Archive for January 31, 2014

The Extraordinary Ordinary: Red Amaryllis In Winter

Last week I was feeling a little sorry for myself–bad enough that it was bitter cold and grey outside, I was stuck inside gulping tea and antibiotics courtesy of a bad case of strep throat.  But in a stroke of fortuitous timing, just as the gloom was beginning to feel never-ending, the red amaryllis bulb that I had forced into bloom began to show its beautiful petals.

Red Amaryllis, photo by Lucinda Marshall, © 2014

Red Amaryllis, photo by Lucinda Marshall, © 2014

In the height of summer, one red flower is not terribly notable as the world is filled with bright, colorful flora.  But in the dead of winter, all by itself, it is dazzling against the background of oppressive grey cold.

Red Amaryllis Closeup, photo by Lucinda Marshall, © 2014

Red Amaryllis Closeup, photo by Lucinda Marshall, © 2014

The other day, a friend shared a quote from the Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel that speaks to the experience of delight that I found in this singular red flower,

Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement… to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.

As we go through our days, every now and again we will see something out of the ordinary that evokes such amazement, but perhaps what is really amazing is when we find that appreciation of the extraordinary in that which, in a different context, would seem quite ordinary.



The recent assault on West Virginia’s Elk River that left hundreds of thousands of people without usable water should give us all pause. We need to not only address the immediate disaster but also to examine the context in which it happened and the ways in which it is part of the global environmental crisis. As awful as this situation has been and continues to be, it should come as no surprise–the plundering of West Virginia for coal has been exacting an enormous environmental and human cost for many, many years.

And around the world, there are many places that have to cope with unsafe or scarce water supplies on an ongoing basis. As the impact of global warming continues to grow, this will only get worse.  A lot worse.

We know this, but we continue to allow chemical companies, energy  companies, agricultural companies, development companies and yes, military actions as well, to continue to endanger this most precious resource with far too little oversight and regulation.

When this story first broke, I saw a picture of water bottles being distributed to those in need, and I was struck by the irony that when you go through airport security, a water bottle is considered a possible weapon of terrorism, but tanks of toxins are allowed to sit upstream of our water supply with little or no regulation:

Downstream (for West Virginia)

What deep delusion

the body politic

that searches luggage

at airport checkpoints

looking for water bottles

that could become

weapons of terror

yet does not inspect the

tanks of toxic chemicals

that leak poison

into the rivers on which

so many lives depend–

incognizant that, in the end,

we all live downstream.

–Lucinda Marshall, © 2014



Will the West Virginia disaster be a wake-up call?  Maybe for the next ten minutes, but then something else will happen to distract us and we will go along our merry, delusional way until another inevitable result of our folly comes back at us.

The 24 hour news spin cycle is dependent on moving us on to the next big thing, time to absorb and react is truncated if not obliterated.  Water crisis today, burst pipeline tomorrow, a military crisis somewhere, budget talks break down–sorry something else just came up and we have to move on, no time to think about why this happened or how these things are connected, let alone how to change this destructive paradigm.

We would do ourselves (and the planet) a lot of good if we just stopped for a moment and insisted on being with what has transpired, refusing to allow ourselves to be push me pull you’ed on to the next crisis without the chance to absorb the implications of what has happened into our experience and understanding of the world and our very lives.