Susan's Thursday morning note November 20, 2008 Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Wilke As Silver Refined: Learning to Embrace Life’s Disappointments by Kay Arthur Forward From Here: Leaving Middle Age – and Other Unexpected Adventures by Reeve Lindbergh The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Good morning! I am needing an entire pot of our legal stimulant this morning to think for you! I hope that you wait until you have a few minutes of quiet to read again today. So much to think about this week as we enter into Thanksgiving week. Many of my friends and some of you that I don’t know very well have in passing mentioned the approaching Thanksgiving/Christmas season as being one of melancholy. Not even understanding feelings of being sad when so many are entering a time of family, traveling, fun. I don’t know how to put into words this emotion, but I know what you mean. The holidays do bring a time of contemplation, don’t they? Thinking…analyzing…missing some…and when we miss those that have died it seems in the fall when the holidays hit & we are thinking of them, or we miss those that we wish we had closer relationships with, our minds begin to race. Race with what we wish we’d have done differently (my mind seems to play the tape of…”Why didn’t I sit with mom more as she was sick? Why was I so “busy”? Why didn’t I let her have the chance to have me be quiet and listen to her if she’d have wanted to talk details of her memories as she lay sick? Why didn’t I ask her for advice on my future as I knew I wouldn’t have her to ask much longer? Why do I feel now I didn’t even know her. The real her. Why didn’t I ask Dad who he “really was” – who was he? What were his dreams…his personal regrets, joys, challenges, desires? ” See – we can all do that with those alive or those that we miss.
Last night I read a section of a book called Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. I didn’t even know of this poet until I read the book by Reeve Lindbergh called No More Words on the death of her mother as she lost her mind in her last years. She made a comment that her mom would rock herself as she was dying, but kept by her bedside even in her delusion her Bible and her books/poems by Rilke. This is how I find my books to read! Little sentences like that. I couldn’t get enough of this book. And last night I bypassed all of the first 3/4 of what I underlined after reading his final letter. I don’t know what to take out – so once, again, I will just let you read only a small excerpt of this 8th letter and I hope that by leaving in a lot you gain.
(Rilke obviously received a letter from his young poet friend on the news of a loved one dying…) I want to talk with you for a little while…although there is almost nothing I can say that will help you, and I can hardly find one useful word. You have had many sadnesses, large ones, which passed. And you say that even this passing was difficult and upsetting for you…
Perhaps many things inside you have been transformed; perhaps somewhere, someplace deep inside your being, you have undergone important changes while you were sad…If only it were possible for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, and even a little beyond the outworks of our presentiment, perhaps we would bear our sadnesses with greater trust than we have in our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute…and the new experience, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing…because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing…a new presence inside us, the presence that has been added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there, is already in our bloodstream. And we don’t know what it is…Solitude…We must accept our reality as vastly as we possibly can; everything, even the unprecedented, must be possible within it. This is in the end the only kind of courage that is required of us: the courage to face the strangest, most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that can meet us.
If we imagine the individual as a larger or smaller room, it is obvious that most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, on narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth. In this way they have a certain security. And yet how much more human is the dangerous insecurity that drives those prisoners in Poe’s stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their cells. We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors; it if has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must also trust in the difficult then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience. How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.
So you mustn’t be frightened if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. (Sue Monk Kidd calls this period of darkness “incubation” – she says nature brings forth beauty only after darkness (fetus in the womb, butterfly in the chrysalis…I really like that analogy of incubation – our sadness, our solitude, this is our incubation time where we change…change for the good).
Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better…you must be patient like someone who is sick, and confident like someone who is recovering; for perhaps you are both…and you are also the doctor, who has to watch over himself. But in every sickness there are many days when the doctor can do nothing but wait. And that is what you, insofar as you are your own doctor, must now do, more than anything else.
Don’t be too quick to draw conclusions from what happens to you; simply let it happen…it will be too easy for you to look with blame (morally) at your past, which naturally has a share in everything that now meets you. But whatever errors, wishes, and yearnings of your boyhood are operating in you now are not what you remember and condemn.
And if there is one more thing that I must say to you, it is this: Don’t think that the person who is trying to comfort you now lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes give you pleasure (his poetry). His life has much trouble and sadness, and remains far behind yours. If it were otherwise, he would never have been able to find those words. Yours, Rainer Maria Rilke. August 12, 1904. Sweden.
I must also share the final thoughts of a novel I loved the last few weeks (reflections from the perspective of a butler in Britain). The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. The butler on the final pages begins to reflect on his life with a complete stranger….second guessing his decisions, talking about his sadnesses, regrets, mistakes. This is the response from the stranger. “Now, look, mate, I’m not sure I follow everything you’re saying. But if you ask me, your attitude’s all wrong, see? Don’t keep looking back all the time, you’re bound to get depressed. And all right, you can’t do your job as well as you used to. But it’s the same for all of us, see? We’ve all got to put our feet up at some point…so neither of us are in the first flush of youth, but you’ve got to keep looking forward.” And I believe it was then that he said: “You’ve got to enjoy yourself. The evening’s the best part of the day. You’ve done your day’s work. Now you can put your feet up and enjoy it. That’s how I look at it (aging). As anybody, they’ll all tell you. The evening’s the best part of the day.” Perhaps I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?…What is the point in worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contributing count for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much in life in order to pursue such aspirations (he referred to his role as butler, taking care of his master…we could refer to giving in parenting, marriage, society…) surely that is in itself, whatever the outcome, cause for pride and contentment…
And, in finishing last week’s book, Forward from Here, by Reeve Lindergh – her final paragraph of her book…I’m hoping that as I get older I’ll get braver, and someday I may even be brave enough to leave some of my old descriptions and preoccupations behind me, to let the family history go, let it be. Gently, so as not to disturb anybody, I may open a door and just walk through it. I may tiptoe away from the closed rooms of the past with all their stories, and move quietly into the present I love so well, and then even further, out into the open future, forward from here.
We must remember that we are As Silver Refined (book by Kay Arthur)…no matter what experiences or circumstances in our past…we must know that God is putting us into the fire…the silversmith is continuing to allow us to be in the heat, the battle, the sorrows, the wrong decisions, hurts…for His goal as a silversmith is to continue heating us until he finally pulls us out of the fire and he sees an exact image of himself the silver is so pure. Look forward. Questions I did not ask of my parents, time I did not spend with them….instead of the constant critiquing I can instead learn and not make the same mistakes with who I love and have in my life now. We can learn to not make the same mistakes, but instead of constantly analyzing our past we can make a conscious decision to praying, making goals for our future, letting our silent, painful times that we go through alone be “incubation times, times in the chrysalis”. Look forward to change, become who we didn’t even know we were capable of being. If we are willing to have silence, have pain, have sickness…we become who we didn’t even know we could be. Let us make ourselves examine the other parts of our “box” – the unexplored…who we could be if we allowed ourselves silence, allowed ourselves to feel pain, allowed ourselves solitude, allowed ourselves to be real. What “remains of our day?” – what choices can we make to come out changed? So much in the books we read…so many perspectives on solitude, memories, present experiences, feeling life, looking forward from here.
Whatever the holidays bring you – don’t spend your energies on regrets. Forward from here….our future is waiting for us to enter. I pray that you feel the presence of God in your solitude (even if your only solitude is before you fall asleep) the next few weeks. All we have to do is drop one foot to our knees and ask for help or look into the heaven. Our help is there. Promises. Beautiful promises. The peace that passes all other human’s understanding will never pass away. Even during the holidays God’s peace is there for us. Our promise. Thank you for letting me type for you. I hope you have a meaningful, changing holiday season. Looking forward. Not always past. Susan
Latin This Week: Nihil admirari cum acciderit, nihil ante quam evenerit, non evenire posse arbitrary – “Don’t wonder at anything that has already happened. And anything that has not happened yet, don’t judge as impossible” (Cicero).