Give Back Better (poem for the weekend)
February 18, 2011
…A year hence, would he question
why he was not contented
now? Therefore he was contented.
“Therefore she was contented,” I say to myself when I’m grumbling through the seeming mire of have-to-do and wish-I-had and how-come-it’s-not.
Important that the phrase breaks off from the whole poem– this one is Hall’s reflection on the times when his wife, the late poet Jane Kenyon, had not yet been diagnosed with leukemia– for the way it names a complex feeling: the distance between what we consider sufficient cause for discontent at different times in our lives. How instantly things can change.
This week I felt discontent in the gray and the rain, just plain blue. No good reason. Unable to shake it. Therefore she was contented, therefore she was. Contented. No matter how I tried, I seemed to keep coming up with the same pessimistic, withdrawn, sleepy version of myself. In return, I was given kindness, love, humor, big smiles, invitations. This is not how the math usually works in my head.
Give back better, goes Rumi’s poem. The rest of it may be a little stark or strange, but I keep that piece in my pocket– like a section of dark chocolate someone pressed into my open palm with a knowing smile. Give back better, the people in my life said quietly, kindly this week, not in so many words, but in simple gestures. They forgave me and helped me forgive myself by giving me back better than I was able to give them.
The gospel reading for this Sunday talks about “going the second mile also,” and I sure have a hard time doing that.
Not the ground, though.
THE GROUND’S GENEROSITY
Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks
Remember: prayer gets accepted no matter how
impure: like that of
a woman in excessive menstruation, her asking dense
with blood, so your praise
is full of blood ties, full of how attached you are.
That tangle of limited
surrender is the human mire. We’re sodden in
bodiness, where the clearest sign of
grace is that from dung come flowers, from the bulbous
sludge, buds and then sweet
pears. The ground’s generosity takes in our
compost and grows beauty! Try to
be more like the ground. Give back better, as a rough
clod returns an ear of
corn, a tassel, a barley awn, this sleek handful of oats.
Photo copyright 2008 Andrea Guido