A Change of View
From my boyhood perch at the top of a New Jersey tree, to which I would climb with comic books in hand, I could see over the two-story apartments to New York City, beyond — the skyline punctuated by the twin towers of the World Trade Center. What awe I felt, before turning to my printed cartoons of super heroes, was of the modern works of man. Without the city, I don’t suspect I’d have thought much of the view at all.
The perspective of perches along an evening walk in Tiverton is quite different:
Here, it’s the awe of nature and the mere knowledge of the existence of mankind that inspires. Across the delta and the low hills of Bristol lies the bulk of the United States of America, whose history is not made up — truly — of discrete events and towering figures, but of individuals striving and building upon the work of those who’ve come before.
Even decades before September 11, and despite its raw size, NYC somehow emanated a sense of human impermanence. Without protection and maintenance, it will eventually return to nature, humbled, as it were, by the slow, patient working of soil, weather, and more-basic forms of life. The weeds will find their way. “I’ve seen the lights go out on Broadway,” Billy Joel sang in those years, and because we, human beings, make those lights work, our negligence or weakness can make them not work.
The fruits of human life qua human life give a different sense. True, neglect of living and of the habit of passing on life can dim (even extinguish) our own lights, but that is only to be feared in the limited context of ourselves separated from God’s creation. The land beyond the horizon will tell our story as part of the grand accomplishment of reality, and if we fix our eyes there, we see the everlasting.