Category Personal Reflections

Creativity and the Sublime Joys of Playing God

“Oh senseless, man, who cannot possibly make a worm or a flea and yet will create God by the dozens.” The quote is from the French philosopher and wit Voltaire, poking fun at the universal human penchant to gaze up at the heavens and conjure some supreme creator who waved its hand a few times (because, like us, it has hands) and made everything there is.

Voltaire was right, of course: We are not (yet) God enough to create a worm. (We should note, though, that worms are infinitely more complex than we might think at first glance. Come to think of it, pretty much everything is more complex than we tend to think or tweet self-righteously about at first glance.)

But oh, can our human imagination take us places! It’s one of our more useful, charming, alternately troublesome and transcendent qualities, actually.

Seven more days then unfold almost exactly like the first two, and in nine days I have watched t...

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My Guy Kai

There are moments in life that become, unbidden and unexpected, Big Moments, when you drink in something so delicious that it defies easy description but leaves you with a sense of profound contentment, snug down to your bones, with a peace in your heart that, in the biblical phrase, “passeth understanding.”

And so it was with My Guy Kai (already shortened from “Makiah”), my recently minted (4-month-old) grandson, with whom I spent a goodly part of the past few weeks doing what all older folk with a pulse do with very young folk—bouncing him on my knee while making nonsense sounds, singing nonsense songs, breathing deeply while running my nose over his mostly bald head, burrowing kisses down into the folds of what there is of his neck.

Catching and then managing to hold his gaze for precious moments in my lap, eye to eye, grin to grin, a kind of gurglefest of epic satisfaction, writ so large acros...

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The Illusion of “Normal” Life: C.S. Lewis’s “Learning in War-Time”

There are times in life when everything we perceive as “normal” about it screeches to a halt. We’re at work or at the park with our 2-year-old, lazily pushing him on the swing when the call comes in—a loved one has suffered a calamity. We hustle home, throw a few things in a bag and either start making flight arrangements or hop in the car, “dropping everything.”

Time and every other obligation and interest as we know it fades, and we enter an altered inner landscape where only one thing seems to matter.

Or does it?

On September 1, 1939, German troops crossed the Polish border en masse, setting off a chain reaction that jump-started World War II within 48 hours as France and Great Britain declared war on the German invaders. This was calamity writ large, a shot across the bow of an entire nation’s, continent’s, and ultimately the free world’s, consciousness.

Lewis warns us off notions that would make any...

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A Poem of Thanks, Belated: Ada Limón’s “The Raincoat”

I had the great good fortune of returning to my old stomping grounds in California last month, where I welcomed a grandson into this world and beheld the exquisite pleasure of seeing my daughter assume the role of motherhood. I don’t think I had really anticipated the sublime joy of those moments, though they gave rise to what did become my anticipation of all the wonders—leavened by the pretty much requisite trade-off of occasional heartaches—that lie ahead for her.

Like most all grandparents I have ever heard from, I was about bursting with joy to hold, nuzzle and coo with the little guy before retreating for a spell, returning again, retreating again, all in the knowledge there had been little to no retreat for the parents in this equation.

Right about the time their child takes its first breath, parents can hardly take a breath of their own without concern for their child’s welfare.

For them, atte...

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Life on the Farm: E.B. White’s “Death of a Pig”

Like all city boys (I spent my formative years in Los Angeles), I was enchanted when I finally got out to the radically different milieus of the coastal beaches, the small town countryside, the mountains that became visible around the LA basin when the smog finally lifted in winter, and the deserts that sprawled out seemingly to infinity on the far side of San Bernardino.

The slower pace, the natural grandeur, the different recreations and preoccupations engendered by distance from the urban hubbub.

It was like a new life had been opened to me, featuring new vistas over which my eyes could wander and my heart could soar.

By the time my year and a half or so of farm living was up, we would wind up eating both Beatrice and Abby, an occurrence that had me wondering about the wisdom of ever having given them names.

These feelings only quickened as I graduated from college and a school for the severely handicap...

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