Wednesday, October 20, 2010
The Daily Sublime
Last week, my close friend Deborah and I finally had a few moments to have a coffee and catch up on one another's lives, and she talked about the many people--some of them sick, some of them old, some of them both sick and old--who depended on phone calls from her. So she's done what women have been doing since time out of mind: trimmed her life down to its essentials so she has the time and the emotional energy to make the calls so these vulnerable people feel less lonely and more safe. About the only thing besides work that isn't optional is walking the German shepherds, Seamus and London.
She spoke of a walk earlier in the week when she'd been lying in the grass with the dogs, watching a hawk swoop and soar, watching London's head doing a 360 when geese flew over, watching the fog gently rise out of the dusk and damp grass and leaves. It was a moment so rich and palpable that it more than made up for the missed movie nights and coffees with friends.
Ah, the sublime, I said. The comforts of the sublime. While few of us feel any longer that these moments illustrate the incomprehensibility of God, which Immanuel Kant thought was their purpose, we do feel something Kant thought characterized them: a powerful harmony between our senses and the world they apprehend. We feel that our sense of sight, hearing, touch are exactly suited to the world they give back to us. We are supposed to be here at this moment.
But the sublime is also tinged with powerful feelings of loss, because our senses tell us that the moment is always already fading. The notes we hear are disappearing into the past; the late October light is already falling and dimming. But it's being on the golden edge of a fading moment that makes it so beautiful. Paradoxically, it's because we're about to lose the moment that we value it so fully.
I had an urban sublime moment yesterday afternoon. It was nearly 5, and downtown had emptied out; in fact you could hear the silent vacuum of sound created by all those people and their cars leaving, as if their absence hung in the air. A lone saxophonist played "All the things you are" at the Cornwall Centre end of the mall, reminding us that we were also in the presence of "the promised kiss of springtime." The slanting October light left the mall itself in dusk, but was hitting the taller buildings above; the dramatic difference between the sun-washed sky and the dusky street speaking of what was about to change.
Veronica's photographs shouldn't be able to catch the sublime, since they represent a single instant. But you can tell by the muzzy bars of light across the eggs that the moment is already passing (not to mention the fragility of the eggs themselves). The water drops on the fountain are on their way to some sea; the water in Walden Pond is still for now, but soon a clever old trout or over-sized tortoise will come to the surface and send ripples echoing out to the pond's edges. A Saturday afternoon beside the pond in Boston Commons will fade into a memory: and who will know that they had been, for an instant, looped back in time to be part of the replay of Seurat's La Grande Jatte?
You can find more of Veronica Geminder's photos at
at 2:49 PM