Years ago at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, I majored in political science. It hasn’t helped me stave off a deeper despair than I’ve ever felt before regarding our politics. Our democracy is in as much danger and pain as I’ve ever seen before. When I say, God help us these days, I really mean it.
But still, despite all of this… poetry helps.
It helps because what is a poem if not a friend reaching out to us. Poems listen and get us just as good friends do. It’s those tiny surprises of feeling, insight and yes, hope that I value so much.
I recently attended the new Norman Lear documentary. Norman said a single laugh extends our life by some measurable amount of time. It is just like working out and exercising. I believe that. And then it occurred to me that the warm and juicy ah-ha feeling we get while reading a good poem must also extend our life. I would estimate by at least 5 minutes per poem. You can do the math, but I say get busy and live a long life.
Last night I had a delicious meal and conversation with an old friend. We talked about many things including politics and the danger of demagogues. Just like a poem, he listened intently to me, including my confusion and pain. Just like a poem, I listened to him and his pain as well. I can’t tell you how much lighter I felt walking out of that restaurant last night.
What would we do without friends and the friend of poetry? I dare not think.
Every morning for years, I’ve written. Just like my mentor, William Stafford I write what comes. The piece below is what arrived after what must have been a night of dreaming about the value of friends and poems. So in this most difficult season of discontent, let us listen more intently than ever to each other. Let us despair and cry and laugh and stand firm as needed. And please, as we stand and take our rightful place in this history we are making… let us vote with our head, heart and feet.
WHAT IS THE VALUE?
What is the value of a single ah-ha?
From a friend who assures us we are
not alone, in any sadness and who will
gladly witness our pain or confusion
or both. How much does an epiphany
weigh, and on whose scale does it matter
that the universe suddenly “gets” itself
and saves us from our narrow fate? We
are rescued by friends, time and again, the
ability to look through their caring eyes
is as close to heaven as God need ever provide.
PS: I will be teaching a special class called Poetry: Remembering Ourselves Whole Again with Gratitude, starting September 16th at The Ranch in Tiburon. Details here.