Last week I wrote about the commercial context in which we hear awful news about Palestine, ebola, and now again about ISIS, the news worse each day. Hope, however, keeps strange company.
On Monday I headed for the local library. Turns out it’s closed on Mondays. Hungry for books, I drove into Brunswick, Maine, to Gulf of Maine Books, where I overheard the owner, Gary Lawless, say that there would be a poetry reading in the store that afternoon. I bought a grand anthology, Poetry Like Bread, edited by Martin Espada, perfect for my interest in poetry of witness and I went back in time for the reading.
The featured poet was Sharif Elmusa, born and raised in Palestine, now a part-year resident of Maine. He read mostly gentle poems about his childhood in a place now ruptured by violence. (His book, Flawed Landscape, sold out and I have to wait until next week to review it.) What an amazing line of causality, bright as neon–closed library, bookstore, Palestinian poet–suggesting order in a world of chaos, hope despite the death and destruction in the Middle East. If I see a movie with a happy ending or read a novel in which the hero survives atrocities and hatred, or I hear poems like Elmusa’s and hope for peace, kindness, equality, and justice, not revenge. I don’t know what to do because I don’t have an active role in world affairs.
For many years my role was to help people survive the effects of mental illness. Eventually, I took Lao Tzu’s advice: “Do your work; then step back.” I worked hard until fatigue and stress signaled time to step back. Still I fret and dither over my job in a whole word gone mad, a madness born not of neurological defect but of greed and deadly dogma. Maybe my job now is to pour hope into the world, to be generous and open minded, to witness suffering and to speak out. Multiplied by millions such attentive hope might save us.