The Symmetry of Sunflowers



It’s just after midnight and warm and rainy out here on the bay. A soft breeze is keeping it from being unbearable, but then the humidity is rising again after a beautiful day yesterday. I can hear some frogs out toward the marsh, awakened by the rain perhaps; and a few birds calling deep in the woods; one is a whippoorwill. I was going to stretch out in my hammock in the clearing on the other side of the property through the woods but for the rain. So, instead, the porch. I keep the lights off to keep the bugs away and also so I can see better. It’s so much easier to see when the light comes from somewhere else. Here, now, I can see just fine well up the front path and through the woods to the first turn in the driveway.

Is there anything as peaceful as late night, early morning? It’s as if everyone everywhere is asleep, or quietly reading a book, nodding off. I don’t remember knowing when I was young that somewhere else on this planet it was daytime, and people were out and about doing business and having lunch and tending to their daily chores. No, when I was young and it was night people everywhere were asleep, or supposed to be asleep, but some of them like me instead sat up awake in their rooms looking out toward the star-covered sky.

When my son and I were in Portomarin, Spain, unable to find a place to stay, we slept all night on chairs in the town square. But being in a strange place with some tween doing bike tricks on the front steps of a nearby cathedral, I couldn’t sleep at all, so I walked up and down the road to keep warm. Eventually, we left around 4:30 when there were still more stars than not, and the eastern sky had not yet contemplated the dawn. We put on our flashlights when we got to the edge of town and onto the trail heading west, but we quickly discovered we could only see as far as the light’s beam, so we turned them off and saw the Milky Way, and the distant glow of what must have been Sarria, Spain, and a creek running not far from us. It is amazing how far you can see if you don’t over focus on one spot in front of you. Honestly, we wanted to stay somewhere, get a shower and a good night’s sleep, but it wasn’t in the cards that night and it turned out to be one of the more memorable evenings on the Camino.

Throughout my life I can point to many times I thought I was going one way and  because of circumstance or unexpected events, ended up on a different trajectory, and more than one time through the years I discovered I had a better perspective if I didn’t over-focus on one direction. There are quotes about this. Memes. Scripture passages. Song lyrics. Romance poems. Dirges. Limericks.

Here’s one: “When someone closes a door, God opens a window.” GOD, I hate that one. Come on. First of all, as another meme aptly points out, it’s a door, open it back up again; it’s what it does. And for a lot of people they turn from the closed door and there is no window, no, there’s just darkness and no way out, literally no way out. So, ixnay on the window metaphor. Stop letting people slam doors in your face seems to be the best solution. And if they do, open your own damn window. God helps those who help themselves.

Here’s another: “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.” Oh fuck you. If the going gets tough, it’s time to evaluate just how much whatever it is you were after is worth the effort to begin with, because honestly, for those with passion and drive and that rare internal motivation, it is never tough going, ever. It simply is part of the way there. Ask a long distance runner if the marathon was “tough.” Yeah, it was tough if you look at the difficulty level, but that’s not in the vocabulary of a marathoner; it can’t be. On the steepest trails on the Camino, toward the start in the Pyrenees, I never thought of it as “tough” in the sense I couldn’t do it; it was just going to take longer, and I’d breathe heavier, and maybe even feel like throwing up from time to time, and once even my legs simply stopped moving, honestly would not move. But it was never “tough”; no, my exhilaration at being on the Camino with my son negated any thoughts of tough. Is that rationalization? Probably, but not at the time. At the time it was simply a new way of thinking. Or, as JT points out in one of his dirges, “All I really needed was the proper point of view.”

I might be wrong about all that. But I still believe things are only tough because of where we shine the light. I prefer to see the big picture instead of zeroing in on the difficult parts. 

Anyway, things keep changing, and out here on the porch at the very witching hour of night, it isn’t as scary as it seems, some of these unexpected changes. Sometimes I think we are too logical, use too much reason. The most miraculous moments can’t be rationalized or figured out. It’s the moments that occur when, as Bruce Springsteen points out, one plus one equals three, “that’s when the magic kicks in.” Some artists have it; a few writers, a handful of musicians. In the world of going and coming back we are raised to follow straight lines and make right turns. Even nature is symmetrical and balanced; the hexagonal symmetry of a honeycomb, the seed sequence of a sunflower (each pedal, leaf, and seed is in a sequence understood by adding together the two previous numbers of pedals, leaves, and seeds. It’s called Fibonacci Sequence); and even animals, including humans, have bilateral symmetry. Cut us down the middle and we are nearly mirror images of our then-dead selves.

(So what do you think about at one in the morning on the porch?)

Listen, we can explain nearly everything that happens in life, and when we can’t we fabricate answers to make us feel better. The open window, the other path, the something better will come, the heightened hearing of a blind person, the “he’s in a better place” response to add balance to understandable depression. But what about when the explanations are mere shadows, and rationalizations are simply ill-disguised hopes? For me, I immerse myself in the incomprehensible magic of night, the blanket of stars whose light left home a billion years ago but arrives for me tonight, now, lighting my way on whatever path I want to follow next, as if the heavens conspired before humans walked this earth to illuminate my way this very evening.

Well, not tonight. It’s raining.

But you get the point. Whatever might have been true yesterday is, for good or bad, no longer valid. Tonight it’s just me and tomorrow and whatever I decide to do with it. Out here on the porch looking out toward the bay listening to the frogs in the marsh and some whippoorwill in the woods I am the best of my ideas, with just a touch of magic left enough to see Vega pushing through some clouds. Yes, I can see so much better when the light comes from somewhere else.


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