Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Found Treasure

When I was an undergraduate, I discovered Gerard Manley Hopkins through poetry.  Oddly, though, not through Hopkins' own poetry, but through that of Ray Bradbury.  A friend had this poem of Bradbury's, a tribute to "that gentle Manley Hopkins."  So many lines here that speak of a sense that God has designed our merest molecule, each drop of blood, has designed a self that we must journey toward, be, and even "do"--these spoke so deeply to my 19-year old self.  So deeply, in fact, that I had to run to the library and figure out who this Gerard Manley Hopkins was.

At some point, I lost the dot-matrix printer printout that my friend had given me of Bradbury's poem.  Though I had treasured it for a while, I came to prefer Hopkins himself.  But several times in the last two decades, I've recalled this poem and tried (not too hard) to find it, but failed.  Yesterday, I found it, and I'm placing it here so that I can find it and share it in the future.

What I Do Is Me—
For That I Came
By Ray Bradbury, for Gerard Manley Hopkins

What I do is me—for that I came.
What I do is me!
For that I came into the world!

So said Gerard:
So said that gentle Manley Hopkins.
In his poetry and prose he saw the Fates that chose
Him in genetics, then set him free to find his way
Among the sly electric printings in his blood.
God thumbprints thee! he said.
Within your hour of birth
He touches hand to brow, He whorls and softly stamps
The ridges and the symbols of His soul above your eyes!
But in that selfsame hour, full born and shouting
Shocked pronouncements of one’s birth,
In mirrored gaze of midwife, mother, doctor
See that Thumbprint fade and fall away in flesh
So, lost, erased, you seek a lifetime’s days for it
And dig deep to find the sweet instructions there
Put by when God first circuited and printed thee to life:
“Go hence! do this! do that! do yet another thing!
This self is yours. Be it!
And what is that?! you cry at hearthing breast,
Is there no rest? No, only journeying to be yourself.
And even as the birthmark vanishes, in seashell ear
Now fading to a sigh, His last words send you into the world:
“Not mother, father, grandfather are you.
Be not another. Be the self I signed you in your blood.
I swarm your flesh with you. Seek that.
And, finding, be what no one else can be.
I leave you gifts of Fate most secret; find no other’s Fate,
For if you do, no grave is deep enough for your despair
No country far enough to hide your loss.
I circumnavigate each cell in you
Your merest molecule is right and true.
Look there for destinies indelible and fine
And rare.
Ten thousand futures share your blood each instant;
Each drop of blood a cloned electric twin of you.
In merest wound on hand read replicas of what I planned and knew
Before your birth, then hid it in your heart.
No part of you that does not snug and hold and hide
The self that you will be if faith abide.
What you do is thee. For that I gave you birth.
Be that. So be the only you that’s truly you on Earth.”

Dear Hopkins. Gentle Manley. Rare Gerard. Fine Name.
What we do is us. Because of you. For that we came.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Time Being

Every year, sometime around this time, I re-read W.H. Auden's "For the Time Being." Written in 1942 with the world at war, this poem captures something incredible and true about the Christmas feast we just celebrated. It is not so hard, surrounded by mangers and Christmas cheer, to believe in the reality of the Incarnation. But somehow, as we pack up the decorations and go on with our lives, it gets a little harder to remember and believe. Here's Auden's poem (actually, it's part of a larger poem, The Christmas Oratorio, but I couldn't find a link to the whole thing, but I own the book):

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week --
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully --
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid's geometry
And Newton's mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
"Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake."
They will come, all right, don't worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God's Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.
These in-between times are strange. Yet whether our audience seems hostile or non-existent, we must pay the bills, keep the machines in repair, learn the irregular verbs. And more important than any of that, we must hope that God (not us!) has already redeemed the time being from its insignificance. We have to hold onto faith that God's Will will in fact be done. Moreover, today at least, I feel bold enough to hope that God might even work in us and through us to redeem the time being from its insignificance. Pass the irregular verbs.

Back in Rome

Well, I'm back. I'm back in Rome, and I'm back on this blog

I just looked at my last post, and I guess that you could say I let the homesickness--and some other negative factors--win a bit last semester. I'm determined not to do that again.

I'm sure I won't post every day, but I'll do a lot better. In fact, check back tomorrow. I promise a good post, especially if you like poetry.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Musical interlude

Sorry that I haven't been blogging much here lately. I'm still having some great adventures in Rome, and I'll try to catch you up with those soon.

But tonight, a confession: I'm a little homesick. And this evening, I decided to either combat or indulge the homesickness by playing some Bruce Springsteen music. There's something about the album Born in the USA. In these days of iTunes and shuffle and what have you, we don't often just start an album at the beginning and listen to it all the way through. But that album goes through all the way from the anthem-like title track, through the strange but captivating "I'm on Fire" to the never-say-die "No Surrender" and the we're-not-that-old "Glory Days," all the way back to the quiet American life of "My Hometown." There's a lot there for someone far from home to connect to.

But then, unable to resist, I took it up a notch. This started with just listening to it (I have his live albums in my iTunes library, too), but then I went and found a video--the better to share it with you. Here is Bruce doing Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," which he says is just about the best song about America ever written. It's hard to disagree with that, especially the way Bruce does it.

I'll add just one more thing. I recently read an article about comedian Jon Stewart, who was asked (among other things) about what Springsteen meant to him. I'm not going to find the exact quote for you, but the gist of it was this: "When I listened to Springsteen growing up, I didn't feel like a loser. I felt like a character in an epic poem about losers. And so somehow there was hope that it would all turn out okay."

Yeah, I needed a little Springsteen today.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Help us help NAMI

MB adding to the PeaceLove at the walk in 2010.
Every year, I do a post on my brother Paul, mental illness, and NAMI, in hopes that I can persuade a few of you either to walk with us or to make a donation to NAMI.  Actually, even more important than that, I want you to know what NAMI is, because someone you know needs to know about NAMI.  I've written before about NAMI's phenomenal Family to Family program, and about the walk itself, so I'm going to tell you another story, one that I haven't blogged about before.  (See similar posts from 2008, 2009, 2010.)

NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  It is an organization that started in the grassroots; family members of people with major mental illnesses banded together to try to demand something a little better for their loved ones.  And now, NAMI is in every state and has parallel organizations in many other countries.  NAMI offers support and education for people with mental illnesses, their family members, and those who provide them with care.  They also do a ton of lobbying and advocacy work.

My parents got involved in NAMI in my hometown in Texas not long after my brother Paul was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1994 (his diagnosis was later changed to schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type).  When my mom died in 1999, and later when my dad died in 2002, NAMI folks showed up in full force at the house with food, at the funerals.  The names and faces hardly registered, but I knew that NAMI people were good people.  In the months that followed, I would occasionally get an email from a NAMI person in Texas who would report to me that they had seen my brother somewhere in town, and he was fine.  It meant a lot.

About 9 months after our dad died (and right after i sold the house), Paul completely disappeared.  I was beside myself.  I was living in North Carolina, and he had last been seen in San Antonio, Texas.  After about 6 weeks, he surfaced in a hospital in San Antonio, Texas.  I learned this when a social worker, who had (miracle #1) managed to track down my phone number, called me.  I spent about 2 weeks on the phone with her trying to figure out what was next for Paul.  It's funny to think that what turned out to be such a defining moment of my life happened on the phone with a person I had never met, and would never meet.  Suddenly, I was agreeing to wire money to San Antonio so that Paul could be put on a bus to me.

I hung up the phone and googled "NAMI Durham NC."  I called another person I had never met before, a volunteer named David.  I explained my brother's illness and that, if all went as planned, Paul would be showing up in Durham in about 48 hours.  How could I get him medical treatment? Housing?  Other social support?  He had a ton of ideas for me--names, numbers, He shared some of his own family story as well.  He assured me that everything would be okay--or at least as okay as these things go when you are dealing with mental illness.  He also encouraged me to call him again if I needed anything else.  (Although I didn't call him again, and never met him, we since become Facebook friends!)

Well, Paul's journey didn't quite go as planned.  The voices and/or the Greyhound personnel kicked him off the bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  (I've never been sure what happened.  I've also realized what an incredible lot it was asking of Paul to get discharged from the hospital and get right on that bus.  It's a miracle (#2) he made it as far as he did!)  Miracle #3 was that I happened to have a friend who was planning to drive from Birmingham, Alabama, to Durham the day before this all happened.  He was delayed by a day, and was happy (he actually insisted!) to swing by Montgomery on his way to Durham (probably 3 hours out of his way).  Miracles #4-6 were that Paul was able to spend the night at a truck stop, he called me with an address, and he was actually still there when my friend showed up the next morning. (Wow, that sounded far too easy: he also called me every 10-15 minutes all night long.  Literally.  But I told him to.  I told him that if the voices told him to leave that spot, he should call me, and I'd tell him not to.  Every few minutes.  All night long.  Worst night of my life.  And miraculous, guaranteed.)  And Paul made it to Durham, a mere 20 hours later than planned.  And, thanks to David and NAMI, he saw a doctor within 48 hours and had housing first thing Monday morning.

Now, having been much more involved in NAMI, I could tell you a ton of stories of the ways NAMI, or one of their support groups or classes or volunteers, has thrown a lifeline to a person or a family struggling with mental illness.  For those of us who have mental illness in our families, it is such an isolating thing.  You want to keep it quiet, for the sake of your loved one.  But it is so healing when you realize that your family is not alone in this struggle.

The statistic is that about 25%, or 1 in 4 adults, has a diagnosed or diagnosable mental illness.  As Jeff Sparr of PeaceLove Studios likes to say, that number is high enough that 100% of us know someone who is struggling with a mental illness, whether we know it or not.

So, what do you say?  Can you walk with our team, Paul's Pals, at Roger Williams Park, at 10am on Saturday, October 1st?  Click here to join our team.  Can you sponsor one of our walkers?  Click here to sponsor my brother Paul.  (If you want to sponsor me, click here, but know that I'll be completing my 5K in Rome this year.)

The most important thing is that you file away that name: NAMI.  When your co-worker tells you her son has been having some issues, when your cousin mentions some trouble her sister is having, when your neighbor is clearly dealing with some depression.  Send them to NAMI.  It can really help.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Il Centro Storico

Here in Rome, I live in the area known as "il centro storico," the historic center of Rome.  With a few exceptions, this includes all the area that is within the ancient city walls.  I live a few blocks from the Piazza di Spagna, the site of the famous Spanish steps that somehow show up in most movies set in Rome.  I'll admit, there is something very nice about being able to walk (not more than 20-25 minutes) or hop on a bus (much quicker if the timing is good) and find myself at the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, or the Roman Forum.  It's hard to complain.

There is, however, a downside to living in such a great location.  Tourists.  The past few days, there have been a couple of times where I was trying to walk quickly from point A to point B, just trying to get through the neighborhood, and I got sort of "locked in" to packs of tourists.

Also, today, I had to go to a certain bookstore to get the books for the Italian class I'm taking.  On the way back, there were a couple of young women passing out balloons and flyers that turned out to be for a Gap store about 2 blocks from my apartment.  Now, within about 3-5 blocks of my apartment, there are stores for not only Gap but also Nike, Adidas, FootLocker, Disney, and Swatch.  I'm sure there are many many more that could be named, but I haven't really been paying that much attention.  I'm just saying, it is a little strange to go halfway around the world and realize that walking through your neighborhood isn't that different from walking through the average mall in the U.S.  Well, not every mall has Swatch or Disney.  But, if my Italian were better, maybe I'd be able to make a joke that implies that "il centro storico" is the "store center" rather than the historic center of Rome.  Except the only word I know for store so far is negozio, and the joke is lost.  Oh, well!

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Maria sopra Minerva

Well, I'm already falling behind on blogging.  A couple of quick reports: I went to Mass last Sunday at St. Peter's, the full-on Latin solemn chant "smells and bells" version.  I was glad I did that ... once.  Today, I decided to go to my favorite church from my first visit to Rome, Santa Maria sopra Minerva.  Now, as if to form the complete contrast, there wasn't a lick of singing there today.  Very simple Mass.  In fact, it felt sort of like daily Mass, even though it was Sunday.  I may have to keep looking.

But I do love the church at Maria sopra Minerva, probably mostly because I love Catherine of Siena, and it seems like a bit of a miracle to be so close to her earthly remains, to light a candle, and to pray in thanksgiving for all of the wise and holy and strong women I know, and to pray that I might be one, too.  I actually knelt before her body for quite a while, entrusting friends with health crises, friends with faith crises, friends with vocation crises, to the intercessions of this powerful spiritual force.

I'll also add that I really feel a dose of "girl power" in this place.  Centuries upon centuries of honoring holy, wise, strong women in this place are palpable.  It was good to be there.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Surviving Italy without Italian

Well, I've survived my first major run-in with Italians where I really wished I knew more Italian.

My intercom buzzed this afternoon (for the first time!), and when I answered the phone, I realized that (1) the volume was incredibly low, (2) someone was talking to me in rapid Italian that I didn't have a chance of hearing, let alone understanding, and (3) I actually have no idea how to "buzz someone in" even if I wanted to. I said "no capisco" several times, but she seemed so insistent that I finally said "I'll come down." I actually heard her say "no capisco" as I hung up, grabbed shoes and keys, and ran down the four flights of stairs.

I found two young Italian women. It was actually a little funny how easy it was for me to understand the basics of what they were saying, and how impossible it was for me to communicate anything to them. They knew I had just moved in and were here to put the gas and light bills in my name. The problem is that I'm not certain those bills are supposed to go in my name. But how does someone like me (with so little Italian) explain that I think someone else is supposed to be handling this stuff with my utilities and I am not going to mess with it without checking in with them. Especially when half of my attempts to speak Italian still come out in Spanish.

I eventually made it clear that I wanted to call my friend. Once they understood that this was someone who could speak both English and Italian, they were all over it. They came upstairs and I called the office and got a quick call back from someone who was able to talk to them, tell them we weren't interested, and tell me that they were sales people and I should get rid of them as soon as possible. Which I did.

I'm glad I trusted my instincts. I was pretty sure that someone would have told me that I needed to sign up for utilities with some women who came knocking on my door if that was in fact the case.