A Birthday Gift

08-30-2015 | Lindsay

We celebrated Luke's birthday at community supper this week, which inspired me to write this short reflection:

Happy birthday, we say, knowing full well that each one of us is born into a world that is basically a crap shoot. Our day, at any moment, could be pleasant or terrifying; thrilling or sickening; serene or numbingly disheartening, or everything and anything in between. Around and within us whirl a mass of events, possibilities, images, newscasts, voices that refuse to coalesce into any descriptor at all, much less a word as wispy as "happy". "How are you today?" asks the man at the checkout, and we really don't know where to begin.

In all this, what makes sense? What would be a gift? What small, glimmering box could we cradle thankfully in the palm of our hand?

Here at Rolling Ridge we get a little paper called The Shoestring. The most recent issue came yesterday, and I opened it. Typed and hand-lettered, it comes from a place called Pacem in Terris in Warwick, NY. Pacem in Terris is "a trans-religious sanctuary" founded by Frederick Franck. It's an "independent outdoor sculpture garden and museum, one man's work of art that aspires to be an oasis of quiet, of sanity, where spirit and nature may reconnect," a simple place of art and natural beauty on the Wawayanda River. Open May through October, people come for solitude, respite, to enjoy intimate classical music concerts, to catch a breath.

Simple and small, but with big humor and heart. The Shoestring is full of gentle, self-deprecating anecdotes and reflections, including an editorial on "the economics of publishing a shoestring and other matters of high finance." There are three subscription price options: the welfare edition, ("a kind of philanthropic service"), the glorious super-frill edition and the superb gold-plated deluxe edition, (this last is the "cork upon which we float"). It floats because while printing and postage are costly, labor is not a problem "as the president doubles as typesetter, editor, and janitor; the secretary wields a broom deftly and also functions as addressograph, and ... board members have avocations like roof repairing, cement mixing, lawn mowing." The editorial concludes, "Pacem in Terris is a Poor Man's Folly, which is less foolish than most other follies for it is a tiny sign of hope..."

At the bottom of the paper is this: "the welfare edition is $5 a year; the super frill edition is $10 and the gold-plated deluxe edition is $20...only the sophisticated connoisseur detects the immense difference in the editions."

Frederick Franck (who died in 2006) was a painter, sculptor, author of many books (including The Zen of Seeing), and sage. His art is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum. The sanctuary he created is one of those luminous things that rise up from time to time into and through the maelstrom of this world, like a small pearl, a gift in the palm of our hand. Happy Birthday.