April 2018

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


Last night, Ann and I watched early, disturbing results from the national elections, and then we took a break to have dinner. It was clear that it would be a long night. Before we ate, we held hands and said our nightly blessing: “Dear God, Remind me that all of life is grace. Let me respond in gratitude.”

Usually, this prayer takes me to my heart’s home, the place where I remember all that is lovely in the world. Last night, however, I remembered this prayer after my first brain tumor diagnosis: the thought that “all of life is grace” felt like an admonition to one who is doubting, and—now as then—a knot formed in my throat.

After dinner, we returned to the television. Results continued to worsen. I could hardly stand it, so Ann agreed to watch an episode of the show “Friday Night Lights” with me. Things weren’t going well for Coach Taylor and his players, either. We returned to the election reporting.

As the election results rolled slowly in, I couldn’t just sit and watch like my partner Ann. As we watched together, we sat close and held hands, but when I couldn’t stand it anymore, I had to get up, go away from the television, and seek words of comfort.

The first time, I went to Facebook, and alternated responding to friends’ posts with a sad face and an angry face. The second time, I went to my friend Becky and her pastor’s “completely unorthodox devotional guide,” What’s a Nice God Like You Doing in a Place Like This? Becky wrote the first devotional about spotting God during a dermatological exam. Her gentle and amusing details, like the doctor examining her fingers in the same way her son Ben did when he was young and bored at church, gave me respite. We went to bed with the likely scenario that Trump would be our next president and woke up to its confirmation.

This morning, after an awful election season and last night’s stunning results, I am still seeking solace. As I woke, I was thinking of two poems: one, Pablo Neruda’s “Keeping Quiet”; the second, Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.”Perhaps they’ll give you solace, too:

Neruda’s poem I always read on September 11 in memory of that awful day in 2001 when planes flew into New York’s twin towers. The call to stillness reminds me of all the pain in a world that is too active and in its activity, too destructive. It calls me back to being and breathing. I don’t think it’s in the public domain yet, so I’ll just provide a bit and you’ll have to find the rest by yourself
And now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
. . .
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
. . .
Now I’ll count up to twelve,
and you keep quiet and I will go.

The second poem, Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” my elders and I read together in our poetry club yesterday. Elders commented on the longing in this poem, the seeking for a home that resonates with the deep heart’s core.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

I hope to feel at home again in my country, and I wonder if Trump won because too many people were not feeling at home in their country. How will this become home for us all when it seems to me right now that for some being at home means making sure that others aren’t there—or at least aren’t visible in all their humanity? I’m guessing I will be reading a lot of poetry over the next four years.

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