Extravagant Promises

In what Alcoholics Anonymous folks call “The Big Book (1945),” there is a lovely passage about how life changes in recovery. These changes are referred to by AAs as “the promises.” One of the promises is that “we will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.” You really don’t need to be an alcoholic to get a leg up on this.

Of “the promises,” The Big Book says, “Are these extravagant promises? We think not.” The purpose of this statement is to reassure people in recovery that recovery itself is not extravagant, i.e., not beyond the bounds of reason or of what is deserved. That it is possible.

But recovery is in fact extravagant, in the very best sense of the word. In the same sense that Sacha Scoblic uses the word “lush” to describe her sobriety (her pun very much intended). Any life not deadened by apathy or constrained by fear is lush, luscious, extravagant.

lush-gardenAbraham Heschel’s belief that “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy” may be the truest thing I know. One of the dearest women I’ve ever met learned this week that she is dying of a malignant brain tumor. But I write this not to spread the word to “appreciate your life because you don’t know when it will end.” That is simply fear disguised as gratitude.

The message is rather that life is lush and extravagant because it will end.

The OED defines “extravagant” as that which roams beyond bounds, that which diverges, that which varies widely from what is usual or proper, that which is exceptional or eccentric.

By all means, dear friends, be extravagant. Be ardent. Be brave.

“Throw yourself like seed as you walk,” the Spanish Poet Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) writes, “and into your own field.”

Such extravagance is not only our birthright; it is the sweetest gift we can give to the world.

A poem for today from Jane Hirschfield, “Lake and Maple.”

Lake and Maple 

I want to give myself
as this maple
that burned and burned
for three days without stinting
and then in two more
dropped off every leaf;
as this lake that,
no matter what comes
to its green-blue depths,
both takes and returns it.
In the still heart that refuses nothing,
the world is twice-born—
two earths wheeling,
two heavens,
two egrets reaching
down into subtraction;
even the fish
for an instant doubled,
before it is gone.
I want the fish.
I want the losing it all
when it rains and I want
the returning transparence.
I want the place
by the edge-flowers where
the shallow sand is deceptive,
where whatever
steps in must plunge,
and I want that plunging.
I want the ones
who come in secret to drink
only in early darkness,
and I want the ones
who are swallowed.
I want the way
the water sees without eyes,
hears without ears,
shivers without will or fear
at the gentlest touch.
I want the way it
accepts the cold moonlight
and lets it pass,
the way it lets
all of it pass
without judgment or comment.
There is a lake,
Lalla Ded sang, no larger
than one seed of mustard,
that all things return to.
O heart, if you
will not, cannot, give me the lake,
then give me the song.
(from Roger Housden’s “Ten Poems to Set You Free,” 2003)




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