Monday, June 15, 2009

Today's Writer's Almanac Poem: "Flannery's Angel"

Flannery's Angel
by Charles Wright

Lead us to those we are waiting for,
Those who are waiting for us.
May your wings protect us,
may we not be strangers in the lush province of joy.

Remember us who are weak,
You who are strong in your country which lies beyond the thunder,
Raphael, angel of happy meeting,
resplendent, hawk of the light.

"Flannery's Angel" by Charles Wright, from Sestets: Poems. © Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


What a great poem for today. I slurp homemade Italian Wedding soup, think of the bread baker that has come into my life - and read Charles Wright's words, marveling at the way it all feels connected.





I'm happy to know a real life Raphael, as well, in one Sr. Rafael Tilton!

Joy to the angels in your life that lead you, and the way your quiet prayers inform the journey.

Love! Happy Contemplating!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Youth Radio: Valencia McMurray on Homelessness

"Minneapolis - The Minneapolis Public Schools counted 5,500 homeless children in the district last year.

One of those students is Valencia McMurray, who graduated last Saturday from North High School in Minneapolis. She tells the story of her struggle to stay in school and graduate while living on her own."

These are the opening words to a story I heard broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio this morning.

This personal account of one young woman's journey as a homeless teen made me cry. Her strength and resilient nature made me smile. The whole narrative made me ask questions:

What does it mean to be 17 and homeless?
How would I navigate such circumstances? You?
How many of my former North HIgh students were in similar situations - that I really knew of? Could I name them? Count them? Who was I completely clueless about?
What are the odds of graduating from high school when you don't know where you will sleep at night?
What kind of wisdom does such a young person gain in this space?
What is my role or response as a listener? Do I have one?
How is Valencia McMurray my teacher?
What questions does this story make you ask?

This Youth Radio piece made me proud to know such powerful and resilient young people - and their teachers - who face such circumstances. I applaud MPR for their production and pairing efforts. I congratulate Valencia and her peers on their accomplishments to date! I look forward to hearing more from all involved....

I encourage all of you to tune in! Listen!

In peace, contemplation,

On Poetry and Anxiety at 4am: "Horses at Midnight Without a Moon"

I woke this morning at 4 a.m. in total fear and anxiety. Do you know this feeling?
Imagine my 40 year old frame stirring: gasping for breath, sweating from too many blankets -- or the heat of bad dreams -- and the dance of my life's failures before me. All the missed deadlines, poorly completed assignments, all the areas that I could imagine I sucked in my work and relationships were parading around my bed. It was not a fun place to be at 4 a.m.

Alone. In darkness. Trying to breathe.

I replayed the dreams that took me to that moment. The long ago awkward lover showing up to greet my parents, though his presence was no longer desired. (Failure to marry?) The creative writing and performance tasks that a dear friend was completing, while I watched and took notes, but didn't dare attempt. (Failure to publish?) The former student whose heart and brilliant mind inspired me, but who I failed to ever broadcast or promote. This young man crossing the street, waving, dancing, but seemingly taunting me: you didn't ever really do anything for me as a teacher! (Failure to acknowledge?) The colleague's questions and artistic processes that I knew transformed lives, but who I didn't document. (Failure to act?)

I was shrouded in some crazy darkness and doubt, some ego-laden fears about what I conceive of my life's work and purpose, and what I have truly accomplished. It was hard. I wanted to cry. I felt really alone and unable to shirk the sweaty salty experience of an anxiety attack at 4 am.

So I prayed. I replayed James' Finley describing Siddhartha, and how this man did one extraordinarily simple, but radical act: "Buddha sat and calmed himself." I tried to do this same thing. I breathed in and out and in and out. I said the "Our Father" five times. Then, a bit more calm, I looked at my dreams and these fears presenting themselves in my awake state. I saw my ridiculous ego thinking I was all that and capable of Christ-like activity. I laughed. I said, "Thank you," to the nuns in my life and sent a couple notes of prayer and gratitude out to my okay-to-text-at-4am-family-and-friends.

And then I read this poem. Pulling up the Writer's Almanac on my pda, I took in Jack Gilbert's piece, "Horses at Midnight Without a Moon" and I laughed and wept with the incredible resonance of poetry speaking to me. Art mirroring life.

And now, how many hours later, after a day's work, and some time to look back at it all, I share it with you. How many wake in these pre-light hours with such dark thoughts? Who encounters their own egos in such a crazed dance of desire and drama, fear and shame? Who finds Gilbert and celebrates his similar knowing about the heart and the animal world and the hope present in it all?

Enjoy the poem! Happy Contemplating!

Horses At Midnight Without A Moon
by Jack Gilbert

Horses At Midnight Without A Moon
by Jack Gilbert

Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there's music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
The summer mornings begin inch by inch
while we sleep, and walk with us later
as long-legged beauty through
the dirty streets. It is no surprise
that danger and suffering surround us.
What astonishes is the singing.
We know the horses are there in the dark
meadow because we can smell them,
can hear them breathing.
Our spirit persists like a man struggling
through the frozen valley
who suddenly smells flowers
and realizes the snow is melting
out of sight on top of the mountain,
knows that spring has begun.

"Horses At Midnight Without A Moon" by Jack Gilbert, from Refusing Heaven. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Monday, June 01, 2009

"The Case for Working With your Hands" - By Matthew B. Crawford

This article in the May 21, 2009 NY Times is amazing. A colleague at CAREI shared it with me. Essential questions the author Matthew Crawford poses are:

"Why not encourage gifted students to learn a trade, if only in the summers, so that their fingers will be crushed once or twice before they go on to run the country?"


"What does a good job look like?"

To this, I add, "And what does a good job FEEL like? And sound like? What happens in our brains, hearts, bodies when we are doing work that is "good"?"

I highly recommend the read. This ph.d turned motorcycle mechanic presents us with provocative thoughts in his examination of meaningful work and the cognitive processes and ethical components inherent in such employment activity.

Happy Contemplating!