass, leaves hanging like limp rags, there is new growth on the trees, dew in the morning, and silence - respite - from the killing wind that every other year has blown the solstice in and out.
Rhythm and rhyme in the morning. The pussycats and I take sun and fresh air on the porch. I wander out, pyjama-clad, to feed the chooks and pluck a fat handful of raspberries - sugar them, crush some, leave them to rest in their juice. I try a little 'yin yoga', my favourite practice, this, of all that I have tried. It is simple, and slow: not onward, to the next pose, but staying for a while, in this one.
Later, breakfast. A scalding mug of excellent coffee, thick yoghurt, the raspberries.
Part of the day is gone. It does not matter. It has been clean, and simple, and quiet. I am very still inside.
It is the ultimate luxury of enough - enough money, food, space, time, gentle weather, physical health, solid ground under one’s feet - the important things, with which so few are blessed and even fewer seem to want.
I can think, in this space. I have slept, I have stretched, I am feeding myself. The night it rained, I’d dined on freshly dug boiled potatoes, butter, white pepper, salt. That is all, but I had dined.
On a whim, because I could, I spent Christmas at Pahaoa. I was alone, but less lonely than I ever feel in a crowd. I had skylarks for company, an empty beach upon which to walk barefoot, and I did, all afternoon. I wore no watch; I followed my heart and my feet where they led. Then I came home again.
That day was a gift. I was happier than I have ever been - at Christmas time certainly, but also, I was free, in a wild and beautiful place, the sun shone, and I did find joy and peace, goodwill, all that stuff, but not under the wilting Douglas fir.
The television is off. It would shout in the silence. There is not silence, there are birds, and Mary-Ann (the chook) complaining about stolen eggs out the back, and I live in town - it is peaceful though, all the same. I am rested. I am reading.
Alexander McCall Smith, former philosopher and lawyer, whose stock in trade is morals and values, writes simple, slightly silly stories - lately, the adventures of Oedipus Snark MP, the “only nasty Liberal Democrat”, who is arrogant and lazy and finds himself in the CERN Large Hadron Collider, having his atoms accidentally but satisfactorily rearranged. After, instead of selfishly using others, he thinks of their feelings.
This could never happen, in real life.
It could never happen, because the stories are always about this: everyone is civil in them (except Oedipus Snark). Everyone has or makes time to think before they act, to think of others, and perform small acts of kindness and care, with their meals, and in life.
Who among us has time to do this? These are imaginary morality tales.
And I am Tweeting poetry: one a day, for my former English teacher who, rather than trying to “teach” us poetry, would read us one at the start of each class, just for the love of it. That was 20 years ago, but I remember him, often, and always will - and so, here is a poem.
Remembering Ophelia, it is called. It is an odd, shy, awkward poem, but if you sit with it a while, it grows on you, until like Ophelia it is “almost ready to say hello”. I like it very much.
2011. A tumultuous year, in many ways. I learned some things, about people and myself, about what I want in my life and what I do not.
Spontaneous gestures of kindness and friendship and acknowledgement left me touched. They were small things, but they mattered, so much. I opened my heart. I took risks. I let myself be hugged, and something imperceptible changed.
So, in 2012, in whom and what will I invest?
- In simplicity, but quality, of life.
- Beauty - mostly, taking the time to notice it, for there is plenty of it about.
- More poetry in life - metaphorically, probably, but the real thing is also good.
- The contentment of good plain fresh food, that just tastes of itself.
- Well-written prose. Good journalism, less tele.
- Less noise, more tranquillity. If the silence must be broken, let it be by bird song.
- More hugs?
I will defend freedom, and wildness. I will follow the kindness, and try to practise it, imperfectly, myself.
And I know already that among the biggest challenges I will face in 2012 will be trying to hold on to any part of this, in 10 days’ time, and not see it broken and trampled all over by what the rest of the world calls life.
So this is my question now. When did simplicity become a luxury? Has it been ever thus, that you had to go away, and not be part of the world - the yogi on the mountain top, the cloistered nun - to grasp the truth of it?