Friday, December 18, 2009

December 18: Sky

I suffer from insomnia, and my patient husband helps me fall asleep every night by reading to me. Over the years, he has read me J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy (and The Hobbit), twice, all the works of Jane Austen (he's read Pride and Prejudice, my favorite, three times), Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series, twice, all the Sherlock Holmes stories, and C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. He's currently reading me Tolstoy's War and Peace...

...which explains why today, when gazing out my window at the incredible, clear blue sky in a sort of distracted rapture, a particularly memorable passage from War and Peace came to mind. Prince Andrei, one of the book's heroes, is wounded while fighting in the Battle of Austerlitz. Formerly a rather stuck-up, proud man, the following experience of enlightenment eventually changes him for the better. 
"What's this? Am I falling? My legs are giving way," thought he, and fell on his back. He opened his eyes, hoping to see how the struggle of the Frenchmen with the gunners ended, whether the red-haired gunner had been killed or not and whether the cannon had been captured or saved. But he saw nothing. Above him there was now nothing but the sky--the lofty sky, not clear yet still immeasurably lofty, with gray clouds gliding slowly across it. "How quiet, peaceful, and solemn; not at all as I ran," thought Prince Andrei. "Not as we ran, shouting and fighting, not at all as the gunner and the Frenchman with frightened and angry faces struggled for the mop: how differently do those clouds glide across that lofty infinite sky! How was it I did not see that lofty sky before? And how happy I am to have found it at last! Yes! All is vanity, all falsehood, except that infinite sky. There is nothing, nothing, but that. But even it does not exist, there is nothing but quiet and peace. Thank God!..." (Book 3, Chapter XVI). 

Amid war, he finds peace. A perfect sky such as today's uplifts my spirits, puts things in perspective. Whatever is going on below--the ant-like toils of humans upon the planet--the implacable blue face of the shining sky overarches it all. Even when clouds obscure this brilliance, we know from airplane travel that if you rise high enough above them, the sun shines and the sky is wide-open, infinite, blending into the cosmos. 

Walk outside. Look up.
Sky gods don their blue silk capes,
dazzle us mortals.

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