It happened again. This time a young woman. College aged. She came up to me after our recent poetry reading at Bowling Green University Firelands campus.
"Do you believe?"
"Religion. You know, Jesus. Are a believer?"
"I believe in poetry."
It's true. I'm not particularly a prayerful person in the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John sense of the word.
Maybe my attention span is attracted to shortened lines more than chapters and verse numbers. Or maybe I just like the divergence of thought. But in poetry you can find all the best of the spiritual world. The 800 section in the library reads like a Bible in thousands of volumes (only a small fraction of which is available on your Kindle, sorry to say). A good day for me and all too rare are afternoons lost in places like the poetry section in the Oberlin Library or some used bookstore, pawing through poetry looking for . . .
Read Poe and you hear the cynical voice that proclaims from joy are born all sorrows. Adopt a philosophy of life like that and you can see why it was hard for the man to pull on his pants and face the day. And yet, that sentiment is true and it invades us all from time to time. In the reading is the realization that our dark selves are not operating in isolation. Somewhat of a consolation, I suppose.
But I don't find myself reaching for cynics in dark times. Dorothy Parker, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath -- they may all have some insights to share, but not at times when your head is already halfway in the oven. Not much to hang onto there. In dark times we want words that help us through.
I have a friend who is very ill. Within her shines a light that has illuminated classrooms and hearts of teachers, her friends, desk clerks and porters worldwide. She is that kind of person. Bonnie Campbell Hill.
Her family has kindly set up one of those Caring Bridge sites to keep her world of friends updated. I read the postings of her friends, many of whom are prayerful people, and I'm grateful (envious?) for their postings.
Were you ever out in the great alone when the moon was awful clear? And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear? Robert Service
Friendship is a bouquet of memories, some primary bright, standouts and dozens stems of green filler. On one of my darkest days ever, Bonnie threw my things into my suitcase, jammed $60 in my hand and put me in a cab to the airport to fly home to my granddaughter Stephie's bedside. Nothing could take away the pain or aloneness I felt traveling that day, but her loving kindness helped me get through it. Smooth and caring. Poetry without words. Prayer in action?
The end of life is a transition we all make alone, ultimately. It's hard to even think in times like this, let alone say (to others or to self) something/anything wise. We are too close up on it, like children sounding out letters, it's hard for us to find the big idea. Wisdom is retrospective.
I first met Rabindranath Tagore at the Erie Street Bookstore on a rainy Saturday afternoon and was almost disappointed to later find out that not only had he won a Nobel Prize in 1913, but some new agey types had rediscovered him and claimed my new friend as their own. Still, even though I didn't exactly discover him, every time I read his work, I find a new discovery.
In his book Sadhana, The Realisation of Life, Tagore uses the words love and joy interchangeably. He quotes the ancient seer-poet who sings, "From love the world is born, by love it is sustained, towards love it moves, and into love it enters." A few pages before that, he quotes the seer as saying, "From joy are born all creatures, by joy they are sustained, towards joy they progress, and into joy they enter." I once used this poem/song for inspiration for a poem for Kelly and Brian's wedding, a day of great joy.
But the meaning of a poem is in great part what we bring to it. And today, I bring my sadness and am reminded that transitions are part of the natural flow of life, even the great transition that each of us is destined to make. Spending too much energy on the seeming unfairness of it obscures our vision of the love and joy that radiates from such a luminary as Bonnie.
Bonnie has a Big Idea. She wants part of her legacy to be libraries in India built through the Room To Read program, for more information go here. She also wants to fund grants for teachers to attend conferences, so many of which have benefited from her presentations.
From love, by love, towards love and into love. The joy that is Bonnie.