last line of the poem are the words of Viktor Frankl, author of Man's
Search for Meaning. Simply put, tragic optimism is the ability to
say yes to the no of even the deepest suffering. It does not mean
that we ignore reality or that we don't do everything we can to stop
the suffering. Case in point: to withhold or mismanage resources we
have presently to combat Covid-19 is inexcusable if not criminal. And
not to pay attention to the science is dangerously shortsighted. But
tragic optimism also means we go deep in our soul to find the hopeful
strength to triumph.
One year when I was nine, going on ten, my grandmother
died and my mother and I moved down to stay with my grandfather in
south Alabama for a couple of years to help out. My dad, who had been
teaching for some twenty years with a two year teaching certificate
took that time to go back to college and get his degree. Money was
tight and I don't remember seeing much of my Dad during that time.
The one time I do remember was when he came home for Christmas the
year I turned ten and we went squirrel hunting, just the two of us.
That was when he told me this story. I tell it now with no
overarching purpose except to offer a diversion for these trying
times. I don't know, can snakes climb trees? I suppose I could google
Are you still there? Got another minute? I have another
take on I never thought about it.
The morning after I composed this poem, I had a video
appointment with my cardiologist. At the end of the visit, he said,
"Just be sure to wear a mask whenever you leave the house."
couple of days after the call I went outside to set the sprinklers.
From a comfortable distance I watched a neighbor visiting with the
mail man, neither of whom wore a mask. After he got his mail he came
over to see what I was wearing around my neck and we visited. A few
minutes later as I was making my way to the backyard sprinklers, I
met another neighbor, who also was not wearing his mask, getting his
mail and we visited for a few minutes in my driveway. I finished my
work with the sprinklers and came inside. That evening my wife asked,
"Why weren't you wearing your mask?"
answer? I never thought about it.
All this in the midst of the Covid19 virus pandemic.
Think about it. I certainly will, from now on.
has hit hard and keeps on hitting. What can I do? I wash my hands,
keep my distance, donate, and pray. I compose a poem. And last week
just before our Mayor imposed more restrictions, my wife drove me to
the Blood Bank and I donated a pint of my best. (She can't donate
because her immune system is compromised). I'm told my blood will
help three other people. That's a pretty good return on an
investment. It was something I could do.
I share this as a prompt for all of us to continue to find our own
appropriate ways to overcome helplessness and contribute to hope and
healing for all.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, I contend time does
not move in regular intervals. To be true, circumstances may
determine the amount of time we have, but each one gets to decide for
ourselves how to use the time we have. One year when I called Dad to
wish him a happy birthday, my mother answered the phone and told me
Dad was out back planting walnut trees. She asked me to wait while
she went to get him. When he got to the phone I asked, "Dad,
you're 80 years old: are you planting the trees for the nuts or the
lumber?" He answered, "I've got time." When he died,
17 years later, the trees were bearing and could have been cut for
lumber, but that, of course, was not the point.
poem was inspired by a response to a Sufi story I once told to a
group of college students who had gathered for worship. I asked them
to imagine what happened after the pilgrim and the monk reunited. I waited but there was no response.
After awhile I said, "I'm serious, I would like for you to help
me complete the story. Any ideas?" Again I waited. Time passed.
After several more minutes, I noticed that a young woman sitting on
the front row was starting to cry. I said, "What's wrong?"
Her voice was hardly above a whisper. "We're not supposed to
think, you are supposed to tell us." Later when I was alone, I