Humankind Cannot Bear Very Much Reality

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Poets today. Poets have been on my mind all week. T.S. Eliot penned the title of today’s blog. And his words resonate as we continue to face and attempt to deal with today’s reality. Some hours I put forth my overwhelming gratitude for the life that fate just happened to deliver to me — born of the “right” parents at the “right” time in the “right” place. And there are hours when my heart opens to those who are not so lucky. White tears? Perhaps, albeit sincere ones.

I”m spending my working hours now in the 1950s, thinking of those women who led the way, before feminism was even a term, and certainly not yet a term of derision. I consider the women poets of the time, that prickly group who were often their most prickly with and about one another. None garnered the fame they believed they deserved. Only Sylvia Plath’s name generates recognition today, perhaps more to do with her suicide than her body of work. But here I present a work by Muriel Rukeyser. Some things never change. Poets remind us of that.

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane.
The news would pour out of various devices
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

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On Excellent Women

On Excellent Women

Last week I spent time with some excellent women. They had gathered to celebrate the 39th anniversary of their first meeting, a follow up to a religious retreat. They meet weekly to check in, to keep each other on track, and to support one another in their religious journeys.

Over the years, this group’s focus has evolved (my term) from a pious one to a broader effort – that of supporting each other through the voyage of their lives. Their ranks have been reduced by death, and now, only five and in their 80s and 90s, those remaining have stood together in sorrow. They have sat with one another in grief. They have shared their joys.

What a privilege it was to observe them, to contemplate their aging, to ponder my own. Most have difficulty walking. I’m sure that all have aches and pains, though this was never mentioned. Some are more physically infirm than others, but all soldier on. All but one have razor-sharp minds. One, always the one you’d least expect, suffers from memory issues. She, who was beautiful and fey and who knows that she can’t remember, covers her lapses with laughter and giggles that are all the more tragic. The group is kind, and I wonder if each of them, for now untouched, is not somehow relieved that it is she, not they, who has drawn this dreaded wild card.

They welcomed me into their fold, and talked about their lives. Ever confident of their beliefs, they seemed to understand my journey of doubt, of questioning, of wishing for, and not finding, answers.

A different generation, housewives all, sure of their roles to support, not compete with, their spouses, certain that they would be taken care of. All but one is alone now. There was refreshingly little talk of children. This day was theirs.

I focused on them, each remarkable in her particular way. And I wondered if this pre-feminist cohort, this generation who accepted roles without question, or at least without too much questioning, is not more content. Maybe it was the time, maybe it has been their firm religious beliefs, and, just maybe, it has been the support of the group that has given them the strength, the courage and the force to be content.

Or perhaps, in the night, they too wonder.