Here is a poem from two decades ago that still has some resonance for me as I try to pay my debts with love. I’ve posted a bunch more of these old soldiers and am making them march around again (see the link to Poems up near the top of the page). If you’re interested, please go see them so their efforts won’t be in vain. (Thank them for their service, you know, that kind of thing.)
After the Demonstration
Nothing makes me as lonely as being told
how unified we are. The cell swirls
in jubilation and I am expelled into orbit.
There is great freedom in wanting different
from anyone else. In my life, I have evolved:
First I despised the haters. Next I looked down
on those who despised them. Now, adrift and rolling away,
I have the next person trapped in me, and I despise
my righteous isolation, my mirrors, my need to judge.
The Pentecostals (whom I now love
for their holy separation) cut through the rain
seemingly on their own band: He made a change
in my life. He made a change in My Life.
My wheels keep beat for me, as if pulling me down
will make it so. For a moment I slip back to the world
and am jarred by the normalness of myself,
a man in a jacket. Possibly a complete vessel.
If I could prolong that motion--grow
from human to artwork--I would long
to drop in the world's pocket, wait
there to be found and judged, yes, held
in the sweet above and below of the human world.
But I am away, untethered, again--
Adam. Where a word would have saved me, I veered
toward loneliness. It seems this will not
be the day my wary heart finds
a back door to its categories, lets in
the next person, the one for whom
no body has been made yet.
The voices we need to hear now are the voices of compassion. We have to move past detailing our differences in ways that isolate us.
The crisis is ours to work with. There is no one to take care of it but us, because we ourselves are the crisis! We can’t look at our politicians, our “leading class,” with contempt and despair, because we have allowed them the power they have. And that is as it should be. They may be an expression of self-serving and corruption in our own souls, and truly when we look at them we are looking at ourselves.
We look at ourselves, too, when we look at each other in the common run of life. The heroic or saintly people who give freely with no expectation of return, or conniving cheats steeping in greed and malice, or everyone in between (all those whose basic decency we recognize but whose actions we are eager to condemn)–each is a version of our humanity that we have brought into being.
The message “Thou art That“–the call to see yourself in the other and act out of a feeling of shared humanity –is more than enough to occupy our thoughts with for a lifetime. But consider it as more than a call for compassion and fellowship. Consider that, in your reaction to these words, “Thou art That,” you contribute something, however small, to making the world the way it is. If your thought is, “No, there’s nothing in common with that and me,” or “Yes, I admit I can see something of myself there,” you enact a small moment of either separation or union, antipathy or sympathy, between yourself and the world. This doesn’t have to be called good or bad, but it occurs. Knowing that it matters, then, we can act as if it matters.