Whatever Works

 

When I learned that Nelson Mandela had found great strength in Invictus, I made copies of that William Ernest Henley poem and mailed them to two men I correspond with, currently behind bars.

Nice gesture, right?  But pointless. I see that now. Somehow, mysteriously,  a Victorian, “stiff upper lip,” Brit poem (i.e. language of his oppressors) spoke to Mandela. He discovered that rereading “I am the master of my fate” every day reminded him that his strength was with him. He chose that particular poem; he let it speak to him. Through him. And it worked.

Each of us has to chose our own Invictus. One poem can’t fit all. But whatever works for you, oh Lordy, I hope you’ve found it, find it!

Here’s what’s working for me these days: a cheesy* version of “How Can I Keep from Singing?” It sounds an echo in my soul, indeed!

*A word about cheesy: From an interview with Patty Jenkins, director of “Wonder Woman” (New York Times, June 1, 2017):

This may be a cheesy question, but what do you want people to take away from this movie?

Did you say cheesy? Cheesy is one of the words banned in my world. I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing. It’s been like that for 20 years, that the entertainment and art world has shied away from sincerity, real sincerity, because they feel they have to wink at the audience because that’s what the kids like. We have to do the real stories now. The world is in crisis.

I wanted to tell a story about a hero who believes in love, who is filled with love, who believes in change and the betterment of mankind. I believe in it. It’s terrible when it makes so many artists afraid to be sincere and truthful and emotional, and relegates them to the too-cool-for-school department. Art is supposed to bring beauty to the world.

“Profound, Deep Work”

[Captured (Rosy-Fingered) Ray from Setting Sun; Alfred, Maine, March, 2017]

Sunday I had the privilege to hear Dr. Amanda Kemp talk about “holding the space for transformation.” Wow. Just. Wow. Or, as my late, beloved friend, George Preston, used to say: “Good stuff!”

So I invite you to acquaint/reacquaint yourself with Dr. Kemp. Good stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Sweet the Sound

[Jesse in the Groove, Honk!, Somerville, MA 2016]

When you’ve traveled around the sun as many times as I have, and been blessed, as have I, to know a host of lovely people, you’ll want to send off a LOT of Season’s Greetings* cards, right? I do. And, because I am human and, this season, easily overwhelmed, by Hour Three of writing and addressing cards on Saturday, I hit the wall. Only up to the H’s in my address book, I questioned my sanity; I doubted that a pretty card touting “happiness”—ordered  in sunnier, cheerier, pre-election August—was even the right thing to mail!

But, you know, Grace happens. Sometimes. Sometimes we are given, willy nilly, an opening: Suddenly I saw my-way-too-facile-cards and the United State Postal Service and the water warriors of Standing Rock and Sanctuary Cities and activist lawyers and the Muslim owners of a restaurant in London that invited the homeless and the lonely to come eat for free on Christmas Day and good people everywhere; millions and millions of people profoundly and intrinsically and powerfully connected together. What a vision! What an opening! I saw how perhaps-silly-but heartfelt acts of reaching out, connecting with those we love, can be a simple yet significant act of solidarity, reassurance, kindness; support. Yes!

But, wait, there’s more. I heard it. That ginormous web. Just for an instant. I heard its hum. Like the sound I remember from my teaching days when my writing students silently, happily settled into their individual work.

Yes. I heard that sweet “Mmmmm.” I’ll end by offering another sweet sound:

“The secret of the mountain is that the mountains simply exist, as I do myself: the mountains exist simply, which I do not. The mountains have no “meaning,” they are meaning; the mountains are. The sun is round. I ring with life, and the mountains ring, and when I can hear it, there is a ringing that we share. I understand all this, not in my mind but in my heart, knowing how meaningless it is to try to capture what cannot be expressed, knowing that mere words will remain when I read it all again, another day.”
― Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard

*Although I celebrate Christmas, many people do not. I respect that. It’s that simple. End of discussion.

“There Is Mystery”

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[Post-It on the E Train, 2016]

Sunday was “extended worship”at my Quaker meeting, a two-hour-rather-than-one meeting for worship which began an hour early. (We do this from time to time.) Only a handful sat in silence for that first hour. I was one of them.

Here’s The Thing: Somehow the presence of a scattering of people in a commodious meetinghouse* for that first/extra hour altered that space in some profound and mysterious way so that when the bulk of worshippers arrived at their usual 10:30 arrival time, they stepped into a room “”that felt different.” (Someone told me this later.) And worship felt deeper, more grounded, too. Why?

Part of me wants to dissect this phenomenon, to explain it—so that it can be replicated! But a larger part of me wants to give over, to let go of my need to put words to this mystery. And to simply and to gratefully celebrate That Which Is Beyond Words.

 

* Factoring in its balcony, the Friends Meeting at Cambridge meetinghouse can easily seat one-hundred fifty people; two-hundred scrunched together.