28 February 2010

more faith, less hope: an apology and a sermon from brother revell

Every day I have between 4 and 6 hours of good energy--enough to do some dishes, fold some laundry, teach some classes, and then collapse on the couch.  A few hours later, I can sometimes muster 2 to 3 hours more of low energy to help kids with homework, make a simple dinner, read stories, and put kids to bed.  Sometimes, thanks to a laptop I can use in bed or on the couch, I write some things and send them to publishers.  Sometimes, if I budget well, I can go to a party or take a child shopping for a birthday present.  The bard says how I too often feel here, as if he had already read the Elizabethan DSM-IV:

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, 
   I all alone beweep my outcast state, 
And trouble deaf Heaven with my bootless cries, 
   And look upon myself, and curse my fate, 
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, 
   Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd, 
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope, 
   With what I most enjoy contented least: 

I've been under this energy constraint for the past five years, and sporadically before that for my whole life, when I've had episodes of depression.  It's held me back from doing things I want to, and know I can, do, kept me from consistently putting in the hours required to do everything I'd like.  Every day I hope it will change.  I plan on things changing in the future while feeling frustrated with the present.  Today I want to assess the damage that too much hope has done to my life, to my relationships with my children, my poems, and my world, and to make a shift from hopefulness to faithfulness.

A few years ago, in poetry workshop with the amazing poet and teacher Donald Revell, he taught us that we should have more faith and less hope in our poems.  His reasoning goes like this:  you can't write poems hoping that someone else will love them, or that they'll win a prize or adulation because you have no control over the way other people respond to you or your loved ones, and because the reward of external approbation is never big enough make it worth spending time doing things you don't love.  You can write poems that you love and send them out in the world with your faith.  Some misunderstood poets, like Emily Dickinson, have eventually become better understood. I love Dickinson because she loved her poems so much, and wrote them believing (as opposed to hoping) that others would love them, too.  And they did.  Eventually.  After she was dead.  And that's because she wrote poems she loved.  Which doesn't ever guarantee that someone else will love them.  Only that their author loves them.  Which is enough.  Should be enough.  And because her poems didn't receive love until she was buried in her beloved earth.  Dickinson says:

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,-- 
The simple news that Nature told, 
With tender majesty. 
Her message is committed 
To hands I cannot see; 
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me! 

(I love how much Dickinson loved the world.  Loving the world makes good poems.)

During Don's lesson, I had a major parenting epiphany.  This statement about hope and faith holds true for children as well as poems.  I realized then that I had not been displaying a full acceptance of my children.  Instead of reveling in their unique presence, I spent too much time correcting, hoping for change and improvement.  This was a huge mistake that robbed me and them of the full measure of love and joy we could have had then.  Here's apology number one: To my children, especially the oldest two, for not backing you with full faith earlier in your lives.  

Apology number two:  I'm sorry world.  I haven't loved you enough.  I have wished you to be different, not lived in you enough.  I want to change.  Here's what Brother Revell says about the world in his poem "My Mojave":
A perfect circle falls Onto white imperfections. (Consider the black road, How it seems white the entire Length of a sunshine day.)  Or I could say Shadows and mirage Compensate the world,  Completing its changes With no change.
Mormon doctrine, the one I was raised with from the day of my birth, has (what seems to me in my fuzzy understanding of Western Christina Traditions) a less dualistic view of heaven and earth, body and spirit, than many Christian traditions.  The earth and our bodies are not so much fallen states as they are stops on a journey.  Every Mormon knows this scripture by heart from the second book of Nephi:  Adam fell that men [and women] might be.  Men [and women] are that they might have joy.  And here's what what we sing as small children:

Whenever I hear the song of a bird,
Or look at the blue, blue sky,
Whenever I feel the rain on my face,
Or the wind as it rushes by, 
Whenever I touch a velvet rose
Or walk by a lilac tree,
I'm glad that I live in this beautiful world,
Heavenly Father created for me.

Children, world, poems, Brother Revell says:

I'm not needed
Like wings in a storm,  
And God is the storm.   
But I need you.  
I love you better and better, live in you more and more.


eliza.e.campbell said...

Yes. Ever so true. Satisfaction and peace should be the beginning of our endeavors, not only the end goal. Including making cookies.

Marni C. said...

This is beautiful and generous Lara. I taught about Abraham and Isaac today and got a little carried away with Egyptian religion and the Nile delta and life/death/rebirth, and then I realized that we are not supposed to be like Abraham. We are in fact Isaac, the child who is on the altar of physical and spiritual isolation--but, and this was my epiphany--THE RAM IS IN THE THICKET. God has always provided the lamb. We live under the knife, on the altar, sacrificed to whatever will the universe has, or so it seems--but we will always be spared by that vast, beautiful, ceaseless, complex love that Jesus has for this "careless freckled world" (thanks dad, Hopkins, and Dickinson). And St. Francis.

Geo said...

After a night of depressive meltdown, a morning's earplugged sleep retreat, and then an afternoon in the tub with David Mamet (instead of on a church pew with Abraham and Isaac), I really needed this wonderful read. Thank you for sharing. Bet you didn't know when you wrote it that you might be somebody's "church" today.

brenda said...

Hey Lara, I've always regretted not overlapping with you more, and this essay reinforces that feeling. I have very similar issues with fatigue stemming from PTSD. I'd love to email with you about it sometime!


(I realized I posted this comment on Nathan's wall rather than yours when he shared the link, so I transferred it here :)

Eva said...

Mom, this is beautiful.
Thanks for sharing it.

lara said...

Liza--i'm repeating "peace should be the beginning."

Marni--wish i could have heard your lesson. i'm sure it was brilliant.

Georgia--sounds like we had the same sunday school today--hydrotherapy school.

Brenda--yes. i want to hear about ptsd and fatigue very, very much.

Eva--i heart you. miss you terribly. not ready for you to be so far away for so long.


Writermama said...

Lara, this is incredible. I'm so lucky to know you. You have improved my world.

Jill Bagley said...

WOW---that was a very heavy and dense post.
i love the part about parenting. that is SO great that you figured that out and articulated it online. i feel that all the time. i just didnt know that that is what it was. i am going to try more now to enjoy their presence and not correcting and hoping they become something. i know i may never get to know you--but i have to say---the fatigue that you speak of is such an issue for me. i have found a doctor here in portland that has helped me with alternative and traditional medicine. she diagnosed me with adrenal problems. which are related to thyroid too. even though my thyroid is not bad---or even that off. it still causes me problems. also i dont metabolize seratonin. but that is a whole other email :) hope you find a solution :) happy travels!!

lara said...

Jill, thanks for your response! Not that I want anyone else to suffer what I've suffered, but it does help to know that other people struggle with this as well. happy travels to you, too.