My favourite time of the day has come to be the evening. A fluttering restlessness builds within me and I have to leave the house, take a walk out. Lately I’ve been scheduling my walk to get to my destination on high in time to see the sunset sky burn, then I watch it turn to embers and dampen down into the falling darkness of evening. I knot my scarf (yes, it’s still cool here when evening comes), zip the neck of my cagoule up tighter, and I head for home, becalmed. Life feels so scattered at the minute that my evening walk has become an important act in containing and closing the day. It is a ceremony in miniature, a secular compline of quietness and reflection. On windy days the gusts almost always drop by evening; on rainy days there is generally a dry spell come nightfall; and, if the sky has been grey and overcast through the day, evening often brings a break in the clouds through which shafts of hopeful light pierce the sky. It is a time to literally slow my pace, shorten my stride, and think. I feel a contentment drop upon me with the sinking sun, an ease that is deeper than at any other time of the day.
Last night, I thought about a quote my friend sent me. She said she would like to slip out in the middle of the night and graffiti it around the city. She attributed it to the Dalai Lama: “The three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are: our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.” Nice words, but a near impossible ask in a world that is bubbling, at times, with frenzied fear, judgement and finger pointing. Yet the words ring in my head as something worthwhile to aim for. It’s a lot to be working on, so I’ve started with the first, and each evening I try to reframe this newly fractured world in a positive light. One of the ways I reframe it is to say to myself that this feeling of groundlessness, of not knowing what’s going to happen, of feeling precarious, none of it is new. We have always existed in a groundless state, have spent out lives walking a tightrope, even though we try to tell ourselves that everything is secure and solid. It is also making me think about how we run away from the pain of reality – particularly in the west, where we can’t bear to sit with discomfort. And we can’t bear the idea of not being useful, of being idle, or just being. It’s a fine line, isn’t it? Keeping busy and thinking we are making a contribution versus keeping still and knowing that doing nothing (and by nothing, I suppose I mean finding one’s quiet centre) is, in itself, a contribution. Life is offering us a break, I keep reminding myself, and it’s ok to take it.
I’m talking to myself here, not lecturing you. I’m wondering aloud how to wait out these days in constructive patience. My conclusion is to let evening come, then wake up again in the morning, throw back the curtains and do it all again. Which is the same as we did before, when we thought we were in control, but we weren’t. The only difference now is that we’ve had a rude reminder of our relative powerlessness and this wake-up call might rekindle some gratitude for the smallest of things from the awesomeness of stars appearing at night, to the tiny defencelessness of a clench of fluffy, pale grey cygnets, to the blazing joy of a field of buttercups.
Reframe: make friends with time, those hours that we are always complaining go too fast, and, if you think time is going too slowly, let the evening come and allow the new day to start.
Let Evening Come, by Jane Kenyon
Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.
Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.
Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.
Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.
To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.
Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.