Thursday, April 18, 2013

Poetry Floaties Keep Me From Drowning

After the bombings in Boston a few days ago and the explosion in West, Texas at a nearby fertilizer plant last night, I feel as if we've been hit by a terrible double-tap of tragedy.

Miles away, folks are facing their worst nightmares and I'm here, safe and sound in my home, my biggest immediate concern being sure the kids take raincoats with them to school.

If I let myself watch and listen and think about either event too long, I will be a puddle of tears before mid-morning.

Words help. 
For me, words can help shape reality into something I can handle, a shape I can "see" in my minds eye. Then somehow, I can process the indescribable and wrap my prayers around something more concrete than the gut feelings of fear and dismay.

When I heard of the amazing marathoners who, though entirely spent, continued onward to help others and donate blood, I couldn't help but think of these lines from Rudyard Kipling's "If".

'If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs ...

'If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew 
To serve your turn long after they are gone, 
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

'If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - what is more - you'll be a Man, my son!'

To be able to face the terrors in life, grit your teeth and keep on going, that is strength. We cannot do it alone. We need more than a British stiff-upper-lip. We need friends around us and moments of grieving and moments to stare into nothing. We need something to occupy our hands, so it feels like we can DO something; put our hand to the plow, fist to the punching bag, face to the wind. 
We want to FIGHT against all that darkness and evil in the world.

At least I do.

When I hear of those who've misused power or abused others, or committed acts of terror, I recall the poem, "The Man With the Hoe" by  Edwin Markham. It was written after Markham saw Millet's world-famous painting of a brutalized worker.

In the poem, Markham scolds, in ringing tones, those whose actions bring pain, numbness and all other brands of brokenness to fellow human beings.

I won't share the entire poem here, much as I love it, just the lines that I feel apply to whoever might be the dark soul behind the awful acts of terror.

"...Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream;
Make right the immemorial infamies.
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?"

What of us left behind, hurting, aching for the wounded and the lost? Not sure what to do, how to help, what to even pray for. Feeling angry and hurt and violated and wanting to turn from those dark feelings, to beat our swords into something beneficial. What can we do?

We can honor those who have fallen. 
We can turn our back on human frailties and celebrate our God-given Humanity.

Just a little bit of kindness.
After the dreadful shootings in Newtown, Conn., NBC correspondent Ann Curry encouraged others to do 26 acts of kindness for those 26 victims. Now, in honor of the 26th mile of the Boston Marathon, we are again encouraged to do 26 acts of random kindness. 
If we like, we may share on Twitter under the hashtag #26Acts2.

This call to action, good, righteous action, recalls the classic poem written during World War One by  Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, "In Flander's Fields".

"We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders field.

"...To you from failing hands we throw 
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields."

The torch is given. Pass it on. Pass it forward.
Break a sweat. Break a Twenty. Break for a pedestrian, a biker, the jerk who cut you off.
And then, just smile and wave and know that maybe they didn't see you. Maybe they were wiping a tear. Maybe their friend, their aunt or cousin is in Boston or Texas or some other Flanders field of woe. 
Give them a break, a little kindness, and go about your day with gratitude that there is good in the world. For, if enough of us act, speak and share, the light will overcome the darkness.
Every Single Time.

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