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Nature, Nurture and the Health of the Planet

Looking, Seeing

by MISSY BEATTIE

I saw the dime when I was running. I continued on and then circled back, picking up the coin to throw to the gods for an unselfish wish. I thought about the mythology, a ritual I usually associate with finding a penny.

Later, mid-afternoon, as I walked to the grocery, a disheveled man approached. “Can you spare a dime? I need something to eat,” he said. I started to tell him I’d tossed one on his behalf just hours before—that if my wish came true, he wouldn’t be hungry. No one would.

I thought it was clever—to ask only for a dime. He smelled like stale beer. But so what? Around 4:00, I’d have a drink. Maybe two. And possibly smell like stale Prosecco later.

Tucked between finding that dime and encountering the hungry man, a floor expert was in my apartment.

Because………………

A few nights before, I lay awake, fixated on furniture placement. Finally, I got out of bed and began to work.

Facing the dining table, I eyed its legs and their position on the rug. The goal was balance. The rug needed inching, about eight, to the right. The heavy dining table and chairs prevented that. I moved them.

The sofa’s front legs secured the rug at its other end. I bent down, lifting the sofa, pulling, pushing, and then felt or heard (don’t know which sense registered first) condo-monium.

Standing, turning, I saw a porcelain and glass tango. The huge vase and a small table’s top seemed to tease each other—teasing me. And then in a grand finale, the two collided. When the last shard was quiet, I saw divots in the wall,  baseboard, and the wood floor. Beneath the table was a third casualty, another porcelain. My favorite expletive was followed with, “Oh, well, it’s not human life, or a pet.”

E-pal P. commiserated, after I’d related details of the wreckage, writing a commentary on the importance of beauty in our lives. Telling me she had cut pink peonies from her garden and placed them in a cut glass crystal vase. Said she intended to photograph this “…so I remember how much pleasure that simple action brought me.” She continued:

I am so sorry you lost your porcelain vase, as you

say, just a thing, but some things, like a gorgeous,

huge Chinese vase, bring us such simple pleasures

the loss of that pleasure is greater than the loss of

the actual thing.

I thought of Charles. Those long walks we’d take in Manhattan. I’d see something lovely through a shop’s window, stop, pull him close, and say, “Look at this. Wouldn’t you like to have it?” And he, not a material man, would shake his head no.

“But I wouldn’t mind knowing the person who does,” he’d say.

Yesterday, on the balcony’s rail, a pair of cardinals rested, gazing into each other’s eyes, flirting. I sat and watched through a space the porcelain vase once claimed. I moved closer to the window. The loving birds must’ve sensed a violation of their privacy. Because the feathers flew, soaring somewhere. Next time, I’ll maintain distance.

If that big vase had been on the table, I wouldn’t have noticed the cardinals. I think about that. What I’ve missed by adorning my life with ornaments, the acquisitions that, while individualizing a place, attract more attention than they deserve.

Now, back to the floor expert: Pointing to a sad bonsai tree not too far from the damaged wood, he began to tell me about his hobby. And then he scrolled through his photos to reveal the breathtaking bonsai Eden in his backyard. He told me to remove my troubled plant from its pot and use chopsticks, like a comb, to separate the tangled roots and loosen the soil. “Cut the roots about three inches from the bulb,” he instructed.

All this nature and nurture lead to its logical segue—the health of the world, our planet. Politics.

Milos immigrated to the US seventeen years ago from the Czech Republic.

If I hadn’t obsessed on the furniture, gotten out of bed, and wreaked havoc in my living/dining room, I’d be wondering what to do with the withering bonsai, oblivious to the birds, and I wouldn’t have met this interesting man whose wife is pregnant with their first child.

And that guy who was hungry? I saw him again. He said, “Can you spare a dime? I’m hungry.” He asks so little.

I’m going to stop wishing on coins. Nothing’s happening with that. Maybe I’ll wish on stars. In fact, I’ll look out at the night sky and the deck that’s slightly illuminated when darkness settles, in a few minutes. But first I want to mention an article I just read. It details a report from a panel of climate change scientists whose authors are “95 percent to 100 percent confident that human activity is the primary influence on planet warming.” That carbon dioxide levels are “up 41 percent since the Industrial Revolution…” These experts warn that increased temperatures will lead to  “widespread melting of land ice, extreme heat waves, difficulty growing food and massive changes in plant and animal life, probably including a wave of extinctions.”

Okay, I’m shutting down the computer, off to look and see something, while there’s still something left to see.

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Baltimore. Email: missybeat@gmail.com.