For One I Loved and Lost

My Mom, Jane Gordon Cook, March 31, 1934 – July 7, 2021

*

On July 7, 2021, my greatest cheerleader, most enduring audience, loving critic, incomparable supporter, and most beloved mother, Jane Cook, passed away from this life.  Life will never be the same. Writing will never be the same.  The following are some pathetic attempts at thoughts on her passing, in the knowledge that words can never express what we feel with great loss and great love.  As I wrote the following, I thought of others I loved who have passed and those I love now and foolishly hope will never die. Friends –Seize the Day and let those you love, know it – right now.  Jane

*

#1 Your Love Is Still Here

*

A lot of people died today,

but only one was mine.

A lot of people passed away.

I wonder, which were Thine?

*

I know not what is at Life’s End.

A lot of people can pretend,

that Death is simply Heaven’s Bend;

but no one truly comprehends.

All that I know?– You were my friend.

*

And I shall strive to live the part,

Your love created in my heart.

And I will trust, through all my tears,

that your Love still is here.

*

#2 I Only Know Now

*

And do not say to me, “It will…”

I only know what is no longer now.

And do not tell me “It will get better…”

Today I can only live in this moment,

 that this bleak Finality “is”.

*

My eschatology veered sharply from yours,

the moment that my Some\body died.

The End Times are upon me

and I will live with ashes on my soul

in a world that cannot bear the sight of

the ashes I long to wear on my head.

If only the world could see the black armband

constricting the muscles around my heart.

*

Some\body died today; Some\body who cared for

and was cared for by me;

that first and ultimate person,

who made the “I”, in “me”, a “We”;

that “We” is now forever and ever lost.

And like a limb lopped off of my being,

the ghost of remembrance of what used to be,

gives me no joy.

Encouragements of what I might be able to do someday

without my lost limb,

give me no comfort.

Loss is all. Loss is now.

*

You long to leap straight and with daring ease,

back to the past of memories,

or to the future, which you believe,

is free of sorrow and heavenly.

Be free in knowing,

I do not begrudge you, your need or your worldview.

But please do not offer it to me.

It is a poor substitution for my grief.

*

Death for me, has brought endless ending,

and Now, is only dross.

And in my loss,

the emptiness and lack of meaning,

is all I can hold on to.

I cannot see the shore, until I have drowned,

and all I can cling to

is what made me feel safe,

and gave Love its meaning

for me, for us.

*

I have lost the one voice that’s been inside,

my head, my heart, for all these years.

Please keep your platitudes and thoughts you mean to cheer me.

I will, however, grateful be, if you would silently,

endure with me my tears.

*

Time has finally condensed the story,

constricting like a deadly boa,

to Only Now.

The Now is the ache of the battering ram of emotions,

the unbidden memories that spell “no more”,

the gaping holes in my heart,

the “what ifs” and “shoulds” and “could haves, should haves, would haves”

… if only.

*

Oh yes, with time, wounds stop seeping,

and may, in time, become scars.

Yes, duties and needs will stop my weeping,

but for now, my strength is bleeding out.

And in these lost and mournful hours,

 I can only know Now, in my heart.

For the You that was mine, and the life that was “ours”,

for me, in life-left, left me ever alone,

from the moment for me, we were finally apart.

*

Going forward tomorrow I do not know how,

and your memories are slicing me through.

For today, it is true I may only know Now,

Yet one thing I do know — you loved me,

and Oh! How I loved you.

*

I will always miss you Mom, and I wish I could tell you that again. I will always love you, Mom and I wish that I had told you that more. 

Jane,  July 18, 2021

Dreams On the Journey

by Jane Tawel

empty road surrounded with trees with fog
https://unsplash.com/photos/5FHv5nS7yGg

Dreams on the Journey

By Jane Tawel

July 6, 2021

*

Dreams often start skidding a bit,

when reality appears in the road.

And if we are carrying a load,

of a vision that won’t clear up,

smooth and pristine,

but rather gleans from us,

the weight of our meaning,

this gleaning,

is to be

and to see

what lies inert in the road –

well, that is the load we bear.

And yet, we compare

ourselves to the myth of ourselves

not sitting on shelves

but growing and changing,

ever rearranging into someone

that is the myth of our true wholeness.

So now, we can go with boldness,

into the might and right

and the true light from True Light,

ever loving and being loved.

Hither and yon,

to the hopeful beyond,

and all the parts of you and I

Become whole.

The goals of every holy scroll

keep rolling us on and on

Because that is who and what and

Why.

Our dreams become the answer

to the real Why.

And the road is never clearer

but only dearer.

And the task is never fearless,

but only nearer.

And we walk on,

dreaming despite the bumps in the road,

or the mist.

Because though we may miss the gist

We will bear witness.

And in the midst

We will resist the need to just exist.

But instead we will yearn to grow,

Becoming One with the journey’s flow.

© Jane Tawel 2021

Before the Dawn

by Jane Tawel

black and white tree branch with moon
https://unsplash.com/photos/ZB2S8hO2xFw

Before the Dawn

By Jane Tawel

July 1, 2021

*

Can you see in the dark?

Even just a small spark?

Do you look? Do you listen?

For through the dark glistens

a hint of the Light

that will conquer the Night

and will make all things right.

For the lost and the blind,

at Dawn’s dawning will find

that in every night time

our dreams of The Sublime

were realities waiting to shine.

*

Wake up early and hear;

and before the Dawn peer

into what seems from us hidden,

but to which we are bidden

to be still and to know–

God is here.

© Jane Tawel 2021

Will We Rise?

by Jane Tawel

What does phoenix rising from the ashes mean – Embrace yourself, embrace  the world

Laura – pixels.com

Will We Rise?

By Jane Tawel

June 18, 2021

*

Will we find enough band-aides today,

to staunch flows of our enemies’ blood?

Will we march enough steps today,

to dam prejudicial floods?

And when tomorrow our children ask

if we raised our hands to the holy task

of reviving the World’s needy honor,

and repairing our own little corner

of broken parts and hurting hearts,

will we lie in the ashes

of our own set fires?

Or rise like a phoenix from grace-infused pyres?

*

Will my mind today shut-down from its reeling

at the Earth’s burning? I’m fearfully feeling

we’ll all die from our greed

and the unanswered need

of a world that craves desperate healing.

*

Create in me a new heart.

One that beats to the Earth’s Special Song.

Today I will do my own part

to be Love, to be One, to Belong.

Amen and amen, let us say once again,

We did once, and we will!

We did once, and we will!

We did then;

we will do it again!

*

Will we make enough headway tomorrow

to end Our World’s war-weary sorrow?

Will we have had enough

of the proud and the tough?

And instead choose the meek

and all follow, like sheep,

The Good Shepherd, Who loves us so much?

*

Time ticks and it tocks

and even the rocks

now cry out — “Hosanna!

Please, Save us!” Each man and

each woman and child;

every beast, tame or wild,

are looking ahead,

to the “Anti-Love Dread”

of the end of All Life as we know it.

(We certainly seem to have blown it.)

But we’ll fight! — Some will fight!

Young and old, we just might,

win the day over night

and a New World Reborn —  we will grow it.

*

We vow today to stand together.

We take today this solemn pledge:

We will fight war with Peace.

We will fight lies with Truth.

We will kill greed with sharing,

and meet needs by our caring.

We will change hate with love.

We will rise, young and old

One day our tale will be told,

How the World almost died,

But Love made it Arise!

We shall rise!

We shall rise!

*

Earth will rise,

like a Phoenix, She’ll Rise!

We shall rise like a Savior,

we’ll rise!

And Our God will arise.

Like a Cooled Sun, He’ll Rise!

Like a Bright Star, She’ll Rise!

And All Goodness shall Rise,

They shall rise!

They shall rise!

They shall rise!

*

Like a New Day that Dawns,

Love Shall Rise!

With sacrificial protection,

We shall become Resurrection.

Will we start today?

Will we find The Way?

Will we Rise Up?

Will we Rise Up?

Will we Rise?

God! I pray, we will rise…

(c) Jane Tawel 2021

A Prayer for Hole-ness

brown rock formation during daytime
https://unsplash.com/photos/AWoVDcSYgak

A Prayer for Hole-ness

By Jane Tawel

May 25, 2021

*

I often pray for whole-ness,

but just today I thought,

that I should pray for hole-ness,

to become what I ought.

Wholeness can often mean control,

but emptying should be my goal,

not only just to make me whole,

but to embrace the empty spaces,

and broken lives, and lonely faces,

of brothers, sisters, enemies–

through empathy come remedies.

For when I leave a legacy,

There won’t be much left of my soul,

Unless I leave a hole.

© Jane Tawel 2021

HerStory Steps Into the Ring

by Jane Tawel

Earth Worm
“Earth Worm” by DJ SINGH is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

HerStory Steps Into the Ring

By Jane Tawel

May 13, 2021

And someone said that “History isn’t the story that actually happened, you know.”

“History is the story of what they want to believe.”

And all I could manage to mumble was,

“there will be wars and the rumors of wars”.

*

The newspapers had started to look almost cheery in my country;

But then I remembered that though

the civil warmongers on my shores,

had made their peace by making new confederate flags,

flags that appeared to me,

seen from the distance of my dismay,

all blackened and borrowed.

Yes, even though we had returned to the

 more boring news cycles

of mass murders, suicides and food lines,

there was always tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

creeping like creepy-crawlers into this petty place,

 helping my own country keep pace

with the rest

of the world’s civil unrest.

*

“We reign!  We reign!” the “they” in They cry,

with open mouths like empty wells,

and the deserted dry bones of accumulated wealth

feed by the waters of Babylon;

while the Desert Fathers and Mothers

weep with great heaves, weep without tears

and pray for rain.

*

Besides, I am a world-citizen, now,

pledging my allegiance

to the one cause that unifies;

the more, more, more that divides our teams into

those who have and those who have not.

“One Amazon under God,

destroying The Amazon, forsaken by Him”.

*

Yes, I too have my flag to fly,

and it is the flag of der Weltschmerz.

Oh, how I dare to be world-weary!–

with so many shoes sitting footless in my closet,

and so many feet walking shoeless

across the planet’s scorn.

Yes, my empathy and suffering in my knowledge,

is a trick worthy of a Houdini –

Watch me! Get your cell phones out!

Observe the amazing magic tricks,

 as The Magician of Lassitude

magically frees herself

of the chains of my cognizance surrounding me!

My assisting soul has sawn

me in halves

and placed me in the locked

Box of Empathy. But Watch!

Watch as I extricate all thoughts and feelings

from the Prison of  My Pathos;

and Voila! I appear in this other

box across the stage of my existence,

in The Casket of Ennui.

(The trick is in the hidden trapdoor of absolute apathy.)

Abracadabra! Ta-Da!”

Today’s show is over, and I can sleep

in the safety of knowledge well-squandered.

*

I have joined the fantasy world-league

of those who “know” and vacillate between

hand-holding and hand-wringing.

I take a knee before

the world-weariness

of too much information,

too much knowledge,

not enough wisdom.

Thanks, in part, to the ridiculous efficiency and speed

 of the WorldWideWeb,

I have the attention span of

 a cursor that merely hovers.

And yet, daily the planet spinning

breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart, “Oh bless their little hearts!”

*

Yes, the WORLD is writ large in capital letters

and it strains and hurts my eyes,

but mostly strains and hurts what seems to be left of my heart.

I have spent the better part of my wholeness

 reading and reading

 and watching and watching;

and as The World becomes My World;

as history becomes her-story—

I am, now and then, and here and there,

putting the words down, and laying them aside,

and I am becoming.

*

I am becoming a part of his-story.

I am becoming an act-er in her-story.

I become a little Palestinian child,

a teenager from Honduras,

a Black man from Minneapolis,

a veiled woman in Afghanistan.

I am

afraid, imprisoned, beaten, and hungry.

I am the victim.

I am also the perpetrator,

afraid, imprisoned, broken, insatiable.

In this acceptance of my part in The Story,

I am becoming.

*

But growing up to be

a human being

is not easy.

And the bombs and the guns

and the guns and the bombs

keep creating zombies in us,

and we mistake our need for weapons

of words and wars

for our fears of inattention and unaffection.

*

In her-story,

I become a refugee from my own life,

and all of me, All of Us cry-out:

 “Who will write our history?

 Who will remember us?”

*

But enough about them,

Let’s get back to talking about Me.

*

Suffering alongside is a spectator sport

and I fail spectacularly at it.

I am a cheerleader for a team of

Me, Myself and I.

And therefore, the boos and hurrahs,

are equally earned by the winning and losing sides.

*

The great Operas of Life,

the dramas of the world, have been condensed

into Instagrams–

here today, gone tomorrow–

a script of just the headlines,

played by a cast of emojis.

*

And as the notes of the last aria are heard

by the player of one, myself,

and the audience of one, myself,

 the sound and fury of My World

falls on zombie ears,

 in the raped forests

and no one hears,

and there are soon no more sticks

to add to the fire.

*

I have become a sort of big brained monster,

All brain and mouth,

with no feet and hands;

not so much terrifying

for what can be sensed inside me,

but terrified of myself,

and made senseless

by what is not,

not within me.

*

I am like a desiccated tree,

cut down after history’s prime.

Nothing useful really,

no lean, strong limbs growing outward

just a trunk-ated, corpulent, pulp fiction.

I could have been hewed-down

and made into someone’s cross,

but I would have had to give up

so much of my own life-story,

that I thought it best to let others

 bear the cross to bare the myth.

*

I am become a wealthy mirage

built blithely in an arid place.

I steal my living water from

those who can’t afford to say no.

Nothing really Real can grow here.

Nothing is within me that can reach higher,

reach lower,

move along the ground,

or go forth and touch.

*

I am evolved into

 a large, rather flaccid, but very intelligent worm,

writhing in the mud

of so much awareness.

*

But I, worm-like,

somehow….

even with the brain of an invertebrate,

and the heartlessness of a jelly fish,

and the soullessness of a First World Zombie….

slight miracle though it may be–

I, a worm,

still have enough offered grace

from Mother Earth;

and enough offered love

from Father-Creator;

and within me there is still

a small faint pulse coursing through me,

and written upon the faint stirrings of my soul,

lives The Message from and Messiah of the Divine.

*

And the worms

long for the sweet rains to come.

No one gets to own or package the rain,

Not even American Amazonians.

*

*

In this precious last moment,

the last of its kind,

the whole world breathes

 in universal prayer

for rain.

“Come rains, that flow, freely on all.

Come Living Water, that frees every soul.

Come Holy Spirit, the Answer to Why.

Come rain, Come shine, for even a worm like I.”

*

“I Pledge Allegiance to the Planet,

One Planet Under God”.

And I pray.

I pray to the God of the World,

Whose love falls on the good and the evil,

and Whose grace

rains down from a Loving Hand.

“Dear God, please make me care.”

*

I pray for what I cannot see,

for waters to fall and rise,

cleansing and reviving;

flooding history again,

creating a need for an ark.

“And I know you said You wouldn’t do it again,

but please, Great Spirit, we need more rainbows”.

*

Without first death,

there is no life.

May my thirst for myself

dry up and die,

So that I may partake

in my soul’s parching,

and in the great need

and the greater need for sharing

and giving of Living Water.

May I learn to wash the dirty feet

and walk alongside in others’ footsteps

In the steps of her-story,

arm in arm with his-story,

on the tide of the rising action

and falling action

of your-story, and mine.

Let us stop marching and begin The Great Dance.

*

Lover of Our Souls,

Create in us new hearts

to live each others’ stories

in truth and love.

Let us bow our heads,

and lift our faces

to the Heavens and hope for rain,

and then stop talking and get to work;

sowing and planting,

gathering water and wheat,

rice and beans

and leaves and flowers;

 gleaning

with plenty to share,

provisions for all,

Living Water by the bucketfuls,

given from hearts, not brains,

given with love, not the fears of not enough;

shared with the Wisdom,

hoped for in The Past, and

 passed down from Our Future.

*

Let us change Earth’s Story’s end,

not hoarding the histrionics of a history

we have re-written for our own benefit

but for A Story we never fully understand,

but believe in and try to live out  anyway.

*

Let us change the ending of our World’s Story,

re-created and re-crafted

by open hands reached out;

hands of mercy and grace,

shedding tears and giving blood,

dancing in circles, and holding each other,

raising voices in psalms of ascension.

*

Let us make history

not in wars but in service,

not in greed but in meeting need,

not in hatred, but in love,

not in destruction, but in creation,

not in the lies worthy of our news,

but in the truth worthy of our legacy.

*

God, let me lift my face from my world’s news

from my worm’s viewpoint

from the ground to the Heavens.

Lift my face to get a glimpse

of what You see,

to the World’s Newness,

the World’s Treasure,

sought, not found,

 like the best kind of secret

hidden in Divine Presence.

*

Creator, thank you for another day,

to feel the sun on my face,

and wait in hope

for the rain to fall upon the Earth,

rain for even a worm like I.

*

© Jane Tawel 2021

NOTE: The metaphor of being a worm is not for everyone. There are as indicated in the above musing, far too many people who are made to feel like they are nothing but “worker-worms”, so to speak. But the metaphor of being a worm was helpful for me. It comes perhaps originally from an old hymn that I used to sing in the churches of the Midwest where I grew up and began to grow into what I hope is an ever evolving faith and worldview.  I want to become more. Well, that is it, I guess, just “more”.

The following words to the hymn by Isaac Watts called out to me today from the hallows of history. Today –What and Who calls out to you, like a Parent to Her child, asking:

“Will you represent?”

Alas and Did My Savior Bleed, by Isaac Watts (c. 1707)

Alas, and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

Was it for sins that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity, grace unknown
And love beyond degree.

My God, why would You shed Your blood
So pure and undefiled
To make a sinful one like me
Your chosen, precious child?

Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut His glories in
When Christ, the mighty Maker, died
For man, the creature’s, sin.

Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness
And melt my eyes to tears.

My God, why would You shed Your blood
So pure and undefiled
To make a sinful one like me
Your chosen, precious child?

(c) Hymn by Isaac Watts

(c) Jane Tawel 2021

Transformations:  What We Had and Have

by Jane Tawel

https://unsplash.com/photos/VMKBFR6r_jg

Transformations: What We Had and Have

By Jane Tawel

May 1, 2021

*

There are things that transform,

Sometimes, good, sometimes bad.

And one thing that can change us

are things we have had;

like a memory,

a story,

or that one special look

from a person that loved us,

or a scene in its glory,

or a place we once lived,

or the self we forgive.

*

In past things that have happened

and are seared into our minds,

are the things in the present the soul longs to find — 

a meaning and truth to help light The Way — 

we make our past valid by its purpose today.

*

Yes, the things that transform us

are alive and will move us

and it often behooves us

to remember and honor,

whether lasting, or gone or

pleasant or sad

who we are is in part

all the things we have had

that transform our hearts

and that keep love alive.

For we truly do thrive

When past joys, and past storms,

are held close to our souls,

there to change and transform.

*

The changes

from actual things we can touch,

or see, hear, or taste — 

all have given us much

to continue in nurturing

thoughts, words, and deeds,

and are ever more helpful,

than dogmas or creeds.

For what I thought yesterday

often has proved,

to be just a rut or an entrenching groove,

that causes my heart and my soul to decay,

and prevent me from living new truths found today.

*

It is living life wholly

that makes holiness real.

And what makes humans, human,

is what we can feel.

And by letting our feelings

create room in our thoughts,

our souls can become

the vast things that they ought.

We must hold on right tightly,

To the plantings, so needed.

For much has been seeded,

in our lives for our growth.

There is past, and there’s present,

and each moment, holds both.

*

There’s an ocean inside me

Of things I have had;

and acceptance is not that I’ve been always glad;

But instead I take each little memory and part,

and I let each shift things in my mind and my heart.

And each little shift can move me away

from the things that ensnare me or convince me to stay,

stuck in a place or time no longer needed.

A Life’s rolling waves

should be honored and heeded.

Oh, the freedom I’ve found in embracing the “me”

that has had and can have, and once was and can be!

*

Our lives’ better angels

can upturn the tables,

but we must be able,

to look life in the face,

and give all of it grace.

All of life’s just a spectrum,

Of reaches and ranges.

Whether rising or falling,

Waves of change are our calling,

and they call and they call us

towards change.

© Jane Tawel 2021

https://unsplash.com/photos/p4PFq1pgMDs

I Don’t Know Who I Could Be

by Jane Tawel

https://unsplash.com/photos/Jqhwp4mcuUM

I Don’t Know Who I Could Be

A Poem

By Jane Tawel

April 19, 2021

I don’t know who I’d be, if I stopped unforgiving.

I don’t know who I’d be, if I spent less time worrying.

And who would I be if I didn’t care to keep up my grades,

but instead, judged not, either self or you?

If winning was an illusion I left behind like a broken toy,

might I know the terrible, fearsome freedom of joy?

*

I rarely know who I am, except as a passing glance,

a whirl of motion, unsteadied by a center aflame.

And I have always hated my name.

Longing for meaning in the temporal labeling

of a self-made shelter from identity thieves

I become “that person”, not myself.

My pronouns are “it” and “that”.

*

I hold myself at arm’s length,

and keep my arms too full;

so, by thinking I carry the weight of the world,

I carry a chimera, not a Hope.

Too afraid to empty my hands of grasping-ness,

too impatient or easily irritated to extend out,

either to help or hug.

I corner my soul like a trapped animal.

*

I don’t know who I could be,

so rather than running towards,

I take a step backwards.

Never throwing caution to the wind,

I am winded by a stagnancy of fearful insecurities,

an anger of ant-sized proportions.

My senseless, defenseless fists,

of my deformed ego, beat against

the beating of my expensive, essence-ed heart.

I sell my soul for the fast-food of believing that I was right.

I hide true treasure where I won’t find it.

*

Not knowing who I was once,

I still sense who I could become.

There is a self a-waiting just ahead,

No not a head, — a heart and will and

sensuality of Spirit-world.

The senses know

what the soul can only dream of.

*

My soul whispers,

soft as an Infant’s caressing forefinger,

strong as a memory of another World:

You can become. You are becoming.

Let yourself meet yourself,

and be Created.

Come.”

Listen With Your Heart — a poem

by Jane Tawel

https://unsplash.com/photos/7LsuYqkvIUM

Listen With Your Heart — a poem

By Jane Tawel

April 12, 2021

*

I don’t know why the birds keep singing, but they do.

When every thing is horrible. It’s true.

My mind is on the negative, transfixed.

The world is broken and our minds up-mixed.

*

I wake up every day and burn the wick down,

Before my feet have even touched the hard ground.

But little bird is on a branch a-sway,

With ne’er a worry of the coming day.

*

If God is in the Heavens, He’s in birds, too.

And that would mean, that God’s in me and you.

*

Oh, listen to what can be heard, unseen.

And lessons from the birds and creatures, glean.

There is a cosmic beauty, love, and grace,

In every feather, furry paw, and face.

*

We soldier on, when we should really dance.

And let the glory of the world entrance.

Today I will from mindful prison part,

And listen to the whole world, with my heart.

©Jane Tawel 2021

To My Friends Reading Here, Feast on This

by Jane Tawel

assorted title book lot
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A friend posted an article today entitled, “The Case Against Shakespeare” and the article, (not my friend) both angered and saddened me. The bottom line of this article was that we shouldn’t “force” any one to read the classics like Shakespeare because this keeps someone from learning to love to read. Now if I only take that one argument, all I need is a subscription to Netflix and a video game to prove the author wrong on why people don’t read anymore. However, one thing made my head want to explode, and of course I had to write about it. Of course I wanted to share my meager but impassioned thoughts with my trusted WordPress friends, my community of writers who keep the love of art and life alive in the little corner of the world in which I choose to dialogue with others and the platform upon which I have the occasional soliloquy published on.

I am grateful for the community of like and sometimes unlike souls that I have found amongst you. Keep writing, keep teaching, keep yelling into the howl, or lighting candles on the dark way, or dancing in the rain, or just sharing where you are at and who you are today. And I am grateful to each of you for including me in the “company of fools and players” that we create together here and sincerely and humbly thankful for you, whether you like Shakespeare or not.

Cheers — Jane

My Convoluted Case FOR Shakespeare

The author of this article, “The Case Against Shakespeare”, may have a point about Shakespeare but his analysis of literature and what it’s purpose is and why it should be read and how it should be taught breaks my heart and makes my poor Literature / Writing teacher’s mind go ballistic. I have spent a life time trying to help students and sundry others try to overcome this philosophy. So, as I teach my students to write boldly, I shall simply say, the author could not be more wrong.  I hope to encourage him and others to rethink the purpose of reading, much in the way we should all constantly rethink the purpose of our lives.

One point of his only I will take up, and that is the author’s comment that “literature doesn’t exist for its symbols and imagery, nor are they the reason authors write”(Stratton). Woe! (Sound of hair being torn out!) The person who is not taught the importance of symbol and metaphor, imagery and the allusive allure of alliteration is not being fed by the best in our literary history; but instead, in the cause of “getting ahead”. That deprived person is being starved by an education focused on a future practical use of that person’s brain or brawn, not focused on their well-being, their being well, and the fact that every human being has always wanted to be much more than a cog in a well-oiled machine or a pamphlet that is glanced at then tossed in the trash. We long to be poetry, to have poetic justice, to be understood in all of our mystery and meaningfulness, and to think that we can be taught to read without being taught how to learn any of that about the human condition or the world or the universe or the mysteries beyond is a tragedy long in the making.

To be taught and coaxed, goaded and coddled in not books, but literature, not reading, but exploring and expanding the mind, heart, and soul — this is the charge of those of us in the past and present to pass on to our future and our children and our children’s children. We all must keep desiring the wherewithal of how to spend a lifetime in the exploration of the changes in the meaning behind the meaning, the sublimity of poetry, the divine essence beyond mere rational debate of the written word, comparable to that of the played symphony or the painted masterpiece. The person who is not taught and encouraged in this philosophy, is not merely uneducated in the type of classical, heady stuff that endures the passage of time, but unschooled in what it means to be the best human being a person can be. That is what Shakespeare can teach us today, yes, after all these years.

And of course, this poor human who is taught merely to read, and not to delve into the unfathomable treasures hidden in the deeps of the written word, that one will never have those moments of divine revelation, the sublimity of being awed by the essence of “The Why”, nor the hope that we really are more than black and white words on a page; much more than simplistic, useful, practical, or merely entertaining and entertained commodities.

Why one can not even understand what it means to be nothing more than “dust in the wind” or to have “everything to a season”, or to, as the poet read at the recent inauguration of a U.S. President, what it means to “brave the belly of the beast” and be as brave as we must be on ‘The Hill We Climb”(Gorman). No, one can not simply be taught to read, but must be taught how to read and above all Why to read. One can not be left to wade in the shallow end forever, to never know what it is to dive and swim. We must not be afraid of not knowing and not understanding, but we should be terrified of never immersing ourselves in the deep waters of great literature and poetry, never climbing to the apex of the mountain ranges of great artists, past and present, and still always to aim to climb higher and higher, and always finding more mystery there, even on the pinnacles of greatness.

The person who is not stretched early to expand the mind through literature and plays, poetry and Psalms, has a bleak, spirit-less life ahead of him or her. How to read Holy Scripture without being taught how to read poetry? How to listen to Amanda Gorman without first trying to stretch the brain on the poetry of Shakespeare or Frost, Whitman or Hughes or Angelou or the Psalms of David or prophetic metaphors of Isaiah? How to hope and dream for a better world without understanding the complicated but profound works of Dickens or Gabriel Marquez, Dumas, or Dostoevsky? How to understand America without being taught how to read Twain, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck? How to understand China without attempting to understand Wang Wei or Cao Xueqin? How to understand Latin or South America if one hasn’t been taught the poem “They Have Threatened Us with Resurrection”, by Julia Esquivel? How to march for Black Lives Matter without reading the essays of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or the poetry of Langston Hughes? How to know what it is to be from somewhere that you aren’t, to be someone you aren’t, and then how to realize that once you walk in someone else’s moccasins in the poetry of Native American poet Laureate, Jo Harjo or immerse yourself in some other place or time’s literature, and to find that one can turn a corner or turn a page and be stunned by the realization that we are all so much more alike than we could have ever guessed, and we are all much more unique and special than we could ever hope for! 

Spending a lifetime trying to read anything without a basic understanding and at least grudging admiration of symbol and metaphor and imagery, is like spending a lifetime trying to dine on steak and potatoes or baguettes and cheese or sushi and cupcakes by trying to suck on them out of a baby bottle. Not being taught the joys of chewing on poetry and imbibing great literature is like having your teeth ripped out and not being allowed to taste when you masticate.

Let alone personal enjoyment, we haven’t even begun to wonder how one would find expression of one’s own deepest emotions and thoughts, in any relationship of love, whether of a God or of a mate or of a friend or of a tree or of cat or dog or garden or sunset — of anything or anyone that awes us. How would we enthuse over all of that which exists beyond the mundane, that which surpasses and endures the test of time?

And why can’t one be entertained by C.S. Lewis, or Lewis Carroll, or Stevenson, or Barrie, or Nikki Grimes or Rowling and still learn about symbolism, metaphor, allusion, and irony (God knows, we need to learn something about irony in America!)

By all means if someone can find writers today who do poetry as well as Shakespeare or Dickinson or Frost or Neruda or the Psalms or even Silverstein, by all means, teach it and read it. Feel free to add to Dostoevsky and Steinbeck and Dickens and Forster and Angelou, some novels by Atwood or Ishiguro for deep thinking. Include with the reading of Wordsworth and Cummings, modern poets like Claudia Rankine or Amanda Gorman, and with Shakespeare and Chekhov, plays by Miller or Shephard, along with the Shakespearean-worthy plays by Tony Kushner or Lin-Manuel Miranda (although on my salary I doubt I will ever actually see “Hamilton”). Teach everything but Shakespeare if you don’t have the heart for it, but for pity’s sake, don’t throw the baby out with the bath-water, nor the metaphors out with the dated conversations or jokes.

If it is tough to read or hard to understand, remind yourself there is nothing harder to understand than the human being; and nothing tougher than going through life without beauty and mystery, or empathy and wonder. Poetry and great literature will help you with all the tough parts, and if it doesn’t always exactly make life easier, it certainly will make it more worthwhile.

The dearth of education today lies in our thinking that all we have to do is teach reading and practical skills, not how to think, or how to feel and express those thoughts and feelings to others. The lack is not in not learning to love reading, but in not learning that by reading great literature, or by attempting to write down ourselves on page or screen, those ideas and ideals that require poetry and metaphor and imagery — in this lies something worth working at, something worth learning, yay, even something to be challenged by, to love and at times even to cherish. We must attempt, first the taking in, and then the expression of those human creative endeavors that try to narrate something more lasting and meaningful than an entertainment interrupted by yet another car insurance commercial. By those excellent and artistic forms of muse-inspired communications, we are enlarged, we are made to be “more”.

We have to learn, or relearn, be inspired by or remember how to find those things worth reading that teach and inspire us to live with meaning into a life that is richer, fuller, and paradoxically, metaphorically more human and more divine.

The world is full of that which we can not understand with a mere glance, nor a nod to being simply knowledgeable. We must teach and inspire within ourselves and others the hope and faith that there is more to living life than acquiring a desire to use and gain more “stuff” by our knowledge.

We will only truly gain the fullness of a life well-lived when we learn to desire to be awed. As the Bard himself says in one of the plays people don’t think we should read, “the time of life is short; to spend that shortness basely, were too long”. 

The mystery of that which defies all comprehension but that which is expressed by our artists, by the shared hopes, dreams and experiences of humankind, and by the ineffable faith and progress of our greatest ideas and ideals, the stuff of our lives set to poetry awaits our engagement to be One with the Sublime. Reading the “good stuff” can even just be a rollicking good time, and vastly more fun than the literary junk food we are led to believe we can get by on. Let’s stop teaching others to spit out the good food of great art before they even try it. We all need to know how to look for the tastiest morsels, how to “taste and see that it is good”*.

As for me, to riff on the Bard once more, “if poetry and literature be the food of love, give me excess of it; that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and so die”.

Here’s to the banquet feast of the written word. Feast on!

(c) Jane Tawel 2021

https://thehill.com/homenews/news/535052-read-transcript-of-amanda-gormans-inaugural-poem

Quotes from “Henry IV” and “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare

“The Case Against Shakespeare”. Stratton, Allan. The Walrus. March 31, 2021

*Psalm 34:8