A spark of grace
Outside, the first snow of the season came down on Boston in a thick, even fall. It had come suddenly, noiselessly; and though the flakes were falling with considerable force, they landed on the cityscape so softly, and so gently, that one would have had to listen very very carefully to hear them touch the earth and blend with their brothers.
Inside, the music on the tape player ended, and Dave and I were left mulling beside a dying fire. As recent college graduates, we still felt the need to solve The Problems of the World at least once a week. Usually we found ourselves breaking new ground -- sharing some new insight, some new vision, some new reason to be hopeful:
''Yes, if nothing else, the numbers themselves will cause the White House to lower the defense budget.''
''I know the home is an endangered species, but maybe these new neighborhood care-groups will help to bring families together.''
''Well, what happened in Poland this week...?''
Tonight though, some vital spark was missing. Despite a real effort, our discussion was no more animated than our lukecold fire. We tried rolling the log of social possibilities over onto the kindling of the evening news. But nothing happened. No inspiration. After so many discussions, it seemed as if we already knew every edge and hollow of our combined paradigms. Struggle as we might, there seemed to be no place left to go -- no unexplored territory.
Indeed, something was missing. In the past, if nothing else, we had always been satisfied with a graceful verbal detour from any conversational road-blocks. But what was missing tonight went beyond the conversational. A certain spirit was missing; and its absence made us restless. Dave started pacing the floor. Without a direction, without a fresh feeling of hope, the little room seemed hotter, smaller, and smokier by the moment. The problems became uglier. Peace on earth seemed a naive hope.
''I feel a walk coming on,'' Dave said, subtle as a doorslam. I wasn't about to disagree, so we put on coats and scarves and headed downstairs for ''The Fens ,'' Boston's city park.
Once outside, the change from stuffy to frosty air caught us both off guard. So did the scene. The city street, snow-filled now, was a new and different place. The snow was transforming our world. It lay thickly on every slanting angle, every exposed surface of every shape in sight. All things -- from townhouses to trees, to hedges, sidewalks, and roadway -- were connected by a common white sheen.
But not only had the snow bonded the environment together; it had also formed and bonded a link between people. On a street, usually sterile, where people move quickly and rarely look at one another -- let alone chance a few words -- there was an atmosphere of revelry. Folks were out frolicking and laughing in the snow. Two young men -- students -- swept up to us, sliding on the ice, and exclaimed in a rousing chorus, '' 'Tis a beautiful eve!'' We felt edified on the spot. The snow, it seemed, had become a visible excuse, a free currency, for goodwill toward men.
By the time we got to the park a soft, steady breeze had picked up, and it had brushed the snow onto the oaks and elms, the kiosks, and the monuments from a singular direction. In ths way, the essential character of these forms stood out in relief. Walking through the park, we found that everyday objects took on magical shapes when filled-out by the snow: The ribs of a common trash can became a study in cylindrical motion. A series of randomly spaced park benches, now with only a few dark horizontal streaks visible against vast whiteness, were made over into classic examples of the power inherent in austere and simple lines.
We walked in amazement -- and the snowy park fairly glowed. All sorts of hidden structures became visible. The snow showed us the world in a kind of fourth dimension. We could see a fullness in things we hadn't seen before. The beauty of it all was so breathtaking that I said to Dave, ''This is incredible. This part of the park usually looks pretty bad.'' When he asked what I meant, I tried to call forth the appropriate ugly mental image. But to my wonderment I couldn't! The profound beauty all around us had swallowed-up the ugliness and erased it from my mind.... And in that moment I recognized what had been missing in the room earlier that evening....
It was innocence. Not a kind of emotional innocence you grow out of, and then , like Wordsworth, lament about losing. But a powerful, cleansing innocence. A kind of innocence you can't lose -- strong enough to dissolve hatred and fear in men's hearts. An Innocence that is intimately tied to the primordial harmony behind all living things.
Earlier, up in the room, we had lost sight of the spirit of innocence. We had been so awed by the many examples of darkness and ugliness in the world, and so busy looking mainly inside our own familiar mental hierarchies for an answer, that we had forgotten to consider a source of light and beauty that might lie outside what we could see and touch. We had failed to consider any fuller dimension to life or to ourselves. Mercifully though, the snow represented a living metaphor for our salvation.
Later, toward the end of our walk, we stumbled upon the statue of John Endecott (1588-1665), one of the early Massachutes pioneers. Endecott helped develop our thoughts a step further. To his Pilgrim group, we imagined, this country was a new world -- quite apart both in distance and destiny from , hierarchical Europe. Here, all the barriers were lifted. Exploration was inexhaustible. The concept of a completely new form of government was possible. An entire continent represented a new frontier.
But today -- tonight -- Endecott's snow-laden, patriarchal visage is framed by massive pillars of light - the skyscrapers of Boston. Where is the frontier now? This seems to be a problem. In fact, many of the problems may be wrapped up , either directly or indirectly, in a basic lack of vision, of direction, for the future. Where do we go from here? Are there any new worlds?
William Carlos Williams wrote that, ''A new world is but a new mind.'' Perhaps the next new world, the next paradigm, the next frontier, will have to be primarily a mental one. Perhaps the next pioneers must now surmount peaks of misundertanding and discover hidden springs of care and love within themselves. Perhaps what is needed now, in the face of the problems, is a fundamental change in consciousness -- a reawakening to the power of that innocence that can wipe away ugliness and make all things new. Perhaps we must call on the spirit in us to show us the fuller dimension of ourselves -- to show us that there is more to the picture than we can presently see.
Such a call is bound to change things. And just as in the evening's snowfall, the answer may very well seem to show forth from ''outside'' our old paradigm, our old way of thinking. In this sense, the power of Innocence will come to us. Things will be revealed. I believe that what is missing will be found. But I also believe we must seek it out. In the same way the snow transformed the streets that night, the answer can reveal itself to us -- gently, quietly, softly. And I think we will discover it in a surprising place - in our own hearts - if we desire it enough.