This Living the Winged Life is delayed a bit because I took a trip to Lebanon for eleven days, and the weeks before and after a trip were rather full. Before I left, my wife asked if I wanted to take a camera. In the right hands, a camera can focus a person’s powers of observation, but I have never gained much confidence or skill with photography. A high quality camera hanging around my neck ends up feeling more like an albatross!
The camera I most enjoy keeping turned on and ready to shoot is an inner camera—the part of my consciousness that takes a snapshot when a moment of grace presents itself. Often such moments have all the longevity of a shooting star but are worth hours of development in a journal by means of reflective or poetic writing.
One such moment came most unexpectedly on my recent trip. My daughter and I were returning from a day of seeing the most complete site of Roman ruins in the Middle East. The driver whose mini-bus we’d randomly chosen for the from Baalbek back to Beirut was driving so maniacally that I was quietly reciting Sioux holy man Black Elk’s statement like a mantra: “Today is a good day to die.” Then the driver stopped along the road to buy a two-liter bottle of cold water. To my surprise, he motioned for us to pass it to the back of the bus. A family of five jammed in the back row drank from it first. They passed it to a soldier in the next row who, after drinking, gave it to a Muslim woman wearing the hijab. She drank and passed it on to me but I, not used to such non-germophobic sharing, handed it right on to three young men in the row ahead, who showed no hesitation to imbibe. Finally, the driver got the bottle back, half empty now, and began to slake his own thirst.
As a poet, I look for such moments much as a hunter continuously scans a field for any sign of movement. I take a snapshot of them with a camera of the soul and often spend significant time later trying to express them in words.
There was something eucharistic in that moment on the bus: so many different people, all constituted more of water than anything else, expressing a hidden communion by drinking from the same bottle, strangers who nonetheless behaved as if they were all one family.
The day is coming when we shall learn if cities, regions, and nations can share water as freely as the people on that bus. I fear that unless we become a globe of strangers who begin behaving as all one family, we’re on a dangerous road indeed.
Somehow the driver, even after passing blindly at high speed around a curve on a two-way mountain road, got us back to Beirut safely. I don’t know who’s driving the bus of humankind, but I am grateful for the inner snapshot of the moment on that bus. I shall treasure it more than having seen the impressive 1200-ton blocks of stone and six-foot diameter ancient Roman pillars of Baalbek.
Just as a skilled photographer sees opportunities for photos everywhere, when we keep the camera of the soul on and ready to shoot, we find abundant moments of grace that, when developed in contemplation, can become personalized parables. The most basic movement in poetry is from the particular to the universal. A specific moment on one random bus careening between Baalbek and Beirut on September 19, 2015 had something for the whole world.