“I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.” ~ Khalil Gibran.
I was introduced to the poet Khalil Gibran in high school. I don’t know who was the first person to find and share ‘The Prophet’ but his prose poems were inspiring to our idealistic souls, and many of us went on to include his words in our rites of passage and passing, reading them at weddings, funerals and more. Like most teenagers we were searching for meaning, for answers to the imponderable questions of life. Some of us are still searching. Others have either found answers or decided to accept that we may have to leave the unknowable alone.
But the poets have long been the narrators of life, summarizing in laser-like focus the common themes of humanity. The other day I was watching a show called ‘History Detectives’. They take items of personal significance and try to find the story behind it. In one case it was a pencil sketch of a prisoner-of-war from the 1940’s. In searching for the artist they showed other artifacts of the time. The prisoners who were held in the Japanese camp used art to maintain their humanity and their tenuous link with their home. Pencils and paper were scarce commodities, sometimes obtained through trading cigarettes or food. The portrait had been drawn in exchange for a potato and an onion! The owner of the portrait had in his possession a log-book with some of the evidence of their artistic efforts. There was a poster announcing a Christmas concert; short stories; cartoons and poetry. It was incredible to imagine the ability of men who were fed the meanest of meals, with little hope of rescue, having such strength of spirit to persist and hope and create.
And yet the human story is full of such examples. The enslaved Africans created songs which delivered secret messages of the Underground Railroad and gave rise to a genre of music, blending cultural influences that can be heard in all manner of varieties today. We are taught that we are driven by a hierarchy of needs, that begins with the physiological: air, food, water. Despite that there is evidence that even when faced with existential crises, mankind can still find energy to create and to show compassion to others.
There are times when we get bogged down with the latest pressing problem of our lives and it can become overwhelming. I remember reading some advice for when you are in a situation that threatens to consume you. Stop and see if you can remember what was bothering you this time last year. Can you even remember what was going on in your life at that time? Chances are there was something, some money issue, or work issue, or relationship issue. And yet, twelve months later you can’t even identify what it was. If you can gain perspective on some of life’s trials, that in the grand scheme of things it may not even be memorable, it can help you get through whatever life throws at you.
This week I have traveled out of town to a place touched by autumn. I had checked the weather ahead of time, noting the possible 40 degrees that will greet me when I go outside this morning. But I had totally forgotten the possibility of a fall display, with the riotous yellows and reds and oranges. Such a pleasing palette. I read recently of some wise words. Can you imagine being stuck in one place, unable to move, with food and water out of reach. What kind of torture would that be? And yet that is the tree. It is not able to move from the spot where it grew (not independently, anyway) and yet it thrives, produces, and sustains the lifeblood of this planet. Who are we to complain or worry?
This Friday morning, as I prepare for one of life’s less pleasant tasks (meeting with a survey team at a sister institution), I am trying to follow my own advice. This time next year will I remember anything other than a fall trip to a pretty city? I am being interviewed, not interrogated or tortured! I was amused by a cartoon in which a dog was saying to a cat: “You know that feeling when you’ve done something bad and feel terrible about it all day?” The cat replied: “No!” Sometimes it seems that the trees and the cats have a much better grasp of life’s important lessons than we do!
Have a wonderful weekend, Family! May you be up to all of your challenges, and may you find the perspective to see you through them all.