Attempts to express the whole

I believe it is often in the smallest details about a person that we best glimpse the whole.  I think Amy Palko, too, believes this.  She wrote about it before (and inspired me to do the same) and she recently shared this gorgeous quote by Hugh McDiarmid on her blog:

So I have gathered unto myself
All the loose ends of Scotland,
And by naming them and accepting them,
Loving them and identifying myself with them,
Attempt to express the whole.

The loose ends.  Oh, I am familiar with loose ends.  The loose ends are my life: my son’s ever-blonder summer hair, my daughter’s sleepy goodnight hugs, the stack of books on my bedside table, the outrageous explosion of hydrangeas by the front door, the broken air conditioning, the lines of poetry that run through my head daily, the way light from an indiscernible source illuminates a sunset sky.  The loose ends are the endless grains of sand that both imperceptibly and irrevocably add up to the contours of our lives.

We are drawn to these specifics, to the naming and identifying and accepting of what we can, as we search for the grand truths.  I for one am always looking, in the small moments of my life, for that whole – for that design so vast.  But why is this where we look? In some ways it is counter-intuitive, right?  To look down, as it were, to see the universe, all the power and glory that spreads above us, in the cracked shell at our feet on the beach.

These small things – these details, these loose ends – are like portals into the enormity of this life.  They are keyholes through which we glimpse that greater reality in which we all exist.   This is not a new idea, of course: the poets have been talking about this for centuries and longer, as Blake did with his world in a grain of sand.

But why do we seek the infinite in the defiantly finite?  I suspect it is because the whole is so extravagantly huge, so inexpressible, so far beyond the realm of our intellect.  It is impossible to draw the logical arms of our minds around the unwieldy, expansive whole.  We have no choice but to seek its reflection in the tiniest things, a bit like Plato watching the shadows on the back wall of the cave.

Isn’t that what this blog is about, in many ways?  More than anything, I think what I do here is polish the small, jagged stones of my life, startled every now and then when I look again and see the gleam of a gemstone.  This is the task of my life: the gathering of loose ends, the loving of them, and the endless, stumbling and imperfect attempt to express the whole.

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  1. Posted July 23, 2012 at 4:51 am | Permalink

    “More than anything, I think what I do here is polish the small, jagged stones of my life, startled every now and then when I look again and see the gleam of a gemstone.”

    How beautiful is that. This will be a new goal for me. To polish the small and jagged stones of life…

  2. Trish
    Posted July 23, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    This in your top ten posts of all time!

    So gorgeous your utilization of the written word. You capture and enlarge what is right in front of us…the every day details…loose strands of hair, sleepy children, a tower of books…thank you for the gentle reminder that beauty in all forms embraces our lives each day.

  3. Posted July 23, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Oh I love your blog so much. As of late I have been lurking more than commenting, as living with 2 little boys is sometimes like living with a football team.

    I too wonder about this idea of seeking the infinite in the finite. Maybe it’s all we have and maybe it’s because sometimes it’s so beautiful. I know that I definitely find glimpses of the infinite in your words every single time I come here and for that I am SO grateful!!!

  4. Jill
    Posted July 23, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    loose ends
    finding the infinite in the finite
    I am always grateful to see the world in front of me in new ways. I especially needed these new ways today, thank you.

  5. Posted July 23, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Maybe we look for meaning in the small things because they are the only things we have a real hope of knowing intimately, of touching, of using over and over.
    I’m trying to learn to be present. To notice. It’s a prayer, really.

  6. Posted July 25, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Wow. I missed this one, somehow, until now.

    It’s that last part – the polishing of the gemstones – that goes right to my heart. I believe, as you know, that we polish each other – just like those big old noisy rock polishers from the 70s. Or maybe it was the 60s.

    And maybe this is why I miss blogging when I wander away. Thanks for pointing the way north, Lindsey, so very beautifully.


  7. Posted July 29, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Oh, I love this one, too. You are on a role! How true that we see the beauty of the entire Universe in the smallest of its details.

    Seeking out these details, these loose ends, these cracked shells is our job, the whole job. Finding beauty and meaning in the seemingly mundane. What a beautiful life one can lead in just doing that.