“Failure to wonder is the beginning of violence.” (Valerie Kaur)
It’s summertime and for the last eight years, that’s meant a few weeks at a little cabin on Lake Winnisquam in New Hampshire that had belonged to Harriet, a weaving friend of my Mom’s, and now to her family. Harriet’s place is just up the river and around the cove from where my parents lived for many years and not far from the retirement community in Laconia where they live today.
I drove up here late morning yesterday from Milton, the day after my last Sunday at United Parish in Brookline where I had been serving for the past four months. I don’t often listen to music while driving but I found myself yesterday doing what I have done on other days of transition this past year, scrounging for the CD of the band, Cattle Call, and their song, “Change.” I heard this Maine band in Boothbay Harbor last summer, the first and only time I went to hear a concert at the Opera House, and invited the lead singer Mark Farrington that evening to come to church to sing:
I can let these days remind me
That the tracks I left behind me
Are not the only way to get back home.
I can change.
Much has not changed here at Harriet’s lakeside cabin. Although she died many years ago, much of Harriet is still here —her bird books and binoculars on the shelves, pictures of her husband and children on the refrigerator and walls, knickknacks and notes on bedside tables. And now, alongside these mementos, memories of our own.
Harriet’s cabin became our COVID oasis for over a month the past two summers. Perhaps that’s why unpacking the car, we can’t look on this little place without a deep feeling of love. In the past two summers the little kitchen table and desks in the bedrooms upstairs become our offices for zoom teaching and telecommuting, taking a class. Mid-morning swims during lunchtime breaks.
On the more ambitious days, here is where we rise early with the sun for morning runs on dirt roads followed by laps swimming in the lake around the neighbors docks. Lazy afternoons with cousins and friends floating on long brightly colored Styrofoam noodles, paddle boarding and kayaking, blueberry picking at the farm over the hill, evening soft serve at Jordan’s Ice Cream and long games of Catan. And yes, times like our first night here last evening, watching the night ascend in a cascade of color as twenty Canada geese in a long row paddle across the purple lake.
How many times have my sister and I shared how much we love being here and how grateful we don’t own this place! What a treasure that we don’t have to spend our time looking around and thinking about yet more house repairs or remodeling to do but can merely give ourselves to the gift of here and now. Perhaps, sitting on the porch, like I am doing now, looking out on the changing colors and textures of the lake and sky after a passing rain shower. The mountains of Gunstock, Belknap and Piper across the lake where since I was a young child we have skied, hiked and gathered blueberries.
Everything in view, everything in sight and sound is in motion here; nothing stays the same. Once again, everything seems possible and must be.
I have asked the same old questions
And I’ve believed the same old lies,
I’ve come to some conclusions,
But I’ll probably change my mind,
And everything I hoped for is not mine.
But I can change. (“Change” from the band Cattle Call).
Valerie Kaur writes in her memoir See No Stranger, that it all comes down to this wonder. Once we stop wondering about others, she notes, we don’t see them as part of ourselves and we disable our capacity for empathy. When we lose empathy, we are able to do anything or let anything be done to another.
This bit of time at the beginning of summer is a wonder time. A time set apart, when there is something that tops the list that is more important than scheduling our next appointment, making our next flight or finding our next job. I wonder what might happen if we all had the privilege of a few days of wonder time this summer. I wonder what it would take to make that possible for not just some of us but for all of us. As I look around, it is so clear that we are not who we were last year and we will not be so the next. I wonder who we might become, who we might be with and for each other – if only we gave ourselves to wonder.
The sky blue with great grey and white cumulus clouds rising above the mountains after the downpour that had turned everything to mist and lines of grey.
The loon dives and disappears beneath the lake only to startle us to listening as the sun sets later this evening with her most plaintive song echoing over the water.