The Moth, The Mountains, The River

by Mary Oliver

Who can guess the luna’s sadness who lives so briefly? Who can guess the impatience of stone longing to be ground down, to be part again of something livelier? Who can imagine in what heaviness the rivers remember their original clarity?

Strange questions, yet I have spent worthwhile time with them. And I suggest them to you also, that your spirit grow in curiosity, that your life be richer than it is, that you bow to the earth as you feel how it actually is, that we–so clever, and ambitious, and selfish, and unrestrained– are only one design of the moving, the vivacious many.


The guide said that the walking-track that danced around the fringes of the Himalayas has been there for over 70 years, and yet — in the 7 years I’ve known Pakistan — I’ve never stopped moving long enough to notice. Did I even know it existed?

Perhaps knowing and feeling — to use Mary Oliver’s verb — are different. Perhaps knowing and wondering (wandering?) are different.

My dad said that they’ve discovered seashells on Everest. My mom said that the stars in Orion’s Belt might no longer exist. Even the mountains are moving. Even the stars are burning. “Everything, sooner or later, is a part of everything else.” But the Himalayas and Great Dipper are here now. Can we stop long enough to notice, to feel, to bow?

Krysta asks me about the role of Islam in poverty reduction and homelessness. Danny asks about the impact of small businesses and online shopping on community development. “Strange questions.” And yet, I haven’t spent worthwhile time with them.

Does a traveler carry a curiosity ordinarily drowned out by the traffic noise of the mundane? Do we willingly deprive our lives of the richness that seems so apparent to the uninitiated? Did the Mughals wonder at the Badshahi Mosque? Did Shah Jahan say Bismillah for the breeze as he bowed in prayer at Wazir Khan Masjid?

How can we grow our spirit of curiosity so that our life might be richer?

Strange questions. Or maybe not so strange. Either way, perhaps part of the answers lies in learning to see the city life like a traveler. And perhaps another part lies in learning to feel the natural world like a poet.