The day seven poem prompt of the 2018 National Poetry Writing Month challenge was for me to list my different layers of identity (son, father, grand and step-grandparent, retiree, white male, septuagenarian, poet/writer, hippie, etc.) — ways I could be described. Per the prompt, I divided those identities into two lists: what makes me feel powerful; and what makes me feel vulnerable.
I wrote a poem in which one of the identities from the first list (man) contends or talks with an identity from the second list (sensitive man). This poem reflects the doubt seemingly inherent in that conflict.
A Pocket Full of Doubt
Walk tall and proud to be our one man
Carry strong your body, mind, and be of good spirit
Hold on to what’s yours as tight as you can
To be a man, my son, inside you can’t feel it.
It ain’t me. It ain’t me. But a man I must be.
Stand honest and truthful, be a real man
Sense love and sadness and touch with your soul
Let go of yourself, as alone you must stand
Into the soul of men, you must never there go.
Can’t you see? It just ain’t me. Like so, a man I can never be.
So, of two minds you continue to fight?
Two spirits, one soul we continue to see
Where is the truth to set this man right?
Conflicted as such, you’ll never agree.
Let you be the man. The one we can see.
…….A man such as this can never be free.
(Bill Reynolds, 4/7/2018)
Look both ways if you’re of two minds.
In the gaps lie the answers, so mind what you find.
This is my second post in a series about the paradox of love. It is a little different in that it’s about a man I’ve met, and a couple in love. I’ve included two of his poems.
Let’s answer this question: What is the best hoped-for outcome of any relationship?
Even Grimm’s Fairy Tales don’t finish with the “and they lived happily ever after” fantasy. The best we can hope for is, until death do us part. Barring the end of the movie The Notebook, murder-suicide pacts, or certain accidents; someone gets left. And we are often made miserable by our loss, about being left without someone we love, or about how that happened.
I don’t know John Gorow well. We attend the same writer’s group. John’s an old timer in the group; I’m new. He agreed to allow me to publish the story he related to me, and the poems he wrote. It is a remarkable and inspirational story. His poems are wonderful.
Joan and John Gorow met in 1969, when both were recovering from divorce. Prior to their marriage in 1972, Joan told John that she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). According to John, Joan’s health setbacks did not begin for about 28 years. Since 2000, her MS was a problem. Then came breast cancer. While treatment led to a full recovery, a Parkinson’s diagnosis soon followed, in addition to her worsening MS.
For approximately 15 years, John was Joan’s constant companion and full-time caregiver. As Joan’s health continued to deteriorate, the burden on John increased. In response to that challenge, John wrote the following beautiful, heart-wrenching poem.
by John Gorow
Time moves on
Inconvenient impairments become life altering
Legs don’t do what she wants
Hands have difficulty holding things
Normal chores are no longer normal
Cooking becomes dangerous
Washing dishes is impossible
Clothes can’t be carried to the washer while using a walker
The vacuum can’t be pushed
Self-worth begins to fade.
The one who has been cared for must now give care
She has cooked for me
It is my turn to cook for her
She washed our clothes
I will do the washing
She kept our home clean
I will try my best
It is assumed we all can dress ourselves
That is no longer true
Showering on her own can’t be done
No more going to the bathroom by herself
Memory slips – confusion arrives
What day is it?
Where are we?
I need patience
We talk, and then we laugh – I cry on the inside
Kids tell me to get help
I finally do – one day a week
Who is it harder on – her or me?
I get some freedom – she does not.
Caregiving is tough
Better than the alternative
I want her as she was
It will not happen
But then again, I do have her
(October 17, 2013)
Seven months ago, on October 22, 2016, John no longer had Joan with him. Since then, John has suffered and struggled with his pain. He wrote the following poem to directly address grief in response to the prompt: what brought you to your knees? In the fifth stanza, he directly addresses the paradox of love, vis-à-vis his grief.
by John Gorow
Who are you, grief?
Why do you pester me?
You have dropped me to my knees.
I knew I would have to deal with you,
But is it forever?
You keep lingering in my life.
I think you may be gone,
Then you grab me once again.
My laughs turn into tears.
Others have told me about you,
But you don’t behave the same with all.
I can’t determine when you will rise again.
What a paradox.
I have tried to hate you,
But without love you wouldn’t be here.
I know we will take the rest of my journey together,
So I must accept you.
That acceptance will be slow.
You should know
I will no longer dread the tears you bring me,
You will need to accept that.
You can stay with me,
But I will slowly rise from my knees.
I will move forward, but not forget.
(May 18, 2017)
I want to close this post with the same line John ended his email to me. It’s a beautiful one-line poem of five words.
“I miss her very much.”
As we look both ways and mind the gaps,
let’s not forget that some of us are suffering.
Let us love and support each other, and at all times, let us cherish those we love –
paradox or not.
I sort of got the idea for this from another A to Z blogger, Sandra of What Sandra Thinks, specifically her Bitchfest 2017, where she adds “special touches of sarcasm, darkness and foul language.” Since I find her humor refreshing, I decided to take a similar, but more serious, path.
Vexations create a state of being annoyed or frustrated. I confess that during my life I’ve been guilty of many of the things I find vexing. My greatest frustration may be my own human condition. We have many words devoted to being pissed off. I am not the only one.
Vexatious Me by Bill Reynolds
With all the natural evil that be,
I am most troubled by
The moral evils that I see
Placed peeps on peeps. I’m vexed and…
Affronted by unfair stereotyping,
Aggravated by sense of entitlement,
Angered by any amount of animal abuse.
Annoyed by the foolishness of youth,
Bugged by too much welfare abuse,
Bent out of shape by all the bullies,
Disgruntled by job discriminations.
Displeased with wasting time, including mine.
Embittered by lost love.
Enraged by abuse toward women.
Exasperated by flawed governance.
Frustrated by incompetence, especially mine,
Furious over child abuse, anywhere, any time.
Indignant over unjust justice.
Infuriated by big black lies, also
Irked by little white ones.
Irritated by misunderstandings and
Miffed by gossip for fun and pleasure.
Offended by those too sensitive,
Outraged by starving children.
Peeved by human weaknesses, yet
Piqued by those better than I.
Pissed off when treated unfairly, and
Riled by my own pride.
Worried that nothing will change.
I failed to mention other drivers (texters, Beemer drivers, and Mercedes too), the wealthy, other people’s kids and dogs, and the folks who work at the driving license places in virtually every state. Also, virtually anyone who disagrees with me about nearly anything at all. And then there are people who are more vexatious than I.
Relax and go with the flow. We’re only human,
but let’s look both ways to enjoy the view.
Mind the gaps my friends, lest you get too twisted.
The title of this quatrain poem is taken from a New York Quarterly, ‘Craft Interview’ with James Dickey, as quoted in the Introduction to The Art of Poetry Writing by William Packard. I’m new to poetry writing, but I have always loved it. Thus, I concur with Mr. Dickey’s assessment.
The Greatest God Damn Thing by Bill Reynolds
Beating hearts bring words as rhythm flows,
the brick and mortar for posing forms.
They come to me in words of prose.
I wrangle with words to bring the storms.
I feel the beat as I tap my feet,
I catch the bop and I keep the time.
My world finds rhythm to keep the beat.
I seek my Po-voice and find the rhyme.
Mind and spirt bring forth my emotions.
Poetic verse grows as I now can hear it.
Out of me come plans and potions.
The poem I’ve written is part of my spirit.
The pleasure I found in hearing the sound.
My voice is here and my voice is there,
My emotions can show a feeling we share,
My poem’s my gift to everyone around.
Read, write, and love poetry silently and in several voices
as you look both ways on the highway of life.
See and hear all the rhythm and rhyme.
But, mind the silence of the gaps.
One of my favorite movie lines is, “What if this is as good as it gets?” Watch the movie trailer here.
This scene takes place in a shrink’s office after Melvin Udall’s (Jack Nicholson) doctor tells him that he needs an appointment. The doctor is pleased that Udall maybe taking responsibility and he acknowledges Udall’s difficulty with that. Have you ever asked yourself, is this as good as it gets?
Let’s answer this empowering question with, “It is what it is.” But, it’s more than that, and it applies to life.
Sometimes, feelings of sadness or depression blow through me like gusts of wind through the branches of trees. These visiting emotions last just long enough, and are disturbing enough, to let me know they visited. Then, just as quickly, they’re gone. I feel normal again. I know the feelings aren’t far away and they will return. When they come back, I have no way to expel them. These feelings have their own will; one I don’t control. When they return, I hope they don’t stay long.
I fancy myself a happy person, although I find happiness in my own way. Life is about how we feel. I love life and living – being me. I accept reality, which gets a bad rap for being negative. Life is what it is, which is mostly good for me. I know it’s good from my experience with when it was bad. I don’t like feeling desperate, but I feel hopeless at times. It’s not the same as depressed.
I’m hopeful about many of the things over which I have no control. When I fly, I hope the airplane doesn’t crash. When I drive through the I-90 tunnels toward Seattle, I hope there’s not an earthquake. Fear could prevent me from doing either. Planes crash and earthquakes happen. In The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck talks about denial keeping us from dying of freight. I’m not sure about that, but it might help me get to Austin. It’s not denial – shit happens.
However, I am willing to work with my feelings of hopelessness. I’m not referring to the charming but hopeless romantic, or being merely incompetent (Bill’s hopeless). And I’m not talking about sadness, fear, or denial. I’m talking about the feeling that can cause despair (being without hope). Back in the day, ‘twas that conclusion I expressed when I’d say OMGIF! (Oh my God, I’m fucked).
Some things are hopeless. While my online dictionary defines hopelessness as causing despair; being desperate, wretched, demoralized, or impossible; I prefer a simpler hopelessness: feeling the loss of hope. And hope is “a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency (control, influence, or power); it means you are essentially powerless.” (Derrick Jensen)
I recall an audio tape where the narrator asked, “What is the best hoped-for outcome of any relationship?” My answer is best expressed in the movie The Notebook. What I like most about that movie is Noah, who never gives up on his love for Allie despite their apparent hopeless situation. Spoiler alert: they don’t live happily ever after (which is my point). But they do have a great life.
Think of the Buddhist issue with desire as the cause of all of our problems. Is a desire not something hoped for? Two related Buddhist sayings are: “Hope and fear chase each other’s tails,” and “When you give up on hope, you turn away from fear.”
Time for some philosophical music….
Is it all dust in the wind? Are we? Metaphorically, perhaps so; in reality, we will be. The song talks about the impermanence of passing time, the endlessness of earth and water, and the certainty of death, whereby our only immortality is by returning to earth and water.
Embracing hopelessness is not the same as giving up. It’s a form of acceptance. It is time for us to do what we can. It is time for our action. It helps us to live more in the present moment. We rely less on tomorrow being a better day. I’ve been accused of being negative when I defended reality. Others may want to live in fantasy, to deny reality to the point of making things worse (i.e., not seeking medical assistance), but that feeds denial and makes things worse. Accepting things as they really are, even when hopeless, gives us a better life.
I read this good article about hopelessness in the Orion Magazine called “Beyond Hope,” by Derrick Jensen. He talks about hopelessness as a general topic, but specifically applies environmentalism as an example. Hopelessness does not deprive us of that final act of defiance.
As we accept the reality of hopelessness,
we need to look both ways and mind the gaps.
“Look, Garrett, I’m closer to the end than to the beginning. So, some of this stuff, I just don’t have it in me to care anymore…It’s the rest of it, the posturing, the little digs, the wasting my time….” ~ Police Commissioner Frank Reagan; from the TV show Blue Bloods, Season 6, Episode 9, “Hold Outs.”
I can relate. I often say, “I don’t care.” But I do; in an odd, almost cavalier way. Normally, when I think I can help someone or fix something, I give my time and effort to the issue. I now care less about many of the things that were high on my list when I worked at my paying job. I haven’t lost my motivation; I now own it.
Opinions others have of me have lost much of their importance. Nowadays, I care more about issues that were of little interest during my past. Conversely, my “that’s bull shit” list is longer than ever. I worked, if you can call it that, for about 50 years. Now retired, my perspective on what’s important is changed.
Since age 18, excluding my time as an undergrad, I had one six-month period of unemployment. Even then, I treated my job search and being Mr. Mom, as two jobs. I enjoyed them both. The pay was horrendous, but the benefits were good.
I learned about myself during that time, simply by being me. That was the early 90s, the decade that I like to call my figure it out for myself years. Looking back, I now recognize that I was depressed and confused. I worried about things like money, a job, and my kids. I was more overwhelmed than I like to admit. I paid my dues. But now?
I wear blue jeans, shorts, or sweat pants. It’s like every day is casual Friday, but it’s really another Saturday. I’ve not worn khakis more than twice in 18 months. I haven’t worn a tie, suit, or sports jacket either.
I care about style, as long as it’s casual. While I still think wearing argyle socks with sandals is a sin for which any man should burn for eternity, there’s something to be said for not caring what others (like me) think, even in the choice of clothing styles. I toy with the idea of wearing a kilt cuz wife says I have great legs. Some opinions will always count.
It shouldn’t matter what most other people think. I’ve read that what they think of me is not my business. But it often does matter. If I ask you what you think, feel, or believe, you should want me to care about your answer. If I do, it’s fair enough.
If I like your idea, I may accept it, implement it, or otherwise go with it. When someone says, “You should do a blog on that,” it gets my attention. I often write with inspiration like that from someone else.
I’m a grandparent. A parent called to complain about a grandchild. I listened, but said nothing. I allowed my child to rant and get it out. My wife wasn’t home, so I was on my own for the call and the associated drama. These are my monkeys in my family circus, after all.
Then I hear, “You haven’t said anything, Dad. What do you think?”
I take a deep breath and wonder if I should respond (the answer here is no).
Raising my kids, I made the same mistakes. But now, I have a different perspective. I answer with a quetion, “Are you sure you want to know?”
My ranting offspring responds, “Yes.” The tension builds. While I knew that this wouldn’t end well that day, I also knew it would eventually pass, and it did. I blurted out my answer as the Frank Reagan of my family.
“It doesn’t matter. What you’re so upset about is no big deal. There are more important issues in your child’s life. This is minor and kind of expected. As children, we’ve all had problems like this. We get over it and so will he. Allow him the dignity of experiencing and learning about life on life’s terms, not your conditions. I suggest you calm down and wait.”
Blue Bloods writers would handle this scene at the family dinner table with everyone drinking wine.
I’m a here and now kind of guy. While I firmly believe in living in the present, I acknowledge that each life has a future and that’s the direction we live it. Today’s crisis is tomorrow’s funny dinner chat or neighborhood gossip.
Life goes on, and everyone should enjoy every possible breathtaking minute. What other people think is probably unimportant, and may be dangerous. So learning when to have had enough, to be tired of the BS, and to move on; to no longer give a shit, is good.
“But Mikey’s father, champion of all pint drinkers, is like my uncle Pa Keating, he doesn’t give a fiddler’s fart what the world says and that’s the way I’d like to be myself” ~ From Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt
So, care as you must. Live in your world and in your time. Figure out what’s important to you and to people close to you. Make choices, change your mind, look back and look forward. That makes perfect sense to me, I hope it does to you, too.
Meh takes a big swig of the foamy grog and grunts, “I don’t give a feck.”
Live life forward, understand it backwards,
mind the gap, and look both ways.
Here I go again—trying to write a short blog on a topic suited for a book. I’ve taught classes on forgiveness, so I gained some insight. But that doesn’t mean I’m better than others at forgiving–I’m not. Two short stories for you, one related to the other.
First, as I was listening to a minister talk to his congregation about topics to teach in adult classes, he rattled off some that he thought his flock might struggle with. A few hands went up with each topic, until he mentioned forgiveness. I looked around to see two-thirds of them requesting instruction on forgiveness.
I taught the series of classes. To those people, this was the topic most of them wanted to deal with. I suspect that it was the most important.
Then, as I was teaching and near the conclusion of that class, one man asked, “Do I need to forgive Madalyn Murray O’Hair?”
I looked at him as I ran snarkastic comments through my mind, working on being kind to those who might have missed the point.
I said, “She was an atheist who died a tragic death about ten years ago. Why would you need to forgive her? Did she harm you?”
He said, “She took prayer out of our schools.”
If standing and glaring while trying to maintain composure sends a message to the rest of the class, that’s what I did. I scratched me head, hoping to end this soon. Insulting and vulgarities seemed inappropriate to the church venue.
I responded, “Well, I feel certain that Madalyn could not care less. She never had power to remove prayer from public schools, but the Supreme Court did. However, that case was not hers. Official, sponsored prayer had been voted to be unconstitutional two years before her case was decided. Hers involved her son and forced bible reading. Do you want to make a list of the Justices who decided that case so you can work on forgiving them? You don’t need to forgive her. But I think you should know exactly what it is that you are not forgiving her for.”
I don’t know what he was after, or if I was as condescending as I felt. Maybe he was wanting to discuss people that we might all have trouble forgiving. Hitler was and is still available, if we want to include the dead.
When I’ve harmed others and I feel remorse, I’d like to be forgiven. I realize such forgiveness is not a dismissal of my behavior. For that, I’ll always be responsible. When I’m forgiven, the personal relationship may be open to reconciliation. While it’s forever changed, the relationship may be worth saving. If so, the burden is mine.
When I’ve been harmed, I don’t need the person who wronged me to want forgiveness. They need not apologize, although that helps considerably. I do need to know exactly what they did that requires forgiving. I’ve learned that forgiveness has no easy on-off switch. I must want to forgive; then I must begin the process of forgiving.
Forgiveness may take considerable time. But forgiving gives me a personal freedom and comfort that I enjoy, not to mention it frees my mind for other uses. Forgiving doesn’t mean that the transgression wasn’t serious or damaging. If it happens again, discernment trumps forgiveness. I want to forgive because it’s good for me. Any benefit to the transgressor is supplementary to my own.
I am not preaching forgiveness. I’m advocating happiness. We don’t need to forgive everyone or everything. In the link here, are several articles on the mental health advantages of forgiveness. They also warn about some issues with forgiveness. There may be advantages to not forgiving in cases of sexual abuse, since anger and a demand for justice seem to empower victims. I’ll add victims of spousal abuse for similar reasons. There may be other situations where forgiveness needs to wait.
Finally, there must always be justice. We strive for life to be fair. When Pope JPII went to forgive the man who shot him in an assassination attempt, they hugged and the Pope made is forgiveness known. Then, the Pope left, leaving the man to complete his prison sentence.
The power of forgiveness rests with, and benefits most, the person wronged or harmed. Forgiving does not mean it was ok. If we can get on with our lives and rise above harmful difficulties, we can find relief and maybe happiness.
May we all find the strength and wisdom to move toward forgiveness when and where it’s wise and we’re able.
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Look both ways.