Monday, October 20, 2014

Senza riserve

This fountain was on the street where we stayed in Rome in April 2011.  I love the simplicity of something so delightful. Somehow this photo seemed apt for what follows.

There is a bit of free verse that I wrote, I believe, in 1965.  I had taken a bucolic scene with lots of green grasses and blue sky and silhouetted trees from some magazine, trimmed it so it came to a point on top, then sliced it in vertical thirds.  In my imagination it had become three portions of a stained-glass window, a triptych from nature.  And alongside those three sections, taped onto lined pages, I wrote.  This is the third section:

And this is the poem on that page.  I do not deem the first two sections worth preserving or commenting on, but this captures something that I consider significant.

this little corner
all i ask
to infinitely live
its finite bounds--
this limited expanse
shall ever be
i limits share--
to care a lot
about a little thing
is more than
suffice but well
a little song to sing
without reserve
without a fear--
this little corner
the world
my altar

I had not yet read Teilhard's Hymn to the Universe, his offering of the world itself when he lacked bread and wine to celebrate the Mass.  But yes, the closeted Baptist boy was showing his sacramental, yea even Catholic, leanings that early.

As in earlier posts, I shall indulge in my own commentary because the point of this exercise is not to tell any reader what they should find in my old poems but to explore what I find in them that is meaningful to me today, especially as I look back over my life.

To see the infinite in the finite is a very sacramental view of existence.  If, as we proclaim in the Sanctus, "heaven and earth are full of [God's] glory," then the smallest, meanest particle is imbued with the Shekinah.  The Jerusalem Temple does not contain the divine presence anymore than a random strange quark.  So within finite bounds one can encounter the infinite and as one participates in the divine Life, as I believe all creation does, then one may infinitely live even within the confines of time and space as we experience them.  Even in this I could recognize the truth that God is God and I am not.  I share limits, but that is all right.  That is both profoundly challenging (I am but a fragment of Creation's grand dance, partial, incomplete, broken, and mortal) and yet this cannot undercut my connection with all that has been, is, or ever shall be.

I really like the segment that reads: "to care a lot/ about a little thing/ is more than/ amplitude." That captures so much for me.  It speaks deeply, affirmatively, and joyously.

The current reflections are all designed to help me understand what has led me away from myself, tempted me, coerced me, or misled me to try to be something other than who I most truly am.  It seems that given my obnoxiously quick intellect, my easy tuning into to the feelings of other people, and my desire to please and to help, I was a perfect project for those who wanted to make something grand of me.  Someone who would go far in this world.  Be some kind of success.  Do great things.  My pediatrician said, "If you want to be a missionary, fine, be a medical missionary."  Well, as with any good Jewish mother (and she was one), the dream of a doctor is always there, right?  My sense of a religious vocation was distressing to many. Shouldn't I be something more prestigious? But if a pastor (which was respectable but hardly the image of a huge success or of someone who would change the world), at least a pastor of a very large successful (bourgeois, respectable, wealthy) congregation, OK?  And yes, that latter image was expressly put forth by my parents.

And yet, as this poem clearly articulates, I really would be happy with a small corner of the earth, and my introverted self would certainly be more at ease.  I did not want to stride forth on some grand stage.  I felt as though so many people (teachers, counselors, family, etc.) wanted me to 'BE SOMETHING," something more than I really wanted.  Dang, if I could have been a high school teacher like Mr. Amend, who could passionately share not just knowledge but the love of knowledge and of the riches of human culture, and seen lights come on in the eyes of students, I think it would have been awesome.  Granted, as the years went by he was bitterly disillusioned in the educational endeavor and that remains a sadness on my own heart for his sake, and for what students who followed us seemed unable to receive from him.

I would probably have been happy as a college instructor.  Not a full professor.  Fuck committee meetings and the pressure to publish or perish.  That is not me.  I do not want to be a front-line researcher (and I knew that full well when I was in a doctoral program).  I wanted to be the popularizer who could take the research others do and share it in a way that others could enjoy the fruits of that research.  And I knew and articulated that when I was in grad school.

As a clergyman I never wanted to be rector of what we call a "cardinal parish."  A smaller church was always much more to my liking.  I did not want the pressures to succeed in some corporate business model (the curse of the church in so many ways these days).  And some of the greatest joy in my years as a priest were the moments when I could see by an expression or hear in a tone of voice that something "connected" for someone.  Something made sense, some context for a life was gained, some new meaning discovered, some new inner strength revealed, some hope kindled, some fountain of grace unblocked so forgiveness and healing and new life could happen.  As someone who has been a teacher all my life no matter what work I ostensibly did, I knew I was only the midwife and that was plenty for me.

So here I am, still yearning to get to the rest of my novels, or as many as I can write.  I can hardly call them some "little song" and yet they are not aimed for the rungs of great literature.  I still wish that what I write as fiction will constitute some "rollicking good tales" that entertain.  I am confident they can also encourage, challenge, inspire, move, and exalt the reader as well, but the first rule is that the tale must engage and entertain. That would be my little song and it would suffice.  I do know that as I wrote the early seeds of the series and as whole books take shape, I write without reserve and without a fear. This fantasy parallel world is my little corner (and it is just a corner of the parallel planet).  It is my altar on which I offer up my vision, my wisdom (such as it is), my tears and my joys: a gift given with a free and open heart to whosoever will enjoy it.

I know I had a sense of being groomed for great things.  I hated and resented it. Fiercely and bitterly but never spoke of this to any one. So my walls grew higher and thicker and stronger.  And this may be why so many of my carefree dreams are set in the geography of my pre-adolescent years, before the pressure came. And the anxiety dreams are set in high school and college.

If one examines what gives me joy...
If one looks at the subjects of my photographs...
So often it is just details or the everyday.

to care a lot
about a little thing
is more than

--the BB


Phil Freyder said...

My parents, a fightened alcoholic mother with a patrician background (her parents graduated from Vassar and Princeton) and unachieved artistic and literary ambitions, and a loudmouthed tyrannical boor of a father, didn't pressure me to accomplish great things. They had no need to do that. In our unspoken, unconcious awareness that something was wrong with our family, my sister and I applied all the pressure they could have and more: pressure to be perfect, to develop our perfection as an antidote to the felt imperfection of our family. So we studied hard, harvested our high grades and won our awards. Our parents simply observed and applauded. They also adamantly pushed me away from that art major I wanted to pursue. "Your father says you won't get a dime for your college education if you major in art," my mother warned me sternly, fearfully. They refused to say why. I would say they feared that my getting an art degree would condemn me to a life of ostracism, poverty and loneliness, since everyone knows that artists starve, and that starvelings can't afford to marry and have children, which is what proper people did in the 50s and 60s. So they channeled me into a conventional, frankly enjoyable and even more useless major (unless you go on to the PhD and become a college professor): English literature. .... Now why were your parents so pushily ambitious for you? Were they simply following the "our children must be wealthier and better than we are" mantra, or were they striving to compensate, through your successes, for things they'd failed to achieve?

Paul said...

The pressures were not primarily from my parents. They were married on Thanksgiving Day 1930 and thus lived during the Depression and WWII. Each was one of seven children and father's family were immigrant Swedes. Dad had memories of supper consisting of boiled potatoes flavored with a touch of fatback.
I believe all parties involved were operating with honorable intention with the dictum in mind that "to whom much is given, of them is much required." They all wanted me to use my many gifts. Those good intentions just took an inner toll on me.