“Peace goes into the making of a poem
as flour goes into the making of bread.”~Pablo Neruda.
I traveled through London the day of the Moorgate Disaster, a crash of an underground train (London’s Tube) that killed 48 people. In fact I traveled by tube that day. My friend and I had to get across London to get from one (overground) railway station to another, on our way to some other destination in the South of England. My friend had a few quirks. She was deathly afraid of snakes, and if you mentioned the word, and then touched her, she would jump as if a snake were there. It was very distressing for her, and equally amusing for those of her friends who knew this fact! Knowing this about her, I knew that I could not let her know about the crash, since we had no money for any other travel option. And so as we walked past the men hawking the newspapers with the tragic headlines (“Extra, extra, read all about it”) shouting out in their foreign Cockney accents, I would distract her with conversation. I would walk between her and the signs that exclaimed Moorgate Crash!
Over the past few weeks, as England has been reeling from two attacks and a horrendous fire, I have had friends travelling through London and Europe, managing to have a great time and carry out their wedding and tourist related plans despite scary headlines and tragedies. Life must go on, and with a bit of caution but a lot of courage and faith, good times are there to be had. It is when we become paralyzed by fear that we are truly terrorized. And the harsh reality is that tragic things are happening around the world every day, life is fragile, so we have to learn to make the most of our lives even as we understand that basic fact.
The wonderful thing about life is that for every bad thing that happens comes the opportunity to provide for change, and if we act intelligently, we will grow from it. It is to be hoped that the sight of the towering inferno (again, poor London) will bring about changes in building codes and code enforcement. It was the terrible effects of lead poisoned water in Flint, Michigan (and the fearless journalists that exposed it) that has led to changes in water management. But the toll on the health of many may be irreparable. Unfortunately it usually takes the death of the many to uncover unsafe practices which need to be corrected.
In our daily life, we talk about ‘teachable moments’, one of those phrases that has become more popular with time. Almost like ‘at the end of the day’ which is now so overused I cringe whenever I hear it! But as I listened to a report on NPR the other day, I heard the phrase ‘teachable moment’ in regards to acts of cross cultural relations in the wake of an act of violence against one group of people. And for a moment I was caught up in the phrase itself. Is it grammatically correct? Does it suggest that the moment can be taught? Sometimes writers are prone to over-analysis! But when we are presented with a teachable moment, we have to act, for this is the moment that life gives us a metaphor, one which provides us the opportunity to make a point that might otherwise get lost.
Over the past two weeks I have had at least three such moments, and there were lessons that landed in my lap in order to get my attention. It made me realize that most teachable moments arise from someone messing up, from something going wrong. And the one who stands to benefit the most (if they are open to the lesson) is the one who messed up. Failures, setbacks, disappointments, can be turned into pivotal points in our lives if we recognize them. Growth comes from acknowledging our weaknesses and then doing something about them. I remember the first time I heard the quote that the definition of insanity is doing things the same way and expecting to get different results. I don’t even know who said it first (I’ll have to use The Google), but it resonated with me bigly. At the time I saw that by that definition I was guilty. But it was also good to quote it at others and see the effect it had on them.
The other thing I heard recently, as I caught the tail end of an interview with a poet, was that the beauty of a poem is that it forces you to slow down in the rush of life, and in slowing down you are made to focus on things and people outside of yourself. The poet said that when we race through the day, we are thinking only of ourselves, of our needs and deadlines, the things we have to do. In the writing or reading of a poem life slows down, and you can draw a breath and appreciate the life and feelings of others. A poet then has the ability to promote empathy and compassion, by facilitating the understanding of a different perspective.
On this Friday morning, in a world full of sudden destruction and u-turns; I hope you also can take the time to appreciate a poem, or a flower, or the beauty of the morning sky. I hope that when life gives you the gift of a ‘teachable moment’ you grab it and run with it. I hope that when you pause and read a poem it takes you to a place of peace and enhanced understanding of the life of another, that it promotes the knowledge of how connected we all are one with another.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!