Thursday, April 9, 2020

Family, Friends, and Faith

That’s what came out of the funeral service for Sharon, that sad morning of last March: the three cups of Family, Friends, and Faith. We can be fixated on precise dates, yes, but grief knows no boundaries; so too is happiness best not to be truncated, forgotten, or packed away. Our lives are a stream of consciousness in which the memories come and go, and we easily can re-engage with the old feelings, if we allow their conjure, if we give in to their quick and sudden provocation, or purposefully draw out the memory, or determinedly pull images up from our interior spaces, like yanking up a bucket from our own well. And sometimes the cup overflows. And sometimes, one might aver, it is empty. Yet, since we are always a reservoir of that which was, if the bucket does come up empty, it is because we did not nurture each tug on our emotion, nor did we dip it deep enough. Friends, Family, and Faith are not so much metaphors as living entities by which we perpetually are sustained. We feel all the more deeply for our knowing, and loving, our dear Sharon.

To you though, she may be just a name.

Friends and Family, and Faith too affects the isolate, the lone homeless person, with no connections, no sub-culture, no network of social support systems. Such a person rises into our consciousness like a boil on the pavement, unwanted, even despised by some. But for most of us, care for such an one is not within our usual purvey. We can afford not to have to dwell on their predicament. We can trust that someone else will take care of them. We can hope that they will take care of themselves. We can have faith that somehow, somewhere, in this vast world of inequalities, there will be succour enough unto the needs of such-like others. We cannot identify with real starvation. We cannot identify with absolute drought. We cannot identify with their apparent rejection of societal norms, expectations, values. We cannot identify with their evident mental aberration, the practice of their physical addictions, or even their horrid hygienic habituations. We have faith that God will take care of them. Somehow, down deep, we feel that they made a choice, and that their way has led way to way. (At least, that allows very many of us freely to skirt past the hobo on the pavements.) And thank God for those who are prepared to minister to them, to stand and serve at the soup-kitchens, to distribute blankets and socks and clothing. They are the angels, indeed. But it becomes necessarily sufficient that we make the Salvation Army coinage-donation, the unwanted-clothes drop. Somehow, God is taking care of it all. Besides, there are too many of ‘them.’ City by city. Country by country. After all, how does one retain one’s need for self-sufficiency, first? If one gives too much, then how quickly will all one’s resources not be depleted? No, better to be in the position to be able to continue to give, but from the well-spring of having one’s ‘own’. Such, generally, is our faith.

In this 2020 time of social isolation and physical distancing we still are able to write, to phone, to skype and zoom and tweet and make communication with friends and family. Yet still, we do not necessarily reach out to all our friends, or even to all our family. We trust we shall hear the news should someone be in trouble, should someone need help. And we keep the faith. After all, at the precise moment of typing these words, at noon, 09/04/2020, there are 94,888 deaths from Covid-19, world-wide. And for me, not a single person of those is someone I know, personally. No, with a little faith, with prayer, with God’s grace, no one that I know will be affected. Such is faith. Such are my friends and family. We are sufficiently connected.

But the statics keep creeping upwards. And it seems the roll of the die may eventually touch a person I personally love, (God forbid!) And therein lies the rub. Until we are personally aggrieved, reached, touched, affected, we do but continue to progress along the way. And the wellspring of our empathy can become cauterized by the sheer volume of statistics. Still, our cups are not entirely empty. Yet behind every one of those nameless 95,047 (a mere two hours later, on checking the burgeoning statistics,) there is family, friends, and faith. And so, weep not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee too. It tolls, awfully.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Mending Walls

We are astounded at unprovoked aggression. We startle! It’s like the surprising attack of an angry and noisy dog, (especially when one is not trespassing.) We are astounded at territorial imperatives. Like that of a neighbour who measures the one-inch overhang of your eavestrough onto his property, and then sets up a letter that arrives in the mail, full of legal complaint. Yes, we do need distance from each other. Yes, we are wont to protect our property, our view, our safety, our security, our sense of ownership of a particular space. But how to mend the rift that can occur in relationships, to repair the neighbourly wall that breaks between us? How to reach beyond impatience, and to speak to each other with dignity and grace and care? How not to threaten?

The current of Covid-19 knows no boundaries. Insidious, it has resulted in our putting walls up, everywhere. In the supermarkets there are taped-distances for us each to stand. On the pathways we veer away from each other. We do not share elevators. We do not share transport. We do not touch. And when that month comes in which we all, tentatively, try to resume the normality of our old lives, shall we easily handshake and hug and speak close across the fences of our social conventions yet once more? How long shall we cling to the ghosts of those so drastically fallen?
Robert Frost, the old poet, in ‘Mending Wall,’ (below,) finished off the poem with these phrases:
 “He moves in darkness as it seems to me, Not of woods only and the shade of trees. He will not go behind his father’s saying, And he likes having thought of it so well He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbours.’”

Indeed. We resonate by clinging to the past. Indeed, we move in the darkness of our established conventions. We inculcate tradition and fear and xenophobia and acculturation as easily as many children once had their private-parts altered in the name of religions. Many still do! We still set up borders, and vaingloriously can defend them against submitting to the differences between our expectations, and that of our neighbour’s. “Having thought of it so well,” we resume and perpetuate our forefather’s practices. Caveman like, we certainly will not allow for someone’s unwanted (or even unexpected) presence at our entrances. Self-protection, and the security of those we love, is quite naturally paramount. And much like Plato’s cave, in which we face the wall and see the moving shadows and mistake them for reality, we perpetuate quite easily the suspended-disbelief of our lives, and presume to squander time, checking the state of our own contrivances, such that we live in the need perpetually to find yet another object, point of focus, or belief that may sustain us. We do not easily turn to the light. We do not easily give up that which went before. We do not easily move beyond the horizontal accretion of our gathered experiences,

“Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder If I could put a notion in his head: ‘Why do they [fences] make good neighbours?’” Robert Frost asks.

Well? Why? What is there about our fragmentation and dissolution and isolation and disconnect that we so readily can resort (in the face of attack, of fear, of uncertainty, and even of reasonable precaution) to the persuasion to keep at mending the wall between ourselves and the other? Indeed, as Frost intimates: “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know What I was walling in or walling out.”

Thing is, as the poet said: “Something there is that does not love a wall.” Then again, “Spring is the mischief in me.” Indeed.

Mending Wall by Robert Frost - 1874-1963
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'