Friday, April 24, 2020

Unforced Hope

Deflect panic
consecrate the good
convert pain
Hear the evil see the
good feel the pain
hope translates
Despair alone
For God's sake which
is to say our
The smiling spirit
transparent beneath
the mask
Leave breathing space
for heart piercing
Challenge the spread
of contagious
Filter the fog
of bureaucratic
On guard for placebos
that trivialize
the grief
Prepare to be
startled by unrestrained
Act with loving
presence to
reshape the pain
Pray into the presence
of a God whose habit
it is to walk with us
Face the world
boldly with
tragic optimism

The 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.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

 A Walk in the Woods

Mid December
     rain slowed to
         a slow drizzle
Time for a ten-year
old and his
                long absent father
Slow quiet heart-filled walk
in south
                   Alabama woods
Over a carpet of rain soaked
leaves birds and small
          animals the only sound
Carrying shot guns
          just in case a squirrel
         or two for supper
See that hickory
the one with a
                hole 'bout 12 feet up
I could see it coming
          a story but I had to give
       him time to tell it
When I was a kid on a day like today
my Dad and I saw a tall dead tree
 with a hole half-way up
We never thought
about a snake
          being in the hole
Went home got the wagon and
a crosscut saw came
                back and cut if for firewood
Threw all the pieces onto
              the wagon never thought the
                     one with the hole had a snake
Stacked all the pieces out
              back of the house including
               the one with the hole in it
Burned that wood all winter
            and come early spring threw
                       the one with the hole on the fire
He quit talking I waited
             as long as I could was there
     a snake in the hole
I don't know
I never
                      thought about it

     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 it.
     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."
A 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?"
     My 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.
          Be smart, stay safe