Noticed Any Random Acts of Kindness Lately?

Back in the ‘80s, when AIDS was a whispered mystery in my part of the world, my aunt had “gentlemen friend” neighbors. One of them, we knew, was very sick. The other one dutifully walked their dog and often stopped to chat with my aunt. She noticed that he wore a suit and tie to walk the dog, even on the weekends. He explained that he dressed up every day for his friend, who found solace in the sight and probably in the spirit which underlay the effort. 

Hearing the story from my aunt, I was moved by the kindness and dignity of the gesture. When all hope is gone, to have the fortitude to continue tending to the smallest detail— heart-breaking and heart-warming. I wrote a poem about it at the time, and when many years later, I saw a call for poems about kindness, I submitted that poem. “Heroics” won Honorable Mention and has been published in the anthology, The Best of Kindness 2017, Jan & Kevin Keough, Editors, Origami Poems Project. Mary Ann Mayer judged.

In his 2015 collection of biographical essays and commentary, The Road to Character, David Brooks calls for widespread moral renewal. Anybody hear Plutarch, writing his Parallel Lives at the beginning of the 2nd Century A.D., snicker: “Good luck with that!” Anyhow, Brooks uses Google Books Ngram Viewer (which I had never heard of before, but check it out. It searches and measures the usage of any word of your choosing over the course of decades). Accordingly, Brooks notes a big increase in the vocabulary of business, economics and personal “I” words and a decrease in the language of morality. We are not seeing bravery, gratitude, humbleness, and you guessed it, kindness, as much as we used to. 

Which makes Jan and Kevin’s efforts to publish this anthology all the more heroic! And makes the likelihood I will find a market for my etymology poem, with the unimaginative title “Kindness,” any time soon!

Not Being Rumi, Did You Say Anything?

Of course. Call it a throwback to adolescence. Call it a Faustian ploy. Call it reappropriation from the pew. Whatever the reason, I was too deeply rankled to let a previously mentioned comment by an editor (“You can’t write that unless you’re Rumi”)  go unexamined. Maybe no one, certainly not me, has the street creds to claim transcendence or, worse, to parlay any fleeting experience. But since William James, shouldn’t we sometimes try?

The poem I wrote in response appropriated the words of spiritual masters, Thomas Merton, Denise Levertov, Anne Bradstreet, John Donne, G. M. Hopkins, in collage-like rebuttal. A little self-mockery, mixed with a serious purpose. And that poem was published in Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature, edited by Dr. Nathaniel Hansen, an English professor at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. In the same neck of the woods as Alan Jacobs (see August 15 blog).

According to the publication’s site, Windhover, a beautifully produced annual, is gearing up to publish two issues a year. Good news. In the submission guidelines, Windhover describes itself as “dedicated to promoting poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction that considers Christian perspectives and spiritual themes.” Excuse me for saying that this seems a low bar to meet, if we believe along with Paul to the Romans, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things.” Do editors of avowedly Christian publications have a difficult job, deciding when poetry and orthodoxy part ways, which one wins? But even more fundamental is recognizing this Christian perspective, when it’s out of its Sunday best. Hansen is gently trying to steer his publication away from what he calls “the didactic, the melodramatic, the trite, the obvious,” and hoping that poetry wins.  

Sofia Starnes, a powerful Catholic poet in her own right, has helped raise the profile of poetry at Anglican Theological Review, where she is poetry editor. In the Summer 2016 newsletter, Roger Ferlo, President, ATR Board of Trustees, praised the journal’s unfolding commitment to the “rapprochement between theologians and imaginative writers.” In the same newsletter, Starnes explains succinctly, “Whenever I read a poem I seek to be taken to a place that would be inaccessible through prose.”

There are many other excellent religious-art-interested journals out there. I mention these two publications only because I am familiar with them and their dedicated editors whose work is bearing increased fruit. 

Does "A Rose Is a Rose" Ever Bloom?

For June Cotner, who has edited over 30 anthologies of inspirational prose and poetry, the answer is yes. In her latest, Earth’s Blessings: Prayers, Poems and Meditations, published by Viva Press, she chose “pieces that authentically speak to the earth and to the intricate ties that bind us to it.” Three of my poems, “Doxology,” “Go Ahead,” and “Says Mother Earth,” are included, and in the foreword material, June graciously mentions me and several other poets whose work has appeared in her previous anthologies: “we go back for two decades!” How sweet is that!

And how sentimental! William S. Burroughs purportedly said, “In deep sadness, there is no place for sentimentality.” While I’d consider myself deeply sad about climate risks, I must not have hit bottom. I must still be hoping for significant reversals in current trends or for climate change deniers to be vindicated after all. In fact, I’m full-out in favor of bringing sentiment to bear on the topic. 

Haven’t we all had some of our best moments in nature, unbidden? Not an orchestrated moment, but a sudden feeling of intense presence. A surrealness to the real. Awareness of existence extending beyond our petty concerns. These moments, remembered and cherished, can continue to guide us.

Go Ahead

Imagine a baby, mother and father.
Have them sit together on a bench
in dappled sunlight, or lie, playing
on a blanket. Let them hear birdsong.
Let them breathe loamy earth,
the wafting scent of pine.
The day is coming to an end.

Don’t discard the sentimental
image. It won’t hurt you.
It may even cast its lightness
on you. Befriend beauty
and innocence and simplicity. 
We owe it to ourselves; 
we owe it to that baby.

 (from Earth’s Blessings: Prayers, Poems and Meditations)