Ah, warmth returned to us this week, reminding us we are not doomed to suffer perpetual cold for the rest of our lives. I had a day this week that was a perfect laundry hanging day. Dry air, breezy, and sunny. These are the days you want to slow down. You want the world to change to adjust to days like these. Everyone forget their plans, their work, their assignments. Get with your loved ones and take a walk. Smile at everyone and speak about how great this day is as you pass. There is nothing bigger right now than what it feels like to be out on a day like this.
I have committed to fast during daylight hours each Friday for Lent, and on my last fast, I began the day sitting in what Allyson and I call the “Peace Room,” our library with desk and fountain and good smells. It is important to me to honor processes like fasting with some sort of ceremony, to remind myself what I’m doing and why. I spent the time being quiet and then reading passages of poetry by Walt Whitman, who I sort of consider my patron saint. On that day I read “A Song of the Rolling Earth,” and I’ll share some of the passages that really stood out to me throughout this post.
Whoever you are! Motion and reflection are especially for you,
The divine ship sails the divine sea for you…
…No one can acquire for another—not one,
Not one can grow for another—not one.
This week mark the annual visit to Murray State of the American Shakespeare Center, which is quickly becoming one of the highlights of each year for me. The company performed Othello, The Merry Wives of Windor, and Henry IV part 1, and to prepare, I read each play (two of which I read in just one day). This is the type of nerdiness I guess we all have for something, but, I think is more of a rarity when it comes to those in Western Kentucky who nerd out over the Bard. I love to see plays—it is one of my favorite things about living in a city—and there is something about Shakespeare that trumps most everything else for me.
This particular company does a lot of very cool things. In addition to being fantastic actors who really make the archaic language make much more sense to modern people, they set the stage up so that some viewers can actually sit on the stage, flanking the actors as they perform. Actors will often venture into the crowd and interact too. I was excited with each performance I attended to find that it is easy to get a seat on stage. So, there were many moments when I was just feet from the actors, even sitting next to them or talking to them. In the death scene for Othello, I was about 8 feet from Othello and Desdemona, and I could plainly see the face of the actress playing Desdemona. As she pleaded with Othello to spare her, I could see actual tears welling up in her eyes. It was such a powerful moment, and I could feel the emotions of these made up characters through the actors. I could feel what they were feeling, or at least acting like they felt. And, it was cool to think that good actors have been speaking those words and bringing out those emotions for more than 500 years.
I have thought frequently about this group since seeing them perform. During their intermissions, the group comes out onto stage with instruments and performs an eclectic mix of pop songs throughout the decades right up to now that have the same themes that the play is looking at. They did the Four Tops song “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” along with the song about making an ugly woman your wife bleeding into “Shot Through the Heart.” Nearly everyone played and instrument and everyone had a good singing voice. I think of the times in the past when I’ve been a part of a group that was great at performing, how you just stood in awe sometimes of the talent of your companions, how it pushed you to be better too. I wonder what it must be like for them to be on the road, traveling from town to town, spending a week at a time doing these fantastic plays, singing, dancing. It must be difficult and extraordinary, exhausting and life changing.
The song is to the singer, and comes back most to him,
The teaching is to the teacher, and comes back most to him,
The murder is to the murderer, and comes back most to him,
The theft is to the thief, and comes back most to him,
The love is to the lover, and comes back most to him,
The gift is to the giver, and comes back most to him—it cannot fail,
The oration is the orator, the acting is to the actor and actress not to the audience,
And no man understands any greatness or goodness but his own, or the indication of his own.
On Saturday, Allyson and I traveled south to Jackson to visit my family. I got to spend the whole day with my Mom, Tracye my sister, and her baby daughter Adelyn. The day was warm and beautiful enough that we decided to take a walk to my grandmother’s house, which was close by. It was so nice, that Allyson and I shed our shoes and walked the wooded path barefoot, feeling the cool clay and sand dirt, the leaves, the pine needles, the acorns and branches. On our way back, I was trusted to carry Adelyn, which can be a major undertaking. She is still in that age where any ailment is dealt with by crying, and Adelyn has one of the most violent tempers I’ve ever seen from a human that weighs less than my cat. For this trip, though, luck shined on me and she was contented to lean against my chest and slobber on my shoulder.
As we walked, I stopped several times and got close to the trunks of trees and evergreen branches, hoping she would look at them and find some kind of fascination with them. I feel that one of my roles as uncle is to help my nieces and nephews fall in love with nature and to have this intuitive connection to it from birth. At one moment standing next to a cedar tree, I bobbed the branches up and down, and she reached out to grab it. I stroked the needles of the tree to show her how to feel it. She pulled on it and managed to break a piece off. I wrested it away from her before she put it in her mouth. I don’t want to be blamed for getting my nieces and nephews fascinated with eating nature.
I swear the earth shall surely be complete to him or her who shall be complete,
The earth remains jagged and broken only to him or her who remains jagged and broken.
Towards the end of the day Friday, I left work and stopped by the library to quickly post my Lent Haiku for the day. Spring Break is next week, so Murray State was already beginning to look like a ghost town. The sun was making its way to the horizon, so you just felt all around you that the world was retiring. My stomach ached and longed to be filled, and I knew I would eat soon. I had a good idea what it would be like from past experience. Time would slow down. Tastes would taste much stronger, smells would be more powerful. I would fill weak, but at the same time, I would feel a great comfort as my body took the food and did what I knew how to do with it. There were still about an hour of sunlight, though.
I took my dog Digby on a walk to the Murray State Arboretum, which is basically a fancy name for a garden park. We looked out over the fields and tress and lake as the sun marched away from us to the edge of the sky to light other places far from us. The wind blew strong, and I felt like the world was speaking to me, though I wasn’t sure what it was saying. I sat on top of a picnic table to watch the sun set and notice people flying kites nearby. Digby jumped up on to the picnic table and sat next to me, as if he understood what we were doing. I could wait a little longer for food, if this was what I had to do to wait on it.
While we were at my grandmother’s house, I walked to a pine tree in her yard. It had branches circling the trunk spaced about 2-3 feet vertically, so a perfect space to climb. I ducked and contorted enough to make my way to the trunk and climbed about 10 feet up into the tree. I found holes where bird had pecked, oozing tree sap, and I touched my fingers to it, because I knew it would leave me smelling like pine the rest of the day. I held my hand up to my face and breathed it in. I looked out through the branches on my family, as my mother and her mother talked and held my niece. As my sister rested from the tiring work of a mother, watching Allyson play with my young cousin Lofton. There they were, all these people I love, and there I was up in my bird’s perch in this strong, tall living thing. I didn’t know what it meant to me, but I wanted it for longer. I wanted to be connected to the trunk of that tree for hours. I wanted my loved ones to stay in this state of peace and comfort long enough to find rest. I did not know what it meant, but I wanted to keep it, like that moment when food first enters your mouth after the fast and taste returns to your tongue and you only know that the moment is something that should not be forgotten soon.
I swear I see what is better than to tell the best
It is always to leave the best untold.
When I undertake to tell the best I find I cannot,
My tongue is ineffectual on its pivots,
My breath will not be obedient to its organs,
I become a dumb man.