17 September 2001

"Who if I cried out, would hear me among the
angels' hierarchies? and even if one of them
pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming
- Rainer Maria Rilke,  Duino Elegies, I

I've been speaking this last week with people all over the world, and I have yet to encounter even one person who has not been sad, horrified, and anxious about what might happen next. The nuclear clock moves toward midnight, and we all worry, even when we can't express our fears directly. I'm as worried as the next person, believe me. I've been like a butterfly all week long, trying to settle onto something, but flitting back and forth nervously, tentative and touchy, unable to focus on anything long enough to stay still and reflect.

That is, until today. Today, I found a poem by Stephen Dobyns, which comes from his 1977 collection of poems, Heat Death. I am only going to quote part of that poem in this forum, as it pertains to what I felt, but the entire thing is certainly worth reading. The poem is titled "The Delicate, Plummeting Bodies." It tells the story of how Death withdrew from the world, tired of the complaining men who never seemed satisfied by anything Death did. This is what finally came to pass when a delegation of men went and begged Death to return.

How Death was restored to his people: At first the smallest creatures began to die -- bacteria and certain insects. No one noticed. Then fish began to float to the surface; lizards and tree toads toppled from sun-warmed rocks. Still no one saw them. 
Then birds began tumbling out of the air, and as sunlight flickered on the blue feathers of the jay, brown of the hawk, white of the dove, then people lifted their heads and pointed to the sky and from the thirsty streets cries of welcome rose up like a net to catch the delicate and plummeting bodies.

I also spent some time with my old friend Joseph Campbell this afternoon. He was nearing the end of his own life when he spoke of what faith means, and where divinity resides. He said the real eternity is in the immediate now, this very moment, and it is our job as human beings to live as fully as we can in this moment, and honor the divinity in "the other." Who is the other? Why, it's the stranger sitting next to you on the subway or bus. It's the child screaming with glee on a flying swing. It's the man who sells you a newspaper on the street corner. It's the woman who pushes a shopping cart through the city streets at midnight. It's you. According to Campbell, what's up to me is to honor the divinity I see in each and every one of you, every moment I can see and sense it.

Life endures, as does death. What also endures is our indomitable spirit, and our prayers.

Excuse me. I may be on my knees right now, but I'm definitely going to rise again. And in the meantime, I'll say a prayer while I'm down here.


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