Friday, August 03, 2007

To the manner born

William James wrote: "At bottom the whole concern of both morality and religion is with the manner of our acceptance of the universe." Since I posted yesterday, I've read more of Robert Michael Pyle's Sky Time in Gray's River, and I've been reminded what it is I so admire about Bob. His manner of acceptance.

On our first encounter with James's phrase we are likely to focus on the word "acceptance." We think , for example, of the poet E. E. Cummings' acceptance "for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes" -- taking the world as we find it and not as we wish it to be. But acceptance easily drifts into stolid resignation. Boredom, even. "That's the way of it," my neighbor here will sometimes say. Nothing to be done.

What struck me as I read Bob last evening was the manner of his acceptance. "Manners" in its plural meaning implies a certain grace, a politeness, a civilizing virtue. "She has good manners," we say. There is nothing passive about Bob's manner. It is rich with a restless desire to learn, with celebration. He knows what sort of world he wants to live in, but there is nothing in his voice of the proselytizer. His manner is without anger, without contention. Rather, there is a kind of hands-on, or manual, quality to his acceptance -- there it is, the same Latin root, manus, hand. A random few sentences:
The first wood nymph comes dancing around the corner of the porch, announcing the arrival of summer's long last stand. Doug Larson is cutting hay. Around and around Lenore Sorenson's field the old Farmall, baling-wired together for yet another season, spins a narrowing ellipse. Spud, the brown dog, runs alongside but gives the machine plenty of room, his brother having gone under the flair last year.
Not high adventure, but necessary and real. Not afloat in the stratosphere of pious posturings or wistful longing. Just what Donald Hall said about his own Eagle Pond in New England: "There's no reason to live here except for love."