I've been thinking a lot about the loss of a friend I had a couple years ago, and many others, too. I suppose this is the reality of humanity.
I may have written this before, but a teacher of mine expressed this difference between pathos and tragedy being the realization that something is going to happen without being able to stop it. So if you get hit by a bus it's pathetic, but if you look up and say "I'm going to get hit by a bus" and can do nothing to stop it, it's tragic. It's a gross simplification, but it works. Ergo, all human life is a tragedy, since we know what's waiting at the end. We go on as we have to. It's been said more eloquently from Shakespeare to Beckett, and usually I, as I think we all do, march along without thinking of it. How could we? Knowledge or fear of that on a daily basis could be debilitating, maddening in a true sense of losing sanity. But sometimes it peeks itself up through the cracks.
Or maybe I'm wrong - maybe all we do is in knowledge of it - have religions and belief systems, ethics, even care for each other. In my optomistic view, knowledge of our mortality is what keeps us caring for each other. Rather than make us nihilistic, I think naturally it makes us care more for what ourselves, as we realize we are precious.
What was I talking about again? No editing today, folks.
Oh, right. So, this poem. It's one of my faves, so possible I've posted it before. When a friend's father died, I sent this to his mother. I think now that may have been wildly inappropriate, like thinking that showing "Hannah and Her Sisters" to a class of mine to teach them Chekhov would make any sense. The connection made sense to me. It had not been an easy time, or an easy death. It was a long, slow tragedy. So, I thought of this poem, and its optimism. I think she appreciated it, actually, or that's what she said. I find it comforting, with its connection to the earth, and sense of movement. And, even at a literal level, it's good to remember this poem when I drive home and see how violently cut back the tree in the front yard is once every couple of years. It grows back. Each time, it gets as full as it once was, and we have shade again.
The Pruned Tree
by Howard Moss
As a torn paper might seal up its side,
Or a streak of water stitch itself to silk
And disappear, my wound has been my healing,
And I am made more beautiful by losses.
See the flat water in the distance nodding
Approval, the light that fell in love with statues,
Seeing me alive, turns its motion toward me.
Shorn, I rejoice in what was taken from me.
What can the moonlight do with my new shape
But trace and retrace its miracle of order?
I stand, waiting for the strange reaction
Of insects who knew me in my larger self,
Unkempt, in a naturalness I did not love.
Even the dog's voice rings with a new echo,
And all the little leaves I shed are singing,
Singing to the moon of shapely newness.
Somewhere what I lost I hope is springing
To life again. The roofs, astonished by me,
Are taking new bearings in the night, the owl
Is crying for a further wisdom, the lilac
Putting forth its strongest scent to find me.
Butterflies, like sails in grooves, are winging
out of the water to wash me, wash me.
Now, I am stirring like a seed in China.