Thursday, December 15, 2016

You Cannot Mend

You cannot mend the chromosome, quell the earthquake, or stanch the flood. You cannot atone for dead tyrants' murders, and you alone cannot stop living tyrants.

- Annie Dillard, For The Time Being

* * *

The strength of our weakness is without end.

* * *

We exist in an agreed upon space. All that has been determined as good and meet has been determined long before you arrived. We rise into forms predicated on such agreements. Our ideas about self, marriage, community, work, faith, aspiration, desire are agreements we enter into. It is here we search for, discover or build meaning into our lives.  We, by every decision made or unmade, accumulate by degrees, the life we are now living.  To be an outsider, a rebel, a non-conformist is simply a function of the agreed upon space. It helps define the norm.

This is where the limits of our will meet the vastness of proscribed forms: this far and no further. You cannot mend the chromosome, quell the earthquake or change, by one iota, the forms of religion, politics or money. You are but one in a sea of ones who cannot agree that the sea even exists. What are you going to do? 

W. H. Auden once said, "Poetry makes nothing happen." He's right. It, too, is one of those proscribed forms that very few now bother with. Yet, I'll argue that it is poetry, or something very close to it that does not yet have a name, that makes everything happen. Poetry is pattern, sound, and seeing. Done with some sensitivity to those three things it mirrors the experience of cresting a hill. While you are walking, or hiking, the hill looms in front of you, occupying most everything you see. In those last steps as the hill lowers itself under your feet, what had been unseen now reveals itself and you stand on the edge of the new.

This sensation of emerging into the world, or having it reveal itself to you, is the synapse of creation. What hadn't existed a moment before was now present, a new connection forged between you and the world as it is, not as you've presumed it to be. The key to this revelation are those steps, those acts undertaken to find and meet the world as it reveals itself. The world where you know what happens next, the world of proscription and damnation, of rewards for compliance is the wasteland, the land of the dead who just don't know it yet: the tyrant's schoolyard. The wasteland is where you are trapped by your job, your obligations, where you seethe in your inability to change your circumstances. It is where you die each day instead of once and for all.

The cure, if there is one, is something like poetry. It is pattern - both obvious and latent (ten fingers, ten toes, the slalom curves footsteps make on unmarked paths, Fibonacci, atomic numbers, slant rhymes, breath) - interacting with sight and sound that draws you forward, carries you forward, draws you on to the emergent, unknown territory between what you've experienced and what happens next. Sitting back births the same thing over and over again. This is why you are trapped, stuck, lost. It takes courage, the courage of a poet, to crest the hill in front of you and find the world you haven't been able to imagine.

The problems we face, as a species, are vast and overwhelming. You cannot stanch the coming flood. You can, however, create a way of being in the world, as it is, not as your fantasy wishes or your pastor tells you, that can forge the connection to the next step, and then the next step and the one after that. It is always the same step, but you must take it for nothing can happen until you do. 

Don't worry about looking foolish or failing. That is the judgment of others and of little use. Those worries are part of the closed loop of the wasteland. Take a step, and another. A world you did not know existed will come into view. To walk like this is poetry itself.  To walk like this is to join life's inherent, creative pulse for what comes next.

* * *

The poet Christian Wiman wrote: 

God goes, belonging to every riven thing he's made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why

God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he's made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into a stillness where

God goes belonging. To every riven thing he's made
there is given one shade
shapes exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see

God goes belonging to every riven thing. He's made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows.
apart from what man knows,

God goes belonging to every riven thing he's made.

* * *

I wish you well.

__________

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