my line of defense in the Age of Pugilism
you might have noticed. it’s hard to miss. over the airwaves, on the streets, even at your neighborhood checkout aisle: pugilism is rising to intolerable levels. i blame the bully in chief. have spent months now in my head composing the letter i would like to carry to washington, read on the capitol steps. just little old pewter-haired me, politely hollering at the top of my lungs: stop all the insidious idiocy. stop all the name-calling, the bullying, the devilish tricks. cease with the stomping down hallways and stairs, slinging god-awful descriptors on decent and honorable human beings. stop pummeling this one blessed earth. leave all the children alone, nestled by the sides of their mothers and fathers, where they belong. practice decency. exude kindness. invoke gentle tenderness. start behaving like there might be a tomorrow. imagine your deathbed: these are the moments you’ll at last call to mind. are you wincing? are these the ways you want to be remembered? a toxic trail in your wake?
it’s toxic, all right. a drip, drip, drip of toxicity. some days, more of a deluge.
my ever practical, commonsensical mother has five words of advice: turn off the damn tv!
i do, more than i used to. first few years of this siege, i admit i was glued to the loud little box. couldn’t take my eyes or my ears off the madness, praying it would end. just kept hoping against hope we could all go back to our quiet neighborly ways. might welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, feed the hungry. maybe even pick up the trash that litters the woods and the waterways.
nowadays, worn down to the marrow, i find myself building what amounts to a fort, a tall wall of defense. literally. my house is piled with books. they rise up in teetering towers all over the place: kitchen counter, window seat that looks out on the trees, floor and chair and desk in the itty-bitty room where i write.
i read to escape. but not in the way of bodice-ripped beach reads. i read to remind myself that the way of this world, of this moment, is not the only option. i read the masters: thoreau and merton and hildegard of bingen. rilke and c.s. lewis. i read newfound saints and poetesses: jane hirshfield, margaret renkl, timothy egan. i carry them wherever i go. they are my talismans, my shields against attacks of the soul.
i read lines like these, from anita barrows’ preface to rilke’s book of hours: love poems to God:
…suddenly it occurred to me that God created the world because he was lonely. He needed it — needed the ripeness of autumn, the bright air, the sunlight making patterns on the sidewalk through linden leaves that were yet unfallen. God had created all this, and us as well, to keep him company.
or this, from minnesota’s poet laureate, joyce sutphen, from her brilliant collection carrying water to the field: new and selected poems:
Some Glad Morning
One day, something very old
happened again. The green
came back to the branches,
settling like leafy birds
on the highest twigs;
the ground broke open
dark as coffee beans.
The clouds took up their
positions in the deep stadium
of the sky, gloving the
bright orb of the sun
before they pitched it
over the horizon.
It was as good as ever:
the air was filled
with the scent of lilacs
and cherry blossoms
sounded their long
whistle down the track.
It was some glad morning.
or this, the very first sentences from c.s. lewis’ a grief observed:
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.
or, finally, this from my brilliant friend mark burrows’ (and jon sweeney’s) meister eckhart’s book of secrets: meditations on letting go and finding freedom:
What do you think?
That God has abandoned you,
What person sees a friend
in sorrow, pain, or loneliness
without being near, present?
Don’t be foolish, my friend,
God is here.
how do you build your wall of defense? what are the bricks in your wall?
(p.s. in part, i included the bit on grief because friends here at this very table are suffering terrible griefs, loves lost and achingly so. please, remember them in your incantations. the whole of c.s. lewis’ classic, grief observed, by the way, is one that goes a very long way toward healing a brokenness, or as lewis’ stepson writes in the introduction, “it will help us to face our grief, and to ‘misunderstand a little less completely.'”)
Some wonderful familiar books there and some new ones to peruse. Grateful for the gift of weaving words that all those Word-Meister people were given and have shared with us (you are included here.). I find this month to be the most challenging of the year. (Well Chicago in March is no joke either, but I digress.) November brings the first darkening day change of hours. It starts with the “thinning veil” between our present and memory worlds. Thankfully we will end the month with Thanksgiving. We also have early hints of preparations involving faith and magic that will carry us through December into deepest dark and small sparks of light. That pile of books in your picture, the ones next to our beds, the ones in bags and briefcases, they will indeed arm us against the darkness because although words can wound and incite, words when skillfully woven in warm and colorful blends, blanket us and comfort us. Another thing to add to the November Thanksgiving List!
i love your take on november, beautiful lamcal. we begin in the thinning, we end in abundance. a month worth contemplating. which i shall do as i cook this day away. making way for the Sabbath. my Sabbath always begins in the day, in the kitchen, with chopping and stirring to deep incantation. xoxox
sending love, thick and abundant. xoxox
Ah Bam….how well you describe the chagrin and frustration of the invasion of idiocy…I cannot retaliate in kind, for pity is what is felt when contemplating the loss they one day will realize and suffer.. greater would be the tragedy of their never having realized, never having known the gems that slipped through their grasping, clawing fingers… Burying oneself in St. Paul’s
“Whatsoever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely gracious, etc.” to the Phillipians is the mantra that can ease our dismay, shrouding those souls in prayer for conversion can lighten our hearts….and abandoning ourselves to His Will for us can relieve us of the boulder-weight of sadness for those who do not see or feel. I was in tandem with your first paragraph, word for word,
but then discerned that each can be the master of his own soul and choices and that righteous examples abound if one is seeking…..
oh, yes, indeed righteous examples do abound, and i do seek them and see them and absorb them. reading deeply into the soulfulness of pilgrims who’ve come before me is yet another of my armaments in trying to hold up my soul, to keep my spirit from wilting. the words you bring here are powerful, and wise. your words always are. thank you.
we forge on….forge: (v.) too make strong in the heat of the fire or furnace.
What Joanie said. Oh, that CSLewis quote…my heart. Prayers for all here at the table who mourn. Our hearts ache with them. I read a devastating line this week in “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman: “We fear it [death], yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leaves us there alone.”
Like you, reading is a bulwark against the darkness. Your words always bring us light. Bless you. ❤️
oh, man. that is resonating like a clang to the bell of my heart…….how many hours have i been lost in that fear? i feel like i’ve been hearing about “man called Ove” of late. must go track that down…..
sending love and light this soft saturday morning. xoxox
I’ve been lost in it since Easter 2018 when we received Tom’s diagnosis. Can’t seem to release it. Trying hard to enjoy every day, tho that’s not how my heart works. And who knows what is to come? After beating two cancers, he’ll like outlive me, so I need to give over the worry and, as a very wise doctor said in response to my “what do we do now?, “Go live your life.”
hard to find four wiser words than “go live your life!” will dwell in those…..
i’m weaving together words for a project and just came upon this tucked in one of my notebooks of found treasures. it seems apt for this table talk:
“We can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever-widening circle will reach around the world. We repeat, there is nothing we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other. . .”
~Dorothy Day, (1897 – 1980)
still working on the same project, found this and leaving here in this most sacred space:
One thousand years ago the mystic Yehuda HaChasid wrote, “I will build an altar from the broken fragments of my heart.”