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where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Tag: hope

contemplating hope . . .

In Any Event

If we are fractured
we are fractured
like stars
bred to shine
in every direction,
through any dimension,
billions of years
since and hence.

I shall not lament
the human, not yet.
There is something
more to come, our hearts
a gold mine
not yet plumbed,
an uncharted sea.

Nothing is gone forever.
If we came from dust
and will return to dust
then we can find our way
into anything.

What we are capable of
is not yet known,
and I praise us now,
in advance.

Dorianne Laux

i am contemplating hope, as it seems to me — and maybe to you, too — that we are living in a darkening world. a world whose headlines are chasing me away, whose headlines often sicken me. i find myself feeling the urge to draw within, to curl into a tight mollusk, a chambered nautilus of the soul. i look at flickers of the news and hear the echoes of history, a boomerang of hideousness i never dreamt would come this way again. 

i am giving thought to how to live in a world where darkness gathers, how to keep an ember glowing. in my soul and in my world. can random acts of kindness be enough to keep the incandescence from extinguishing? is unending prayer enough to shift the course of history, to undermine the ugliness that seems without end or purpose? has it ever been?

i’d been thinking more humility was the desperately-needed imperative, the very thing this self-obsessed world — intoxicated by celebrity, by overblown parading in the public square — most emphatically calls for. i still think so. humility in a world of supersized ego is as countercultural as can be. and it just might expand our gaze, allow us to see past our own blinding appetites, make us more willing to quietly, determinedly turn the other cheek. to be the necessary instruments of peace, to sow pardon where there’s injury, love where there’s hatred. it’s a centuries-old prayer, the prayer of st. francis, and it is true for me each and every morning. now more than ever.

but read a little further in the prayer, and it calls for hope where there’s despair. 

despair is spreading like a cancer. it undergirds the cynicism everywhere. it’s the magnetic pull toward apathy. it’s surrender punctuated with slamming of the door. it snuffs out every shard of light.

so now i’m thinking hard about hope, the counterforce of gloom, despondency, profound sorrow (each and every one, another name for despair). where does hope begin? how might we stir it? feel its updraft catch beneath our wings? 

i don’t have answers. 

in time, though, i may stumble on inklings.

but there are poets, now and ever. poets like dorianne laux, whose words came to me this week and made me feel that fetal kick that might be where hope begins. when someone wiser and deeper draws the faint outlines of the life ropes we just might need. 

dorianne laux

dorianne laux, who worked as a waitress, a sanitorium cook, a gas-station manager, and a maid before getting a BA in english at 36 from mills college in oakland (and has gone on to be a pulitzer finalist, and a guggenheim fellow), and who is absolutely one of my most beloved poets, begins with “fractured” in the poem above. 

fractured is how i sometimes feel. fractured has sharper edges than just plain broken. fractured is what bones do when they split and crack. sometimes hairline, sometimes compound. fractured makes a snapping sound. fractured is low-down broken. sometimes shattered.

but dorianne doesn’t leave us at fractured. she turns our gaze swiftly toward the stars, which are fractured too, but into pretty little points. and it’s the points of stars where the shining, twinkling comes. it’s where the light pings or oozes i don’t know which; i’m not a physicist of the heavens. i’m only someone who watches and wonders. maybe it’s where the light –– twinkling, shining –– bounces off the brokenness. it’s the brokenness that makes for the dizzying luminescence. stars in their brokenness are bred to shine in every direction. maybe that’s something to think about.

and then dorianne goes on to tell us that it’s not time yet to lament. “there is something more to come,” she promises. 

our hearts still are goldmines to be plumbed. our little bitty self-contained vessels of all that’s good, all that’s holy; no one’s got a right to reach in and steal those hearts, to tap those hearts of all that’s bottled up inside. all the sweet succulence of all the kindness we’ve known in our whole lives. all the times we’ve been forgiven. all the times someone gentle looked our way and whispered words that might have made us feel beautiful, and seen. don’t abandon those sacred hearts, turn over the keys to whatever evil awfulness might flatten you. guard those good and plenty hearts as if your life depended on it, as if the good world depended on it. because it does, it does. 

and so, dorianne was just the lifeline i needed as i began to consider hope, as i set out to figure out how to live wisely and luminously in a world where dark skies are growing denser in the distance. 

my considerations of hope are only just beginning.

What we are capable of
is not yet known,
and I praise us now,
in advance.

where do you find hope? does it come in faint traces, or in bold strokes that sometimes bowl you over? do you sometimes feel the hairline fractures in your heart or your soul? 

i let it rip this week. once upon a time, this would be the very sort of meander my mother-in-law would have met with deafening silence. too dark, she’d diagnose it. and leave me to second-guess the whole day long. should i have held back? but to ignore the chasms that rend us apart, push us away from one another, to ignore the fallout that inevitably shrouds the tender among us is to let the rot seep in till it’s too, too late. i am determined in my searching for hope. and thank you, dorianne, for pointing me in hopeful direction….

something screwy happened when i was typing and all of the sudden everything shrank. i tried and tried to fix it, but it might still be screwy. i’ll keep trying to fix it. till then, put on your magnifying lenses……

home alone — and hearing a cry

it’s just me and the basement crickets here. (i ought to name the whole herd of them since they so noisily, chirpily, send me love songs through the dawn — and the midday — and the late afternoon — and the twilight. deep into the darkness they keep up their chatter.)

the boys i love are faraway. i stayed home because i have a job at the high school, hosting 414 debaters from around the country. feeding each one, breakfast and lunch for the next two days (today we load in provisions). i’d thought i’d write a meditation on being alone. on the luxury of it when you don’t often have it. i know for some it’s a curse; alone bleeds often, bleeds quickly into loneliness. the first syllable — the  a of alone — breaks off, and two new ones cling to the end — loneliness — and suddenly the gift of doing as you please, sleeping with windows open and shades up — because you love the light of night, love even more the dawn’s beginning — all those singular quirks, they can become the humdrum hollowed refrain of a life lived alone not wholly by choice. by grief. by happenstance. by necessity.

but i woke up this morning, and the cavernous cry of this nation — of the countless volumes of women putting breath to the screams they once muffled — it’s echoing inside, rising louder and louder. and i know there’s a vote just hours away. and i know that sitting here listening to the roll, hearing the single syllable rise up, yea or nay, one after another, it’s going to feel something like a gut punch. did you hear her? i will ask, over and over and over.

there will come — for some of us anyway — an unshakeable sense of being kicked aside. of   “ramming this through,” as the senate majority leader himself so unpoetically put it.

there is, though, a gentle breeze of hope this morning. it comes from sweden, from the nobel committee which during our night (their midday) awarded the peace prize to two who’ve dedicated their lives to a fight against sexual violence. one, nadia murad, is a 25-year-old woman, captured, repeatedly raped and tortured by ISIS; she escaped and, ever since, travels the globe speaking out against the atrocities. her inexhaustible journey has left her exhausted, but she refuses to pause, insisting: “i will go back to my life when women in captivity go back to their lives, when my community has a place, when i see people accountable for their crimes.”

time magazine, in their annual centenary of “most influential people,” included nadia in 2016. eve ensler, the playwright and founder of V-Day, a movement to end violence against women, wrote this for the magazine’s roster:

A witness for war’s victims

Nadia Murad stands in a long, invisible history of fierce, indomitable women who rise from the scorched earth of rape during war to break the odious silence and demand justice and freedom for their sisters. At 19 she lost her home, her country, her culture, her mother to murder; witnessed male members of her family murdered in mass killings; and was kidnapped, sold and endlessly raped by members of ISIS. She now travels the world speaking out on the genocide being inflicted on her Yezidi people and demanding release for the more than 3,000 women still held in bondage.

As Europe closes its borders to terrorized refugees in Greece and the U.S. turns its back on the suffering, Nadia is a beacon of light and truth—a reminder that it was the American-led war in Iraq that laid the path for ISIS, that U.S. arms left behind on the battlefield fell into the hands of ISIS and that the U.S. waited too long to intervene in the mass killing and enslavement of the Yezidi people. At 23, Nadia Murad is risking everything to awaken us. I hope we are listening, because we too are responsible.

time-100-2016-nadia-murad

i leave you with nadia, with the faint waft of hope. i know, come time for the vote, we will all be standing shoulder-to-shoulder, heart-to-heart, promising we will do better for our daughters, our sisters, our sons, and our brothers.

(i do not for a minute want to overlook the second nobel peace prize winner,  dr. denis mukwege, 63, a congolese gynecological surgeon, who campaigned relentlessly to shine a spotlight on the plight of congolese women, even after nearly being assassinated a few years ago. working from a bare hospital (often without electricity or enough anesthesia) in the hills of the eastern democratic republic of congo, he has emerged as a champion of the congolese people and a global advocate for gender equality and the elimination of rape in war, traveling to other war-ravaged parts of the world to help create programs for survivors.

“it’s not a women question; it’s a humanity question, and men have to take responsibility to end it,” dr. mukwege once said in an interview. “It’s not an africa problem. in bosnia, syria, liberia, colombia, you have the same thing.”)

may the persistence of justice rise up in all of us today. and tomorrow, and all the tomorrows thereafter. may the fiery determination of nadia and the unrelenting faith of dr. mukwege drive all of us through the fog of despair.

where might you try to carve out space for justice? where might you bring comfort today?

p.s. i’m leaving off a picture up top today, because silence and the sound of a cry are best left unseen….

special edition: a little bit of believing

img_8593

it’s just baseball. i know that. of course i know that.

but i also know — having suffered through the anguish of loss after loss, in the last inning, the last game of season after season, when it all lay on the line, when we almost could wrap our sweaty palm around a win, but then felt the whoosh and the throb to the heart as it all slipped away once again, having spent night after night of late too scared to watch the screen, too nervous to come out from the dark of the laundry room where i paced in anxious loops or rocked in a creaky chair beside the dryer (true confession; last night) — i also know that, for me anyway, it’s all boiled down to a short course in believing.

baseball, played out on planes of grass and mounds of sand, is a game of hope, counted in balls and strikes. it’s faith, measured in innings.

and after too long a while without a notch in the W column you start to ache deep inside your brain. you start to wonder if the synapses, the ones that shoot off sparks of hope from one dangly neuron to another — not unlike telegraph machines of yore, the ones that tapped out urgent word, dispatched it round the world — you start to wonder if maybe the neural dischargers will dry up and wither away, from lack of positive outcome.

in the middle of some indecipherable moment, when pitches are wild and runners are running and the wrong ones are scoring or being tagged out, you start to think you just might pack up all your hope, and put it away.

you start to wonder if you’ll ever have faith in believing again.

because you can’t remember the last time you snared the happy ending.

and you’re watching so many people you love shuffle off to bed with the heaviest soles in the world. and not a few tears.

over the years, i’ve tucked boys into bed with cheeks streaked wet and heavenly pleadings unmet. i’ve watched boys slump off the couch, so stunned by what they saw on the screen (think 2003, game 6, fan-we-won’t-name reaches out for a fly ball, and 3-0 cubs-marlins lead in the national league championship series whirls down the drain). i’ve watched boys pick up the next morning’s paper as if it were poison, or hot-wired to a bomb that might go off at any minute.

but i’ve seen, too, indelible sketches of faith tucked under a ballcap:

on cold spring nights, with temps hovering in the low 40s at best, i’ve had friends haul sleeping bags to the sidewalk outside wrigley field, keeping vigil all night so they could be among the first in line for season tickets — year after losing year. and we’ve a very dear friend who drove in from upstate new york, overnight, over the weekend, to plop his bum in the season-ticket seat at wrigley he’s held since god-only-knows-when. because he’d never before known a world series game, and he wasn’t about to let a thousand miles get in the way.

the diehards, they never gave up. maybe it was only wimps like me who found ourselves wobbling, who thought our knees might give out, the up-and-down of it all, the cardiac teeter-totter of dizzying hope giving way to crushing what-was-i-thinking.

in moments like those, the best you can do — the best i can do anyway — is what my little guy long ago referred to as “soothe talk,” as i tell myself over and over, it’s just baseball. we’ll all get up in the morning, lace up our shoes, run out of milk once again.

but then, before that thought’s half-baked, you back it up with another one begging the baseball gods for a break.

you tick through the laundry list of heartbreak that’s piled up over the years, and you start to think you might just be on the losing side of this proposition — and not just in baseball. you start to think you might teeter permanently into the camp of those too shattered to ever again believe.

but you can’t imagine how that could be. and you know life’s too sweet to let that be the take-home prize.

and all the while you’re wanting it for everyone you can possibly think of: the 92-year-old blind guy in iowa you read about; the gravestones now decked out in cubs caps, and fly-the-W flags; your very own brothers, schooled in transistor-radio baseball, now grown and scattered but still believers in ernie banks & co.; your own two boys — the ones hauled to wrigley cathedral not long after birth because it was a baptism their father believed in.

i especially wanted it for anyone — and i know deep inside there was someone — lying in a hospital bed somewhere in cubs land, someone i imagined might be waiting to die, refusing to die, till the last out was called, just in case this was the year.

even though at the time of that thought, it wasn’t looking so hopeful.

and then, after a drought of 108 years, the heavens opened, and down came a rain. enough of a rain to cover the field in a blank white prayer shawl.

prayers — everywhere — were whispered, the volume cranked louder and louder.

it wouldn’t be long — not too long, given the very long century-plus leading up to the tenth inning of game 7 of the world series of 2016 — and then, at last, it came, the whoop that found its way to the dark behind the furnace, where by then i was rocking in that old creaky chair (the very image of madame defarge, i imagine).

a young boy called my name, beckoned me to the scene in front of the screen. he couldn’t contain his unbridled joy, my born-again believer. nor could his papa. nor his faithful big brother, connected by text and by heart, across the not-so-many miles.

i breathed once again. i inhaled the heavenly vapors of the happily-ever-after ending. i tucked it away in my heart’s deep-down pocket. whispered, only loud enough for my own self to hear: sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to believe.

faith, newly polished and gleaming again, is what i took home from the end of the drought.

i’ll pull it out whenever it matters. because sometimes the lessons of baseball can’t be contained in dugouts and bleachers.

* i must end with an asterisk, as only a wimp would do, in deepest apologies to the fine and glorious folk of cleveland, ohio, who this morning are wearing the sting of the heart i know so well. i was soothing myself — when it looked like a loss might be in store for our end of the equation — by looking up the stories of various players and reminding myself how each and every one prayed for — and deserved — the happiest ending. baseball doesn’t end in a tie, i am told. which proves that i did not make the rules. so to everyone saddened by this stunning development, my deepest sympathies. there is, of course, always next year.

and in the meantime, i’m shipping this ahead of the usual friday-morning deadline because i’ll be teaching flocks of young students tomorrow (the ones who skip the cubs’ victory parade, anyway). and because, well, this is all very hot off the press, this notion of world series champion cubs. and why not leap into the heat of the moment?

before i go, do tell, what are the lessons you’ve learned about hope, and the blessing of believing? how did life teach those particular truths?

because the chair is always, always about story and heart-filled word, i’m going to gather here a compendium of some of the best writing i’m finding, recapping the game and what this all means: 

here, from my dear dear friend, paul sullivan, known and loved by all of us as “paulie,” the chicago tribune’s great cubs writer. 

and my brother bri found this beauty from espn’s wright thompson, about mourning those who didn’t live to see it.

and i’m waiting for roger angell, the great great writer and chronicler of baseball and this world series in particular, to post his latest at the new yorker. stay tuned for that keeper. in the meantime, he’s a great one on the two magnificent drought-ending managers — joe maddon and terry francona — from the new yorker’s ian crouch