This morning’s dawn was the most beautiful I think I’ve ever seen. Snow was swirling desultorily through and from thin, low wisps of clouds so that it was hard to tell if it was snow or mist. Walking through it was like being a molecule, walking through wool. The lightening sky made the snow glow, contrasting all the more with the dusky, shadowy dark pines. The moon –maybe full, maybe not quite – was shining through the gauzy clouds like a silver dollar held between your fingers at arm’s length. On my new morning walk, down the short road by my new house, I tracked the movements of my four part-time neighbors, inspecting the tire tracks into and out of their garages. They’re all up for Christmas. I felt like a Turkish Village Guard, on patrol. All I needed was a halberd or a scimitar or something.
In Ottoman times – speaking of Turkey – if a murder was committed by an unknown assailant all the people who were close enough to hear the dying man’s screams were responsible for the blood money. If no one was close enough to hear the dying man’s screams, the nearest village was responsible, or the state. It was never just an ‘unknown assailant’. The Village Guard had an exceptional motivation to discover the culprit, as the entire village would be seriously pissed off if he doesn’t. That could be why the Turks have such a different approach to democracy from ours: they have a trust in allegory that surpasses their trust in facts, as the unknown assailant didn’t pay, so someone must. Whole villages of people are at fault because the story wasn’t yet complete. After blood money is paid, it’s complete. And it says a thing or two about their weakness for conspiracy theories. Even now schoolchildren are taught that the fall of the Ottoman Empire was a result of the Western Allies ganging up on the Turks out of jealousy. Today a huge section of Turkish society is convinced that the Americans are arming the Kurdish separatist group, the PKK. Why? Because there was no one near enough to hear the dying man’s screams.
But I digress. My short morning walk with Allie this morning was as beautiful as ever I’ve seen, though I’m sure a healthy contingent of readers will wonder what was so beautiful about it with that damp snow in the dark. What constitutes beauty is what we notice. I may have noticed that it was damp, that there was a layer of ice that made walking difficult, that the shrouded moon cast too little light, or any other distasteful thing. Believe me, I’ve done that before. This time I noticed a kind of beauty I’d give my eye teeth for the ability to draw with charcoal on paper. I wasn’t in a particularly good mood, I just noticed one thing over the other. Sometimes noticing, like belief in something, is completely involuntary, and sometimes it’s a choice.
I’ve chosen to notice, for example, that my new house is as good as or better than I ever planned or imagined, and that I love living here, rather than noticing –or at least paying notice to – the fact that pretty much everything that could go wrong has. Twice. We spend so much of our lives living in other times: what will happen tomorrow if I can’t pay the bill? What if my electric bill is astronomical because Cap’n Nemo has not been back to fix the boiler? What if I did it all wrong? What if I was blinded, and couldn’t see the beauty? Right this minute there is something good to pay attention to. Not good advice if you’re driving a car and enjoying the scenery, but not so bad if you’re doing something otherwise distasteful. I gave this advice to my friend Heidi once when I was feeling particularly Buddha-ish and she was going through a bad break up with the man she hoped to spend the rest of her life with, and I was taken aback when she reported later that she’d done it, and it worked. Whenever she felt desperate and hard about what had happened, she just noticed something about the particular moment she was in, and it snapped her out of it. It ain’t just me.