Inspiration of the Day – Sunday, March 31

It’s not like Jesus was trying to create Easter. That was Paul’s idea and the two never met, living a generation apart. Which is probably a good thing, since I suspect they would not have discovered the kind of love found among kin or drinking buddies. Or, perhaps, I am underestimating.

Paul came from the mold that produced and upheld foundational thinking. The kind of ideas and designs that someday become the scaffolding for institutions, establishments and bureaucracies. Places which eventually become ‘the system’ or ‘the structure’ that people look up to. The kind of places that build themselves up so high they can look down on all the people.

Jesus, on the other hand, lived inside hearts and minds that understood pain. He knew the weight of disregard, contempt, oppression and shame that had become yoked to people’s souls. He understood that such hierarchical thinking was one way of arranging society, based on power, in order that some would be owners and some would be dreamers. And between the two were endless sets of barriers, boundaries and limits.

He also knew there was one thing – one idea – that had more power than all the rules and layers of bureaucracy that humanity could assemble. And that was Love. Love that people longed for. Love that people longed to give. Love that could inexplicably stretch beyond self interest. Beyond the familial. Love that could span the distance to bind us to strangers. To join us with our enemies. Love that could remove all the lynchpins of power holding hierarchy in place.

Paul had an agenda. As did Pilate and the Romans. As did Herod and the Sanhedrin. As did Peter and the disciples. All their agendas were slightly different and somewhat the same: to summon what power they could that allowed for a re-ordering of society and setting of new limits.

Jesus had an agenda as well: to Love beyond limits.

Where these agendas came together in a point of singularity there was a vision collision. And it appeared, at least at the time, that power prevailed. But a seed was planted. A seed which has taken root and which will not forever be kept under foot. A seed which peaks through the veil of despair. A seed which contains the truth we’ve all been longing to know and who’s power is constantly underestimated. There is a way to Love beyond limits.

Easter Morning
By Jim Harrison

On Easter morning all over America
the peasants are frying potatoes in bacon grease.

We’re not supposed to have “peasants”
but there are tens of millions of them
frying potatoes on Easter morning,
cheap and delicious with catsup.

If Jesus were here this morning he might
be eating fried potatoes with my friend
who has a ’51 Dodge and a ’72 Pontiac.

When his kids ask why they don’t have
a new car he says, “these cars were new once
and now they are experienced.”

He can fix anything and when rich folks
call to get a toilet repaired he pauses
extra hours so that they can further
learn what we’re made of.

I told him that in Mexico the poor say
that when there’s lightning the rich
think that God is taking their picture.
He laughed.

Like peasants everywhere in the history
of the world ours can’t figure out why
they’re getting poorer. Their sons join
the army to get work being shot at.

Your ideals are invisible clouds
so try not to suffocate the poor,
the peasants, with your sympathies.
They know that you’re staring at them.

Inspiration of the Day – Saturday, March 30

They say that after the crucifixion, everything became dark. That the
earth shuddered and all the souls on it were shaken. The moan of
thunder was heard everywhere. A reign of tears.

I don’t know if any of that happened. What I do know is that every
time I approach anything in my life that resembles that same crucible
of anguish, I hesitate. I pull off the side of the road and check and
recheck my maps. I look for an alternate path. I don’t like the
process of Eastering.

I like Easter, mind you. But the road there is beyond uncomfortable.
To simply be uncomfortable would mean that there was room for reason
to tell you exactly how painful it is and where it hurts. Easter is
painful beyond reason. Indeed, that may be it’s real power. It
moves us beyond our reason to a completely unimaginable, unreasonable
new place.

I know, that once Easter finally does arrive, the painful journey is
over. All the luggage you felt certain was lost forever, is returned
to you – at least the little bit you may still want to claim, being a
completely different person. Someone who has grown so much has no
real need of the crutches and ladders that are routinely packed by
those embarking on a spiritual journey.

The problem I see now that I have walked all around Easter – and seen
it from every side – is knowing that the life I settle for – the one
without all the soul shaking and tearful moaning, is a life filled
with compromises and concessions. The life I often settle for in
my quest for comfort is too small for me.

(“He that believeth…shall never die” is no empty phrase of Christian
piety. It is rather a recognition of eternal process inherent in the
experience of life itself. Despite the universal character of the fact,
the experience itself is always private, always personal.

The shadow of death of which the Psalmist speaks is the thing that strikes
the terror, the resounding echo of which leaves no ear unassailed. But
death itself has no such power because the experience of life contains
the fact of death.

There is a given element in life–it is the givenness of God. To know this
thoroughly is to rob death of its terror and life of its fear.
– Howard Thurman)

Sweet Darkness
By David Whyte

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb
tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

Inspiration of the Day – Friday, March 29

What if, by a stretch of consciousness, I warped time and will to
place myself outside the courthouse when the trial concluded. So that
I saw the man, so talked about, being pushed out of the proceedings by
large angry men. Falling headlong into the street surrounded by an
extension of the same large angry men. Their taunts and ridicule
sound out mechanically after every string of injustice they’ve ever
known is pulled and re-pulled.

Guilty. Guilty of living in the crossfire of contempt and disdain and
toxic apathy. Guilty, according to one side, of failing to put together
the burning experience of constant oppression with the explosive rage
of the human spirit. Denying the justice that is at the very far end
of the sequence, after aggression, rebellion, violence, anarchy and
carnage.

Guilty, according to the other side, of conspiracy. Guilty of inciting
unrest. Failing to uphold order and respect authority. Intent to light
the fuse that sets off short tempers, detonating the solid system of
privilege for a few; holding in place the suffering of many.

Pushed around and punished, tied to a heavy fate that he will not
escape, he is nevertheless transparent to the curious. It is not the
verdict that breaks his spirit. Nor the vision of where the verdict
points – the place high on the hill, already summoning the dark
clouds.

It is the betrayal. The Abandonment. The volume of fear and hate and
spite and the frustration of years of vengeance never allowed to hit
its target. The way malice throws its blanket over love. And
tenderness. And compassion. And shared dreams.

A blink and it’s gone. This Good Friday reflection. And yet it
lives. In the horn screaming through the traffic. It lives in the
footage of the haggard escorting off camera during the news. It lives
in the seed of hope and a unrelenting loyalty to love placed under a
blanket refusing to die.

The Morning’s News
By Wendell Barry

To mortalize the state, they drag out a man,
and bind his hands, and darken his eyes
with a black rag to be free of the light in them,
and tie him to a post, and kill him.
And I am sickened by the complicity in my race.
To kill in hot savagery like a beast
is understandable. It is forgivable and curable.
But to kill by design, deliberately, without wrath,
that is the sullen labor that perfects Hell.
The serpent is gentle, compared to man.
It is man, the inventor of cold violence,
Death as waste, who has made himself lonely
Among the creatures, and set himself aside,
so that he cannot work in the sun with hope,
or at peace in the shade of any tree.
The morning’s news drives sleep out of my head
at night. Uselessness and horror hold the eyes
open to the dark. Weary, we lie awake
in the agony of the old giving birth to the new
without assurance that the new will be better.
I look at my son, whose eyes are like a young god’s,
they are so open to the world.
I look at my sloping fields now turning
green with the young grass of April. What must I do
to go free? I think I must put on
a deathlier knowledge, and prepare to die
rather than enter into the design of man’s hate.
I will purge my mind of the airy claims
of church and state. I will serve the earth
and not pretend my life could better serve.
Another morning comes with its strange cure.
The earth is news. Though the river floods
And the spring is cold, my heart goes on,
faithful to the mystery in a cloud,
and the summer’s garden continues its descent
through me, toward the ground.

Inspiration of the Day – Thursday, March 28

When I was seventeen, I broke all the toes on my right foot when I stepped in a pothole running barefoot through a field. The nails never grew back properly. The toes themselves are a little misshapen. I make sure I keep them covered in social gatherings. I’ve felt embarrassed on the occasions when others have noticed. My podiatrist, however, didn’t even blink.

‘A million times,’ he said, when I asked him how many times he’s seen feet like mine. In fact, he told me that over 50% of people my age have similar kinds of problems. The real problem, he says, is when embarrassment keeps them from coming in. Then they develop conditions which can become painful. Even debilitating.

So, I understood when the small group in the Toronto Congregation raised concerns a few years back over my suggestion that we have a small, traditional Maundy Thursday service. Maundy Thursday is the ritual described in the gospels that Jesus and the disciples practiced on the Thursday before Easter. It is the day, before the last supper when Jesus washed his disciples feet.

This was not unusual in Mesapotamia during Jesus’ time. Indeed, it was in accord to the code of hospitality that people entering into a proprietor’s inn or someone’s home that they would see a small pail of water by the door. Often, there would be a servant or slave whose job it was to help wash people’s feet who entered. If invited into someone’s home, the owner of the house himself (sadly, it was rare that women owned property) would wash the feet of honored guests (since your honor was something people tried to protect and build upon, it was rare you would invite to your home the dishonorable, or people from a lower station in life).

When Jesus offered to wash his followers feet it was, like so many things he did, alarmingly against social etiquette. “We should be washing your feet,” his disciples protested. But Jesus was redefining so many of the customs of his day stressed that a new relationship was in order. Leaders could not afford to be so far ‘above’ others. It was important to kneel to a place where he could understand and care for the burdens of others. The word humility comes from the Latin. It refers to someone being grounded or close to the ground and is derived from the noun humus (earth).

The term, ‘Maundy Thursday’ also comes from the Latin – from “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you” – From John 13:34 where Jesus explains to his disciples the significance of foot washing).

I can understand the small group of congregants balking at the idea of washing one another’s feet. It feels frighteningly intimate to have your feet in someone else’s hands. “I don’t let anyone see my feet,” one woman said defiantly. When I think of my own feet I understand her hesitation. But on the other hand (foot), what image am I trying to protect. By always keeping my feet covered, am I trying to preserve the notion that there’s nothing wrong with them. How far off the ground do I think of myself as walking?

Maybe it would be good for me to have someone know – and care for – the mishappen parts of my life. Perhaps the real problem is when embarrassment keeps me from stepping into such situations. Perhaps my own hesitancy leads to more serious conditions which can eventually become painful. Even debilitating.

Christmas Hotel, Jerusalem
by Amber Leberman

Isa wants to
shine my boots:
“Ten sheqels”
(or two dollars).

He wipes away
this city’s
holy dust
(finest of the
sacred stones) and
rubs them to a
solider’s sheen.

Dairy crate for
workbench, he
clacks brushes
and inhales the
turpentine-twined
scents of polish
and summak.

Isa – which is Arabic for Jesus –
stoops to
tend the feet
of pilgrims
for his namesake.

Inspiration of the Day – Wednesday, March 27

‘It’s complicated,’ I remember saying when asked simple – and often
rhetorical – questions like, ‘how are you?’ ‘I live a complicated
life,’ I’d say.

Partly, my response served as a litmus to help me identify the
politely disinterested. Too many times have I been asked an open
ended question and began reaching into my soul only to discover the
surprised look of a serial etiquette impressionist who knows enough to
ask the caring question but not enough to handle a response. The
heart and soul are too messy for polite and proper people to get
involved in. And I have learned enough to know how unsatisfying
conversations are where one of the participants is shuffling backwards
while the other stands expectantly with the shutters of his soul
clacking in the breeze.

But I’ve also learned that ‘complicated’ is the only life worth
living. Like the young woman who chooses the loneliness of her own
company over continuing to press her way into the life of a partner
whose arms are already full with addiction and depression. Like the
mother who goes to bed tired from two jobs, but smiling because she
got to watch her daughter in ballet class – the one she never got to
take. Like the aging man – the one who for 50 years was quiet and
steady and dependable who shocks everyone by letting them know he has
needs that have never been met. And still dreams that someday they
will.

Complicated lives are built on promises made in solemn turning point
moments where it felt like the weight of destiny came to sit on our
soul. And they are made from the anguished letting go of old promises
who’ve lost their claim to our lives. And they are made from new
promises that begin to shine like gold as all the dross falls away.
And they are made from hours of quiet reflection of trying to know
which promise is which.

Listening
By David Ignatow

You wept in your mother’s arms
and I knew that from then on
I was to forget myself.
Listening to your sobs,

I was resolved against my will
to do well by us
and so I said, without thinking,
in great panic,

‘To do wrong in one’s own judgment,
though others may revel and thrive,
is the right road to blessedness.
To not take risks
or to never submit ourselves
to error
is in itself wrong
and pride.’

Standing beside you,
I took an oath
to make your life simpler
by complicating mine
and what I always thought
would happen did:
I was lifted up in joy.

Inspiration of the Day – Sunday, March 24

I believe we bloom.  When we are born, that is our first blossom.  That is when life opens us up, hungry for love.  Although it can happen later in life, it never again happens with quite the sense of complete surrender.

In the moment we are born, there is an instant yearning for affection and reassurance and food and protection and adoration – everything that is love.  We are open to these in a way that most of us will never be as open to them for the rest of our life.

Because, although we bloom, we quickly discover we can also shrink.  Failure to find love, for whatever reason chokes us off from our built for love nature.  Starve us, scare us, neglect us, abandon us – treat us as anything other than what we are – a fragile, time-released messiah in waiting – even for a moment – and we will shrink to the limits of our diminishing potential which is constructed and controlled by everything around us.

Indeed, if we shrink enough, we lose our resilience.  We become hard.  Unresponsive.  Even dangerous to the fragility within others.

It’s amazing, actually, the power we collectively have each moment to determine whether the world will blossom and become beautiful or whither and become hard.

The Fist
By Mary Oliver

There are days
when the sun goes down
like a fist,
though of course

if you see anything
in the heavens this way
you had better get

your eyes checked
or, better still,
your diminished spirit.
The heavens

have no fist,
or wouldn’t they have been
shaking it
for a thousand years now,

and even
longer than that,
at the dull, brutish
ways of mankind -

heaven’s own
creation?
Instead: such patience!
Such willingness

to let us continue!
To hear,
little by little,
the voices -

only, so far, in
pockets of the world -
suggesting the possibilities

of peace?

Keep looking.
Behold, how the fist opens
with invitation.

Inspiration of the Day – Saturday, March 23

I wish I could have watched Michaelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel.  The immense challenge of a command by the pope.  Some say it was a devious plot by the rich and powerful to shame him – asking him to paint when he was really a sculptor.  And comparisons to his rival contemporary Raphael would inevitably be drawn, certainly influencing which artists received future commissions.  But Michaelangelo painted in a way that few others have ever painted: the pictures became stories that came alive to whomever stood before them.   To be in the chapel and take in the power of it is to be lifted out of your life.  The room is holy.  Having nothing to do with it being in the Vatican.  Having everything to do with a man who was so drunk on the secret spirits of God, that he understood how to infuse and animate life out of ordinary paint and plaster.

I wish I could have watched Albert Einstein as he was working in the patent office while the theory of relativity was running through his head.  Or Rosa Parks as she got up every morning, thinking about her bus ride to work, until the day she thought differently.  Or Abraham Lincoln on the trainride to Gettysburg when he wrote his inspiring address.  Or Mozart as he was writing his requiem.  Or Michael Jordan in the 1998 NBA Finals game 6.

There are some moments where it seems clear that a person steps beyond the bounds of mortal deeds and begin to operate in a different dimension.  No longer constrained by  normal human limitations because their mind and spirit are in another realm in the midst of a sacred conversation.  And their body simply follows helplessly, effortlessly, in kind.

I wish I could have watched these people in the midst of channeling their greatness.  Not that I want to paint, or write music or play basketball at that level.  But I would like to access that level of oneness with the essence of the ordinary tasks before me: as I listen to someone’s frustration in a meeting, or when I come home from work and greet my wife, or when I do the morning dishes.

Be Drunk
By Charles Baudelaire

(Translated by Louis Simpson)

You have to be always drunk.
That’s all there is to it—it’s the only way.
So as not to feel the horrible burden
of time that breaks your back and bends you
to the earth,
you have to be continually drunk.

But on what?  Wine, poetry or virtue,
as you wish. But be drunk.
And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace
or the green grass of a ditch,
in the mournful solitude of your room,
you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing
or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock,
everything that is flying,
everything that is groaning,
everything that is rolling,
everything that is singing,
everything that is speaking

…ask what time it is
and wind, wave, star, bird, clock
will answer you: “It is time to be drunk!
So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk,
be continually drunk!
On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”

Inspiration of the Day – Friday, March 22

Historically, I’m not a compulsive locker of doors.  Even though I grew up in East LA where it became clear that terms like ‘private property’ and ‘personal belongings’ were routinely considered subjective and debatable claims.

I’ve no intention to be careless or defiant of safe practices in order to make any kind of point.  And I have lost things that are precious to me and felt the dizzying sensation of being unable to catch my breath because my breath was already ‘out there’ trying to catch up with whatever thing it thought it could never live without.

But this sensation – and the corollary thinking that, through vigilant and comprehensive surveillance, we can completely control our world and keep all bad things from happening – has felt far more debilitating.  I can understand that it is the insurance of common sense.  Though it is possible, I believe, to be ‘over-insured,’ and instead of suffering a great final loss, we make daily payments of our attention to the banks of anxiety, distrust, suspicion and blame.

What I feel most sad about is when my sense of faith or feelings of connection with the people around me are pilfered by the very same psychic sentries I hire to stand guard at the periphery of my world.

I remember hearing Byron Katie talk about an experience of coming back from a trip and discovering that someone had broken into her home and stolen many things.  Her husband was very upset.  He stewed on the violation for many months.  “He still believed these things were his,” she said.  “Even though they already belonged to someone else.”

Later, at a conference, where she told this story, someone shared their sense of alienation at recently having had their wallet stolen.  “It’s hard,” said the man, “when I think that someone else now has something that is mine.”  “But, it isn’t yours,” replied Katie.  “If it was yours, it would be in your pocket.”

There are some things that truly are ‘mine.’  My faith.  My capacity to love.  To stay open to the precarious and unpredictable world around me.  It is with these things I am very careful.

The Country
By Billy Collins

I wondered about you
when you told me never to leave
a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches
lying around the house because the mice

might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight
when you twisted the lid down on the round tin
where the matches, you said, are always stowed.

Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought
of the one unlikely mouse
padding along a cold water pipe

behind the floral wallpaper
gripping a single wooden match
between the needles of his teeth?
Who could not see him rounding a corner,

the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam,
the sudden flare, and the creature
for one bright, shining moment
suddenly thrust ahead of his time—

now a fire-starter, now a torchbearer
in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid
illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,

lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?

Inspiration of the Day – Thursday, March 21

When I think of the Arab world… when I think of Syria… and Iraq… and Iran… and Egypt… and Palestine… I can feel the currents in my mind begin to swirl.  Streams of information and assumptions about tribalism and hate and violence and wars pitting tradition vs. liberation create eddies so powerful that they swallow all my laughter and wonder and curiosity and appreciation into a giant sinkhole of despair.

I don’t know if any of this despair is real.  I haven’t lived in any of these place or even been there.  I see pictures and hear stories – but they are mostly the pictures and stories that the people who make and distribute our news choose for me to see.

I don’t know the people who make and distribute the news. Or if they love their families, if they help their children with their homework or go to school plays.  I don’t know if they are sad at the sight of skinned knees or weep for the loss of innocence.

But I do know a few people who have lived in such places.  And I have read works by those who weave images of these places and people and describe joy and sorrow in detail that feels reliably familiar.

I’m thinking of Nizar Qabbani – the most popular poet of the modern Arab world.  He wrote of romantic ideas and what happens to love when it is surrounded by fear.  So many of his poems were informed by the devotion he felt for his sister, who committed suicide rather than marry a man she did not love, even though the marriage had been carefully arranged by her family.  Whose wife – an Iraqi woman – died during the Lebanese civil war when the embassy was bombed.

It’s not only the words he wrote that move me, but the fact that so many of his people bought and read his work.  The fact that they took his hope and pain into their heart because it so closely matched their own.

I suppose when the Arab world thinks of the U.S., they feel the same swirling confusion and apprehension I feel when I think of them.  They see pictures and stories about us – created by people they also don’t really know.  I don’t believe that these pictures are made up or the stories told are untrue.  But I do think that fear has introduced distortions such that we begin to believe that ‘objects are larger or closer than they appear.’

I think if I want to be true to the humanity which binds each to all, a noble goal would be to live in a way that is revolutionary to this fear.  To love in such a way that defies distortion.  To laugh and hope and dream with such magnitude it is uncontainable in one life.  That it spills over onto the things around us.  That it becomes obvious how getting all our love into one 24 hour day is so impossible that it pours into our tomorrow.

The Day I Met You
By Nizar Qabbani
(Translated by Lena Jayyusi and W. S. Merwin)

Between us
twenty years of age
between your lips and my lips
when they meet and stay
the years collapse
the glass of a whole life shatters.

The day I met you I tore up
all my maps
and my prophecies
like an Arab stallion I smelled the rain
of you
before it wet me
heard the pulse of your voice
before you spoke
undid your hair with my hands
before you had braided it.

There is nothing I can do
nothing you can do…
What can the wound do
with the knife on the way to it?

Your eyes are like a night of rain
in which ships are sinking
and all I wrote is forgotten
In mirrors there is no memory.

God how is it that we surrender
to love giving it the keys to our city
carrying candles to it and incense
falling down at its feet asking
to be forgiven
Why do we look for it and endure
all that it does to us?

Woman in whose voice
silver and wine mingle
in the rains
From the mirrors of your knees
the day begins its journey
life puts out to sea.

I knew when I said
I love you
that I was inventing a new alphabet
for a city where no one could read
that I was saying my poems
in an empty theater
and pouring my wine
for those who could not
taste it.

When God gave you to me
I felt that He had loaded
everything my way
and unsaid all His sacred books.

Who are you
woman entering my life like a dagger?
Mild as the eyes of a rabbit
soft as the skin of a plum
pure as strings of jasmine
innocent as children’s bibs.

Your love threw me down
in a land of wonder
it ambushed me like the scent
of a woman stepping into an elevator
it surprised me
in a coffee bar
sitting over a poem
So that I forgot the poem.
It surprised me
reading the lines in my palm
So that I forgot my palm.
It dropped on me like a wildfowl
shot from the sky
its feathers became tangled with mine
its cries were twisted with mine

These thoughts surprised me
as I sat on my suitcase
waiting for the train of days
I forgot the days
I traveled with you
to the land of wonder

Your image is engraved
on the face of my watch
It is engraved on each of the hands
It is etched on the weeks
months, and years
My time is no longer mine.
It is you.

 

Inspiration of the Day – Wednesday, March 20

You must love yourself before beginning, in serious, loving anything
else. And by the end, you must love everything else. And if you
can’t do that, make your goal to love at least one thing – and love it
with everything you have.

Perhaps you will be blessed to struggle with bouts of ADD, and your
mind will be like a dog dreaming constantly of squirrels just beyond
your reach. In this way, you can practice loving many things. And
you may try to keep everything separate. And even carefully weigh out
your money and time and parcels of attention to make sure you love
things evenly. But, by the end, it begins to seem that they are all
one thing anyway. They are all squirrels.

All my life I’ve placed a debilitating certainty in the separateness
of things. And even the separateness of my love for different things.
But there are no breaks between the love we offer and the love we
get in return. Though it may travel far afield before it finally returns, it
is like a thread stitching together all things. I try to remember
this. Especially on days where some obscure piece of information
prompts me, for just a second, to believe that I hate squirrels.

Living
By Nazim Hikmet

(translated from Greek by Mutlu Konuk and Randy Blasing)

Living is no laughing matter:
you must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel, for example–
I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
you must take it seriously,
so much so and to such a degree
that, with your hands tied behind your back,
or your back to the wall,
or else in a laboratory
in your white coat and safety glasses,
you can die for people–
even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
even though you know living
is the most real, most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy you’ll plant olive trees–
and not for your children, either,
but because although you fear death, you don’t believe it,
because living weighs heavier.

Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery–
which is to say we might not get up
from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining,
or wait anxiously
for the latest newscast. . .
Let’s say we’re at the front–
for something worth fighting for.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
we might fall on our face, dead.
But we’ll have spent our last minutes
worrying ourselves to death
about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years,
before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind–
I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
we must live as if we will never die.

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
and one of the smallest –
a gilded mote on blue velvet–
I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space . . .
You must grieve for this right now
–you have to feel this sorrow now–
for the world must be loved this much
if you’re going to say “I lived”. . .