Lighting the Way

The following article was written by Bret Bradigan.  It appeared in the Ojai Valley News on Dec. 23, 2005.  It is reprinted here with the permission of the Ojai Valley News.

Lighting the Way

We live in an age of free-floating anxiety, bombarded with messages of fear and suspicion, of self-loathing and hatred. The world grows more complex with each passing day, and it is easy to feel left behind, even in a place like Ojai, where our identity is tied so tightly to our sense of community.

We are far too often smug in our moon’s nest to know that no place is immune to tragedy or terror. That is why we must seize and squeeze each moment of joy from this world, because we are not guaranteed another.

The Christmas season is meant to be a welcome reprieve from such concerns, a time of home and hearth, of simple joys and enduring memories. We get so caught up in the holiday hustle that we seldom take the time to mark the measure of our happiness.

My holiday wish is that each of us take a moment to reflect on the simple joys and pleasures that, in their accumulation, form the only real enduring happiness there is to be found. It should be easy. Look around you. We live in the one of the most gorgeous places on this planet, and I believe, having witnessed it happen, that people are shaped by the land in which they live.

Let me tell you about one such encounter.

My holiday epiphany came during a visit with one of Ojai’s brightest lights, Chilant Sprague, who, at 91, still swims regularly at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club. While interviewing her husband, Mansfield, another leading member of this nation’s natural aristocracy, she handed me a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the featured bard at this year’s Ojai Poetry Festival.

Are There Not Still Fireflies
Are there not still fireflies
Are there not still four-leaf clovers
Is not our land still beautiful
Our fields not full of armed enemies
Our cities never bombed to oblivion
Never occupied by iron armies speaking iron tongues
Are not our warriors still valiant ready to defend us
Are not our senators still wearing fine togas
Are we still not a great people
Is this still not a free country
Are not our fields still ours
our gardens still full of flowers
our ships with full cargos
Why then do some still fear
the barbarians are coming
coming coming
in their huddled masses
(What is that sound that fills the ear
drumming drumming?)
Is not Rome still Rome
Is not Los Angeles still Los Angeles
Are these really the last days of the Roman Empire
Is not beauty still beauty
And truth still truth
Are there not still poets
Are there not still lovers
Are there not still mother sister brothers
Is there not still a full moon once a month
Are there still not stars at night
Can we not still see them
in bowl of night
signaling to us
our so-called manifest destinies?

Thanks, Chilant. I needed that.