Monday, January 23, 2017

January 23: Anger and Divisiveness, Poems of Hope, John Keats, "To Hope"

Last week was difficult for me.  I found myself wallowing in a great deal of darkness because of the inauguration of Donald Trump.  So much anger and divisiveness everywhere.  On the news.  In the newspapers.  On the Internet.

I am not in any way dismissing or trivializing those feelings.  They exist for a lot of people, including myself.  However, this week, I'm going to try to embrace hope.  So, I will be including poems about hope in this blog for the next seven days, in order to dispel a little of the darkness.

Saint Marty needs a more light this January.

To Hope

by:  John Keats

When by my solitary hearth I sit,
And hateful thoughts enwrap my soul in gloom;
When no fair dreams before my “mind’s eye” flit,
And the bare heath of life presents no bloom;
Sweet Hope, ethereal balm upon me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o’er my head!

Whene’er I wander, at the fall of night,
Where woven boughs shut out the moon’s bright ray,
Should sad Despondency my musings fright,
And frown, to drive fair Cheerfulness away,
Peep with the moonbeams through the leafy roof,
And keep that fiend Despondence far aloof!

Should Disappointment, parent of Despair,
Strive for her son to seize my careless heart;
When, like a cloud, he sits upon the air,
Preparing on his spell-bound prey to dart:
Chase him away, sweet Hope, with visage bright,
And fright him as the morning frightens night!

Whene’er the fate of those I hold most dear
Tells to my fearful breast a tale of sorrow,
O bright-eyed Hope, my morbidfancy cheer;
Let me awhile thy sweetest comforts borrow:
Thy heaven-born radiance around me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o’er my head!

Should e’er unhappy love my bosom pain,
From cruel parents, or relentless fair;
O let me think it is not quite in vain
To sigh out sonnets to the midnight air!
Sweet Hope, ethereal balm upon me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o’er my head!

In the long vista of the years to roll,
Let me not see our country’s honour fade:
O let me see our land retain her soul,
Her pride, her freedom; and not freedom’s shade.
From thy bright eyes unusual brightness shed—
Beneath thy pinions canopy my head!

Let me not see the patriot’s high bequest,
Great Liberty! how great in plain attire!
With the base purple of a court oppress’d,
Bowing her head, and ready to expire:
But let me see thee stoop from heaven on wings
That fill the skies with silver glitterings!

And as, in sparkling majesty, a star
Gilds the bright summit of some gloomy cloud;
Brightening the half veil’d face of heaven afar:
So, when dark thoughts my boding spirit shroud,
Sweet Hope, celestial influence round me shed,
Waving thy silver pinions o’er my head!


January 23: Weary, Brett, Full of Expectation

Weary was as new to war as Billy.  He was a replacement, too.  As a part of a gun crew, he had helped to fire one shot in anger--from a 57-millimeter antitank gun.  The gun made a ripping sound like the opening of the zipper on the fly of God Almighty.  The gun lapped up snow and vegetation with a blowtorch thirty feet long.  The flame left a black arrow on the ground, showing the Germans exactly where the gun was hidden.  The shot was a miss.

What had been missed was a Tiger tank.  It swiveled its 88-milimeter snout around sniffingly, saw the arrow on the ground.  It fired.  It killed everybody on the gun crew but Weary.  So it goes.

Roland Weary is just as naive and frightened as Billy Pilgrim.  Roland just hides it better.  Puts on a John Wayne mask and pretends he's a cowboy in green.  Of course, Billy, being just as naive and frightened, buys Roland's act.  But they're both kids, and they're both staring down the barrel of a gun.

Roland and Billy aren't much older than the students I teach at the university, and those students all enter my classroom wide-eyed and nervous, pretending that they understand the ways of the world already.  I see it at the beginning of every semester.  My job is to somehow strip away the masks they're wearing and teach them a little about life. 

This afternoon, I received an e-mail that one of the students at the university--a 19-year-old sophomore, let's call him Brett--died last Friday night in his dorm room.  Unexpectedly.  I am not going to speculate about the cause of his death.  In the e-mail, there was a link to the website of the funeral home.  I clicked on the link, and there was Brett's picture.

He was in jeans and a long-sleeved tee shirt.  His face looked so young, like he was trying to be an adult, but didn't have the experience to back it up.  He was a Billy Pilgrim or Roland Weary.  Maybe a little scared.  Maybe a little excited.  And full of expectation about the future.

I sat and stared at that picture for a good five minutes, filling up with sadness.  I never had Brett in a class.  I may have walked by him during the year-and-a-half that he was a student at the university, and he probably blended in with all the other Billys and Rolands on campus.  And, now, he is gone.

In about an hour, I have to go teach a classroom filled with young people.  I am going to try to keep Brett's face in my mind's eye.  In the last few days, I've been swept up in the pessimism of the recent presidential inauguration.  Tonight, I am going to try to kindle a little hope for the future.  I'll do it for Brett.

This evening, Saint Marty is grateful for his students, for the hope they carry around in their backpacks. 


Sunday, January 22, 2017

January 22: Working My Butt Off, Night Class, Classic Saint Marty

So, I have been working my butt off for most of the weekend.  Yesterday, I was working on a project for church that took about four hours.  Then I cleaned my house.  Another three hours.  Played the pipe organ for Mass yesterday afternoon.

Today, it's school stuff.  Finalizing syllabi and writing assignments and diagnostic tests.  Plus, I had worship this morning.  I'm about done with work right now.  Once I'm done typing this post, my daughter is going to swoop in and take my laptop away.  She wants to game with some people.

It's going to be a long day tomorrow, too.  Medical office.  Teaching.  I have a night class.  Won't be getting home until about 10 p.m.  It's bad when I'm already tired and the week hasn't even begun.

Three years ago, Mother Nature had other ideas about work and teaching . . .

January 22, 2013:  Horwitz, Mother Nature, Saint Timothy

..."Listen," he said.  "If you was a fish, Mother Nature'd take care of you, wouldn't she?  Right?  You don't think them fish just die when it gets to be winter, do ya?"

This little tidbit of wisdom comes from a cabdriver named Horwitz.  Holden asks Horwitz about the fate of the ducks in the lagoon in Central Park, and Horwitz replies with the story of the fish frozen solid in the water all winter long, absorbing nutrition through their open pores.  Mother Nature takes care of her children, according to the cabbie.

Speaking of winter and cold, it is frigid to the point of dangerous today in the Upper Peninsula.  All the schools are closed, including the university.  The wind chill this morning was -31 degrees.  Mother Nature might take care of her children, but she has the air conditioning set on high today.  Driving into work was pretty lonely.  There were only two or three other cars on the road.

Yes, I did go to work, despite a few trips to the bathroom last night.  I am feeling much better on this frozen Tuesday.  Mother Nature is taking care of me, or Saint Timothy.  Timothy's feast day is January 26, and he is the patron saint against stomach disorders.  Most of the information about Timothy is related to the Apostle Paul.  Timothy was a follower of Paul.  The Apostle sent the young man on many "difficult, confidential missions."  When Paul was thrown into prison in Rome, Timothy was with him.  Eventually, Timothy became the Bishop of Ephesus and was martyred in the winter of the year 97.

My book doesn't say why Timothy is the patron against stomach disorders, but Google gave me this answer:  "It may well be that Timothy had stomach ulcers or simply a weak stomach, and wine was considered to be a soothing remedy."  In a letter, Paul suggested that Timothy drink wine for his poor digestion.  (Paul sort of reminds me of Horwitz, dispensing wisdom to the young Timothy, no matter how misguided it is.)  Whatever the reason for Timothy's title, I could have used his help yesterday.  I spent so much time on the toilet that I think my ass is permanently shaped like an oval.  Even this morning, my stomach was not cooperating with me.  I had crackers and cheese for breakfast.  I had the same for lunch.  Things seem to be settling down now, thank God or Timothy or Mother Nature.

Maybe Saint Marty should pick up some wine for his next upset stomach.

Does he look old enough to drink?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

January 21: Transition and Change, W. E. B. Du Bois, "My Country 'Tis of Thee"

My final poem for this week of transition and change comes from the great writer/poet/thinker W. E. B. Du Bois.  Until this morning, I had never seen this poem before.  It's deeply moving and deeply appropriate for our times.

I do pray for God's protection for the world.  That common sense and accepting hearts will prevail in the end.  We all need to look out for each other.  Stand up against injustice.  Sing out for love.  I am not getting on a soapbox.  I've been up there far too many times this week. 

So, stand up, raise your head, and sing Du Bois' song with me.

Saint Marty guarantees you'll feel better.

My Country 'Tis of Thee

by:  W. E. B. Du Bois

Of course you have faced the dilemma: it is announced, they all smirk and rise. If they are ultra, they remove their hats and look ecstatic; then they look at you. What shall you do? Noblesse oblige; you cannot be boorish, or ungracious; and too, after all it is your country and you do love its ideals if not all of its realities. Now, then, I have thought of a way out: Arise, gracefully remove your hat, and tilt your head. Then sing as follows, powerfully and with deep unction. They’ll hardly note the little changes and their feelings and your conscience will thus be saved:

My country tis of thee,
Late land of slavery,
         Of thee I sing.
Land where my father’s pride
Slept where my mother died,
From every mountain side
         Let freedom ring!

My native country thee
Land of the slave set free,
         Thy fame I love.
I love thy rocks and rills
And o’er thy hate which chills,
My heart with purpose thrills,
         To rise above.

Let laments swell the breeze
And wring from all the trees
          Sweet freedom’s song.
Let laggard tongues awake,
Let all who hear partake,
Let Southern silence quake,
         The sound prolong.

Our fathers’ God to thee
Author of Liberty,
         To thee we sing
Soon may our land be bright,
With Freedom’s happy light
Protect us by Thy might,
         Great God our King.