So on Friday my wife and I strolled beside a lake in north Alabama. We admired blue herons and Canada geese, we marveled at a stray sandpiper and a loon from the northern lakes, the way it vanished under water like a thought, and the wild calls it made.
It was a perfect day to be in the Tennessee River valley, car windows down, jackets unzipped, strangers beaming at one another. From a high bluff we gazed down deep into Buck’s Pocket, and even the baying of hounds and the odd gunshot sounded like part of a celebration. Alabama teems with life and beauty, and for all the blundering damage we do, we can’t spoil it all.
Only a German Lit major would think of this, but I just had to track down the devil’s complaint to Faust (in Goethe’s Faust, Part I). It’s about trying to do evil but only contributing to the good:
Was sich dem Nichts entgegenstellt,
Das Etwas, diese plumpe Welt,
So viel als ich schon unternommen,
Ich wußte nicht ihr beizukommen,
Mit Wellen, Stürmen, Schütteln, Brand -
Geruhig bleibt am Ende Meer und Land!
Und dem verdammten Zeug, der Tier- und Menschenbrut,
Dem ist nun gar nichts anzuhaben:
Wie viele hab ich schon begraben!
Und immer zirkuliert ein neues, frisches Blut.
In essence, the devil Mephistopheles is griping that despite all his efforts to trouble the earth and sea, and to wipe out the whole detestable brood of animals and humans, the earth is still serene and there is always “new, fresh blood” out there — always plenty of warm, grubby Something to overwhelm the purity of Nothing. What’s a poor devil to do?
I know cultural pessimism * has a venerable history in Western civilization, but I am inclined not to take part in it. (I guess I can claim Goethe for company in this.) Plodding mankind is not what reality is all about. Even if we succeed in doing ourselves in — and I’m not sure we could if we tried — but even then, life on earth will continue without us, thriving and changing as ever. I haven’t always believed in God, but somehow I’ve always believed in the poem “God’s Grandeur.” Or when I’ve been tempted not to, countless experiences have reminded me that “nature is never spent” and that “there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”
I guess my gushing optimism is in danger of making nonsense of my title: What day isn’t perfect? Why make comparisons at all? I guess it’s just that some times and places are easier for our self-engrossed selves to appreciate. For me, Friday in north Alabama was among these.
* Vid. the (lost) golden age, original sin, the tragedy of the commons, etc., etc.