Making Your Life “A Worthy Expression Of Leaning Into The Light”

Photo credit: Freestock/Unsplash

I was working on a whole different idea for this post, when I read that the writer Barry Lopez had died at age seventy five on Christmas Day. His work, the New York Times obituary stated, embraced humanitarian, environmental and spiritual sensibilities that some critics likened to those of Thoreau and John Muir.

I had read Arctic Dreams, the book for which he won an American Book Award for Nonfiction (1986), years ago, and felt a little choked up, learning of his passing. It was good to have this surge of emotion, appreciating him and his impact on my life through his writing.

Reading is like being on the end of a live wire, even though a book is inert, a physical object.

How privileged I feel, how blessed, even though it occurs to me like a light’s being extinguished. This is a rare moment, when a contemporary writer you admire and feel intimacy with (that’s not too strong a word) dies.

Admiral Richard Byrd wrote in Alone, the account of his 1933 solo scientific research project and near-death in the Antarctic, that “across the room in the shadows beyond the reach of the storm lantern, were rows of books, many of them great books, preserving the distillates of profound lives. But I could not read them. The pain in my eyes would not let me.”

The world learned later that the pain in his eyes was from carbon monoxide poisoning. “Could I but read,” he wrote,the hours would not seem half so long, the darkness half so oppressive, and my minor misfortunes half so formidable.”

What a paean to reading, though, and also to the distillates of profound lives. His book, this very book, would become the same kind of inspirational distillate for later generations.

Today I am grateful for those at-a-distance people who have nonetheless become part of who I am, who have helped dye my soul, and I’m grateful for how it can still feel when they’re gone. As I learned about my own father’s death when I was five, proper grief can open up a deeper place for them and lodge their spirits more deeply within you.

Photo Credit: Bethany Legg/Unsplash

In Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez asked “How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s culture but within oneself? If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light.”

The Times article notes “I can tell you in two words,” he said when asked about his motives for writing. “To help. I am a traditional storyteller. This activity is not about yourself. It’s about culture, and your job is to help.”

Looking ahead to 2021, it’s hard to imagine a more helpful statement. This past year, we have seen the blood, the inherent horror, the darkness. There’s an element of trust necessary and a willingness to keep our hearts open. Finding a balance and the right line to walk “in the midst of such paradox” may be the work of a lifetime.




Biweekly musings on gratitude from the GratiDude

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Craig "The GratiDude" Jones

Craig "The GratiDude" Jones

I am pursuing An Inquiry Into A Gratitude-Inspired Life

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