A Hare in Every Nettle

From my notebook:

16 August, 2020

7:26 AM. Good morning. Am in the sunroom with an entirely welcome cup of coffee, a cool breeze, and a view of squash blossoms outside the window. It does feel as though the most tentative turn autumnal has been made these last two days. Not that summer has been cast aside…more like fall has been remembered. Like the corduroy shirt one finds while flicking through the closet in early September…and with it, the memory of how soft and cozy it is…which leads to ‘Hm, it’s been cool in the morning, maybe I could get away with wearing this,’ so you try…and when you try your body responds with ‘Oh, I am so sorry but no, hunh-uh, not yet…but do remember where you hang this bit of softness because soon…

It is an in-between time in an in-between time kind of year. This seasonal shift, though, is one I look forward to each year. When the cool comes again. With it comes a change in beauty. Leaves change from a vivid multitude of greens to a panoply of flame-tones… And then they drop, vistas open, and you see ‘the beauty of the dancer’ in each tree (Thank you, Sara Thomsen for the song with that title). I learn anew each year to appreciate the contrasts of fall and winter…the movement from technicolour inside to sepia and monochrome outdoors. The happy medium of ‘just warm enough’ while outside and the pleasure of returning inside after being out.

I hold on to this while also watching the news, watching pandemic numbers, thinking about buying masks to provide downstairs at the Spirituality Centre I direct, and not knowing when will be the next time I am able to see my mother face to face or the friend I have known for 37 years and her family.

Living with all of this that is real and true reminded me of a quotation from a book, The Making of Poetry by Adam Nicolson.

’Southey once said to me, ‘ Coleridge wrote to his son Hartley in 1820, ‘You are nosing every nettle along the hedge, while the greyhound (meaning himself, I presume) wants only to get to sight of the hare & Flash!- strait as a line! he has it in his mouth!’

Coleridge thought that the kind of remark a cannibal would make to an anatomist as he watched him dissect a body, commenting on the time the doctor was taking to prepare his dinner. Must a man wait a whole day before he is allowed to eat? But it was the journey Coleridge valued as much as the arrival.

’The fact is-I do not care two pence for the hare; but I value most highly the excellencies of scent, patience…free activity; and find a hare in every nettle I make myself acquainted with.’(P. 19 The Making of Poetry)

When I first read this self-description and had to laugh…I’d never thought of it in terms of nettles and hares, but oh glory, yes, yes, and yes again. I absolutely understand the excellencies of which Coleridge speaks. And one only need ask those around me in different circumstances to have confirmation.

I was invited to Never Wash the dishes—ONLY DRY— during my time in Rome with twelve others before final vows. Why? I was too deliberate and took too long. And then there was the time someone said, ‘It isn’t that I don’t want to know what you are thinking…It’s that you are thinking too much and willing to explain it.” It’s what had people gather around me when I took the preschool entrance test in a school where I taught because I was going to help administer it—and I built a staircase out of cubes, like the instructions asked me to…except, no one had ever had anyone ever build one that way. And, I’d like to think too that something of this habit of hare-finding where ‘ere I wander is why teachers would come to me with a student’s work and say—Here are the instructions I gave…this is the work she did. Do you have any insight as to why/how this work came from these instructions?

It’s why I like recipes in paragraphs that suggest rather than those with amounts that prescribe (unless chemistry is important, as it is in baking, making vinaigrettes, etc…) and rarely only look up one word in a dictionary, whether print or online. I was a liberal studies major in undergrad…someone who took Physics because I love it, in spite of the math nearly doing me in; and revelled in writing my own scripts for Reader’s Theatre.

In a different way, these excerpts from Coleridge’s letter also make me think about the charism of the Society of the Sacred Heart… To discover and make known the love of the heart of Christ. The breadth of that call… The call to search for the hare in the nettles where we find ourselves. Those nettles are already different, all around the world, wherever we are, in whatever era or moment we find ourselves. Each one of us searches as our vision, our unique senses and sensitivities, have us search, have us notice…the signs, the fruit, the manifestation, of that love. There is a hare in every nettle we make ourselves acquainted with…and even in those nettles we ourselves are not able to explore. It seems to me, though, that the point is the poking around. It is the searching, the questions, the ability to notice nuance, the subtleties of presence, as well as the moments of “if it hops like a hare, twitches ears like a hare, wiggles its nose like a hare…” and sharing that process of encounter with others.

Janet Erskine Stuart, RSCJ, said of the education offered by the Society—We are not meant to turn the children out small and complete but seriously begun on a wide basis. She also said that it is better to begin a great work than to finish a small one.

Coleridge set off on a long walk that led him to the Wordsworths and that encounter led to revolutionary change in Western poetry. I shall keep finding beauty in the changing of the seasons and probe the nettle that is life in the midst of Covid-19, acquainting myself with the hares. And I shall trust in the fidelity of God and in the love of my sisters as each member of the Society, each member of the Sacred Heart family, encounters the wounds of the world in his and her own context and seeks to discover within them the love of the heart of Jesus and to make that known and manifest.

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