It happens this way …
I hate New Year’s resolutions. They always seem a set-up for disappointment, guilt, and self-incrimination. Then I came upon this wisdom from Thich Nhat Hanh and it hit home:
Last week a friend was going through some painful stuff. What it was about isn’t the point. What is the point was my knee-jerk reaction to her suffering: I wanted to fix it, take it away, rescue her. I wanted her to accept my words of enlightenment so she could embrace my joy and peace, and make them her own. Wrong!
Serendipitously, I had just read an article about Megan Devine’s work with grief and loss (https://www.brainpickings.org/2020/12/16/megan-devine-okay-not-okay-grief/). She says the best way to help people feel better is to acknowledge their pain and let them be in their pain. Whoa! Counterintuitive, right? – but effective.
Often, we mistake for personal failure our inability to salve another’s grief or mistake for their failure the inability to snap out of it on the timeline of our wishes.
In the brilliant video toward the end of the article – it’s worth a few moments to view it – Megan quotes educator Parker Palmer:
The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed exactly as it is.
What’s the most effective strategy? Acknowledgment. Join others in their pain, don’t try to cheer them up.
So, 2021 may invite me to resolve to keep digging and digging and digging my own well while acknowledging that everyone else has the ability to dig their own, too – according to their timeline. That way all of us can claim the enlightenment, joy, and peace that we can only give ourselves. Anyone up for digging during the coming year?
One early winter years ago, I felt a twinge of empathy for all the birds scrounging for food around our yard. I hadn’t gotten into feeding birds yet, but this was an aha moment that ungrinched my tendency to ignore them. So I went to a local store and bought what I thought was an upscale birdfeeder and a package of high-grade thistle. I placed the feeder in a spot where I could enjoy watching the thankful critters dine. But, alas, it was not to be. Here’s what actually happened:
To the songbirds who spurned my feeder
I’m confused. I thought when thistle filled
the Copper Triple Tube, we had a deal.
You’d breakfast in tranquility, spread notes
around our cul-de-sac, return
for evening snacks, and sing, of course,
your best for me. But I thought wrong.
You’ve scavenged through my annuals,
electing seeds – prosaic and alive –
in lieu of mixtures trendy and refined;
refused to jump from ground to rim
before the winter storms set in
to shut my garden down.
I’ve cut my loss and hurt, and stashed
the copper with my thistle sacks.
See the note tacked on the vacant pole:
We’re closed. Gone south. Enjoy the seedless snow.
Well, maybe not “actually” when it came to that sign. However, I was so incensed by their ingratitude that I took down the feeder, packed away the food, and huffed and puffed. It took some research to discover that birds need time to find a new feeder and that thistle is not quite delicacy I thought it was.
Now I have several feeders and a suet cake container in our yard and delight in watching the Steller’s jays, juncos, sparrows, flickers, and others take turns eating sunflower seeds and other Audubon grains every day. Lesson learned: You can’t force Nature to do what you want her to do. Up with creatures who take their time to decide what’s good for them!
And, as we travel through this holiday season into 2021, may we become wise as to what is good for us.
Thanks to all of you who have already pre-ordered Nothing More to Lose, my poetry chapbook based on based on Therese Kolbert Dieringer’s autobiography, My Life Lived and Remembered – A journey through Hungary, Germany, and America.
There’s still time to order your copy at its pre-publication price.
Deadline: December 1, 2020
About the collection:
Nothing More to Lose is a 60-page chapbook filled with poems written in Therese’s voice. It contains photos of the Kolbert family as they journey across Germany. It ends with a series of “Corky poems” that capture Therese’s meeting, marrying, and traveling with her dear husband of thirty years.
As Therese says:
“In Nothing More to Lose, Carolyn Martin has read and written my soul. No one has been able to feel what I felt before this poet shared her inspired words with me and now with the world. I spent more than 70 years trying to forget the events that shaped my life and gave me nightmares. Now, through working with Carolyn on both my autobiography and this chapbook, I feel healed. The nightmares are gone. I hope these poems will help readers find courage in the realization we are not here on our own. We are guided by a Higher Power. This book is a good way to end my journey.”
Click here to order your copy today.
Since it’s that time of year when flocks of noisy geese migrate across our skies, I thought I’d reach back to a poem I wrote ten years ago. It’s still true that we see groups of them flying in one direction in the morning and flying in the opposite direction at night. And it’s even truer that their formations are more “disheveled and disorderly” than in the past. What is Mother Nature telling us about the changing dynamics of leadership that the neat metaphor of geese used to describe? And that independent female at the end? Hmmm … an image of all the strong women who have been flying high in this past decade?
They look confused—
four flocks of geese
back-tracking routes they flew
southeast last night.
At least, I’d like to think
they are the same—
these squads of Vs,
disheveled and disorderly,
as if a pre-school child
is scribbling lines across
the jagged sky.
Whoever led last night
got something wrong:
mis-read the compass set
for feeding grounds,
mis-scratched the itch to find
a winter home.
The calendar was right,
but something else went wrong.
What is that common saw
about flock leadership?
Weariness requires falling back.
The leader must have missed the sign
or snubbed the call to acquiesce.
Before I wrap my mind
around the science of it all,
one lone goose breaks through
the clouds, driving south-southeast.
A day behind, she missed
their lift-off yesterday,
tonight’s impatient flying back.
Against the grain,
a different drum,
and all such idioms
her unrelenting wings.
She’s older than the rest,
I fantasize. She’s been around
the clouds a thousand times,
knows anomalies of wind,
the myths of leadership.
She doesn’t care about uplift
or saving energy to cover ground.
No wingmen or honking cheers.
No urge to lead or tilt
of head as they fly by.
And just as black lines disappear
beyond the Douglas firs,
she strains her neck and lowers
regal eyes—amused, I’d like to think,
by one lone raucous cheer
winging upward toward
the clean-slate sky.
From Carolyn Martin, Finding Compass (Portland, OR: Queen of Wands Press, 2011)
For several years I had been playing with the idea of writing a series of poems based on the journey of a dear friend whose family escaped Hungary after the Nazi invasion in 1944. They spent the next seven years starving in Germany before finally arriving in the US in 1952. I had helped Therese Kolbert Dieringer write her autobiography in 2007, and her stories of terror, cruelty, and kindness haunted me ever since.
Then, this past July I focused on some ideas about Therese’s journey I had filed away and they began to shape themselves into a poem. I sent it to Therese and asked for her blessing — not only on this one poem, but on the idea of a chapbook based on some of the major events in her life. With tears in her eyes and voice, she said, “Yes,” and this chapbook was on its way.
The miracle to me is that I wrote the 25 poems in it in about six weeks. I never worked that fast before, but the material of Therese’s life was so compelling, that the poems wrote themselves.
Now thanks to Shawn Aveningo Sanders and The Poetry Box, Nothing More Lose is available for a pre-publication sale price. Read more about the book and how to order it before December 1.
You would do me and Therese a great honor if you would consider reading her story via my poetry. You will be amazed and inspired. I was.