Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Back from the brink.

Last week I wrote a fairly depressing post about the seemingly vanishing silver lining in the cloud of our times.  Specifically, I wrote that as horrible as disaster (natural and man-made) can be, at least it brings us together...or it used to.  "They are pawning my silver lining," I wrote.  Yeats came to mind...his "Second Coming," and it so accurately described how I was feeling about the world.

But the next morning, the sun rose.  I saw my family out the door on the way to school.  I was in the shower when I started thinking not of Yeats, but of Whitman.  Well, if I'm honest, I wasn't thinking of Whitman.  I was thinking of Jack Keating in Dead Poets Society when he quoted Whitman's poem "O Me! O Life!"

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
-Walt Whitman

Yes!  That!  It's not just that they have pawned my silver lining.  It's that the whole thing feels hopeless.  I kept thinking that love is the answer...but that it seems conspicuously absent lately.  Like we're all missing the mark, myself included.

Eyes that vainly crave the light.  Yes.

The objects mean.  Yes.

The Poor results of all.  Yes.

The empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined.  Yes.

Walt Whitman, you read my mind: "The question, O me! so sad, recurring--what good amid these, O me, O life?

Fortunately, Walt has an answer for us:

Answer.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
-still Walt Whitman

We are.  And we are a part of something greater.  Something beyond our understanding.  Each of us has the power to write a little part of history.  I may not be able to calm the storms that crash into our coasts.  I may not be able to change the shape of international affairs.  I may not be able to bring light to the whole world...

...but I can bring light to one person.  Or two people.  Like Mother Theresa said (or didn't as the case may be!): I can't do great things alone, but I can do small things with great love.

It's a choice we have to make.  Notice Walt didn't say you will contribute a verse.  He said you may contribute a verse.  Resigning myself to emptiness and uselessness is wasting my opportunity to contribute a verse (or worse: contributing an ugly verse!).

To one more poet, then.  A songwriter:

I won't be made useless.  Won't be idle with despair.
I gather myself around my faith, for light does the darkness most fear.
-not Walt Whitman (it's Jewel)

No.  Even though it may seem fruitless or wasted or silly.  Even if it doesn't actually make a big difference.  I know what my verse will be!

And this is the funny thing.  Just as soon as I decided I wanted my verse to be uplifting...I heard others uplifting verses.  I saw 25 flood buckets materialize out of the goodness of someone's heart and then disappear to be filled in the snap of a finger.  I saw a family of singers come together to make music, at once giving and receiving the gift of song.  I heard the voices of children.

Yes, it is a choice.  We know the way.  Jesus showed us.  He showed us it's hard.  He showed us it's not always pretty.  But he also showed us what we are capable of as children of God, created in God's image.  My verse, to the very best of my ability, will reflect that.

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