You can get seven good sips out of the last ounce of whiskey in that dusty bottle in the back of the cabinet. Maybe nine, if you want to nurse it a bit longer. And on some nights, one of those nights where you sense how life hangs in the balance, those sips explode on your tongue. They are sweet. Sharp. Smoky. You catch the details you missed before — the spiciness of the rye, the way the bronze nectar runs thick and slow down the side of the glass.
Sometimes Coltrane is the priest you need. That steely tone, unwavering, pierces the troubled air. He blows fire in pursuance of “A Love Supreme.” His recitative — “Psalm” — pries open your soul. “It is so beautiful,” he writes. “So beautiful,” he plays. So beautiful, he prays. “Thank you, God.” And Elvin Jones celebrates the Eucharist — The Great Thanksgiving — with Trane. He is the pure wildness of God, the glory of a deity who became flesh and dwelt among drums. Drums — just frames, skeletons pulled taut with skin, banging out the ancient sounds of home.
And the next morning at breakfast, the sun breaks just right. There is a walk to the chicken coop to fetch the eggs you forgot to gather yesterday. The sizzle of hot cast iron and cool butter. The orange-yellow-gold yolk, richer than any king, flipped once at just the right time so that it runs slowly when cut. Salty, satisfying — oozy morning custard. You serve it, alongside toast and strawberry jam, to an eager child. And as you set the plate down, your knees go weak in the ways knees do when your heart is exploding and your guts are in knots. This moment is as perfect as it can be. Though the table is messy, and though the hair is unbrushed and the shoes untied, and though the kid smells awful, like wild onions and ferment, because he refused to take a bath after ball practice, this moment is as perfect as any moment can be.
Nothing is guaranteed beyond this moment, or the one a few minutes later when light dapples through the walnut tree and across the peony blooms. Pink blooms, bigger than a saucer, unfolding to the light as a body crouched reaches for a hand of kindness. Nothing is given except this morning moment near the peony, when your lover walks through the dew in bare feet to place her right hand on your shoulder and stand in silence. You marvel at birdsong.
Maybe this is what it is like to be a bird — a rufous-sided towhee scratching under the brush, heart racing in amazement in every time some wriggling things turns up. Each scratch is a gift, every grub a double gift. Or perhaps you are a falcon riding motionless above a cliff, improbably supported by something unseen and unexplained. Soaring or clawing through dirt, life dangles by a thread. It is only in suspension that the sacredness of the present is made plain. What lies ahead cannot be seen, but each day has enough trouble of its own. For now, there is this moment. This breath. This being here.
Who knows what comes next? Surely there is more grief, more tears from souls crying out to God from the miry pit. God knows there is enough cruelty and betrayal and suffering, and no end in sight. “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,” as Yeats said. But there are also more breakfasts, more flowers, more music, more sweaty children. Each breath is a gift, an invitation to gratitude. “Give thanks to the Lord,” the Psalmist proclaims, “for God’s steadfast love endures forever.”