'What I do is me: for that I came.' G M Hopkins

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Yoke

Lots of people are in pain. Some of them are my friends who are distressed because of serious illness, loss of love, marriage breakdown, worry about their children and worry about their parents. The thing is - where is God when we're crying? I'm not a theologian or a philosopher but I've come up with one answer: He's on the cross, suffering too. I wrote this poem and recently gave it to a friend facing chemotherapy. I want the last verse to be true.

How do you walk though the corridors of my life?
Are you ahead
Beckoning with an urgent hand
Demanding, impatient
Weary of my indecision and faithlessness?

Or are you behind
Pushing, cajoling
Forcing my feet over uneven ground
Ensuring there is no retreat?

Or are you alongside
Encouraging, teaching
Setting the even pace
Laying a steady arm across my shoulder
Taking the weight?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I hate daffodils

I took some daffodils into school this week to inspire my Year 12 class in their revision of nature poetry. They were much more interested in the website I brought up on the screen, www.ihatedaffodils.org.uk, where conservationists are complaining that there are too many of the bright solid yellow variety splashed across the countryside leaving less room for the more delicate golden, white and wild variety narcissus pseudonarcissus. Those are the ones the Bard was thinking of in The Winter's Tale:

'…golden daffodils
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty'.

Wasn't Narcissus the guy who fell in love with his own reflection? I was also working on some of Aesop's fables with a Year 9 drama class and they improvised the moment when the greedy dog dropped the piece of meat into the river because he thought he saw another dog with an equally juicy piece reflected there. A moral in the 'tail' reminding us of the importance of enjoying what we have and not coveting what our neighbour has, or appears to have.

Appearances can be deceptive. I went for a long walk yesterday morning to suck Spring into my lungs. Ahead was a verge brilliant with yellow which turned out on closer inspection to be a dash of dandelions!

'Nothing is so beautiful as Spring
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush.'

Did I mention that I love Hopkins? It all grows together when there's wet and warm.

The only cure for introspection is imagination when we use our minds to think long about what's beautiful and true. It's a must to get outside and wonder at the world. It's good for the soul.

'I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their "divine, magical, terrifying, ecstatic existence."' (Clyde Kilby)

Speaking of CS Lewis, I was reading my favourite part of The Magician's Nephew with Year 8 when Aslan sings a world into existence. Uncle Andrew is out of sorts and talking too much. Creation commands silence. The cabby got it right. Year 8 decided that we like the cockney cabby so we'll leave the last word to him:
'Watchin' and listenin's the thing at present; not talking.'

Thursday, April 15, 2010

How selfhood begins

I've just spent two weeks in South Africa visiting my daughter and her husband. It was our first whole family holiday in a few years. We were flying with our twenty-year-old son. The flight from London to Jo'burg was delayed at Heathrow airport because someone forgot to tell the flight crew that the clocks had gone forward!

We pushed towards the check-in gate with three hundred other frustrated fellow travellers. Most people had boarded and it was our turn next. I knew the minute I saw his facial expression that the man at the desk was unhappy with my son's passport. Although it was valid until the end of this month, he needed an extra 30 days to get into S Africa.

My tears were useless and we had to wait another half hour while they unloaded his bag. We then said our goodbyes and sheepishly entered the cabin trying not to make eye contact with any of the now weary and angry passengers.

As I watched my disappointed child walk away I thought how difficult it is to bear another's hurt, especially when you love them. How many other times there have been when I've watched him facing up to life on his own! It's called growing up and it's hard for mother and son both. C Day Lewis says it much better than I, but before that I have to add that big son managed to get a new passport and join us in the sun two days later. All good! This poem makes me cry.

Walking Away by C Day Lewis

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day -
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled - since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away

Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.

That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature's give-and-take - the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one's irresolute clay.

I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show -
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

On listening

JD Salinger died this year leaving only his seminal novel on teenage angst. My friend says the reason The Catcher in the Rye is so disturbing is that we're all in there, reflected in at least one of the characters.

Holden Caulfield, the Pency Prep reject, muses, 'If somebody at least listens, it's not too bad.'

I did a course on listening where the difference between sympathy and empathy was explained. If I say, 'My mother died last week' and you reply, 'My mother died last year and she was ill for months and had four operations and it was awful…' that's sympathy. The problem is the conversation is now about you, not me. If you reply, 'I'm so sorry, how do you feel?' that's empathy. Very few people are good at this.