Up here in the northern hemisphere, we’ll mark the autumnal equinox this Sunday when the sun heads south across the celestial equator, and the hours of daylight and darkness become nearly equal.
My son Steve is coming for dinner this evening (his wife Nancy is out of town), and the already shorter days and cooler nights demand a pot of spicy chili, salad greens, and fresh-baked apple pie.
Good smells from the kitchen distract me from my work as I sit here at my computer. And I’m thinking if I get time, I’ll run out and get a chunk of cheese and some wine to add to our feast. Wait a minute, I remind myself, I’m in charge here, and my computer can nap until I get back.
I pull out of the parking garage into an early fall afternoon with temps in the low 70s, blue skies, and blinding sunlight. A few trees flaunt newly dyed yellow leaves from among the still mostly green groves along my route.
The supermarket is busy but in no time at all I’ve paid for my cheese and dashed to the neighborhood liquor store for a bottle of red wine. I then stop by the library to return a couple of books I borrowed before the season shifted on Labor Day from the more relaxed pace of summer to the early signs of autumn when kids return to school, Unitarian-Universalists return to church, and Congress returns to Washington.
“The ticking of the clock is the normal measure of experience,” James Carroll reminded us at the beginning of this too rapidly waning year. He said, “You usually move through this sequencing, the way a fish moves through water, unaware of the realm in which you have your being.”
But there’s a difference between the fish and us, Carroll continued: “You can notice the water. Your water is time, but noticing the water is how you swim. The future and the past exist only in your minds, but that does not mean they are not real…we are bodies moving through the world, but our real movement is through the temporal stream of consciousness.”
Mindfulness meditation has taught me how to slow time down as I move though my own temporal stream of consciousness. From the writings of Jon Kabbat-Zinn and Thich Nhat Hanh, I’ve learned to navigate through memories of the past and make imaginative forays into the future while relying on my breathing to anchor me in this present moment.
Slowing time down is no small achievement for one conditioned by the demands of journalism to continually hustle to meet the next deadline. But on this day, I’ve mindfully arranged the bouquet of flowers I picked up at the supermarket, set out the wine glasses, and stirred the chili simmering on the stove.
When all is ready, I turn on the news to catch glimpses of the war-ravaged citizens of Iraq, and I wonder how they experience their movement through time lacking even the most basic necessities of safe drinking water and electricity, while their daily life is disrupted by exploding I.E.D.s and random bursts of gunfire from American troops and/or Blackwater Security Guards.
Not surprisingly, the most recent polls show a majority of Iraqis want Americans out of there like yesterday.
I turn off the TV when the phone rings from the lobby announcing Steve’s arrival. We enjoy our dinner together in the warm atmosphere of home, reminiscing a bit here and there and in contrast to our civilian Iraqi counterparts, speaking confidently of tomorrow.
Loading the dishwasher after Steve leaves, I realize I’ve been unable to completely dispel the ugly shadow of war cast by the evening news.
You could say it’s just a matter of time, but precisely how and when this administration will find the wisdom and courage to admit its mistakes and end our occupation of Iraq is anyone’s guess.