For several days now–spurred perhaps by the frantic-but-I-love-it pace of autumn in New York and the prospect of the holidays that the shop windows are already putting upon us–I’ve been thinking of this piece I have taped to my kitchen cabinet, a bit yellow and tattered at this point, but its message clear and in tact.
Its power is in its gentleness. And while I cannot say I always heed its words, I always aspire to return to them, and to be renewed.
To live content with small means;
to seek elegance rather than luxury,
and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable,
and wealthy, not rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages,
with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly,
talk gently, await occasions, hurry never;
in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious,
grow up through the common — this is my symphony.
–William Henry Channing
I first discovered this years ago somewhere in the vicinity of my brother-in-law, a very cool dude who has a soulful side (in addition to the intelligence to marry my sister). William Henry Channing, it turns out, was also an extremely cool dude. Harvard graduate, early women’s rights advocate, Unitarian minister, Transcendentalist, writer. (Summary in Wikipedia here.)
Fall is my favorite season. It’s like my New Year, my time of renewal. A return to the tasks and purposes we may have let languish over the summer, to rest and to play–which increasingly science tells us are as important as work.
We are well into the season now, days shortening and good grief in New York it is already dark at 4:30. But the light–while we have it–has a special quality this time of year, a warmth and softness that often stops me in my tracks, even in my own apartment. It reminds me to be gentle, with others and with ourselves.
When something gives us pause, be it a poem, or a slant of light, or a leaf on the sidewalk–especially in the hectic holiday-preparing days ahead–it’s a sign saying, hey, give yourself a second. Be gentle with yourself.