Going to photograph this bed of tulips I had seen earlier in the day, I noticed that many of the delicate tulip blossoms had been battered by the rain — some were broken, others laid down, still others were cradled against one another. I could not help but draw an emotional correlation with some scenes from the tragic bombings in Boston just a day earlier. And yet the flowers, broken and beaten down though they were, were still imbued with beauty and dignity–infinitely more so the wounded and mourning in Boston. May God bless and keep you and all who mourn throughout the world.
Last night at tutoring I saw the teen son of man who was killed in a car accident last week. As he was busy with his tutor, it was not the place to go over and offer a word or a hug, but when back at home I wondered what I would say to him. Upon reflection, here is some poetry from Das, Housman, and the Sons of Korah, respectively. The image of a continent sinking is from C.S. Lewis’s account of his feelings when his mother died.
what could i who’d known
such loss tell him; knowing is
none of the battle
what is there to say
of continents sunk, mountains
cast into the sea
walking new landscapes
joys tucked behind shadows in
the contours of grief
Twice a week the winter thorough
Here stood I to keep the goal:
Football then was fighting sorrow
For the young man’s soul.
Now in Maytime to the wicket
Out I march with bat and pad:
See the son of grief at cricket
Trying to be glad.
Try I will; no harm in trying:
Wonder ’tis how little mirth
Keeps the bones of man from lying
On the bed of earth.
-A.E. Housman from A Shropshire Lad
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
The last is comfort, indeed…but comfort which I confess even after all these years I am still learning to believe in.
Bending down to my task, I see him. The legs bent and wide apart. The left elbow braced against the knee. The belly, covered by the grooved fabric of an a-shirt, centering the gravity of it all. And the right hand gathers, grasps, and pulls-gathers, grasp, and pulls. Bending down to work, I see as him.
I thought of my father immediately as I put on the a-shirt this morning and went out to do a task he both loathed and loved, which he would finish with his shorts grubby, the thin fabric of his shirt soaked with sweat, and the beads rolling down and dripping, dripping off his nose. It is an image which even now I am somewhat hard pressed to reconcile with remembering him as a college president in Pakistan–with suits and ties, salaams and saluting, a company of gardeners at his disposal–when he was never so little clad except in the tall, cool recesses of the president’s house, stretching out on his bed for an afternoon nap, an arm behind his head against the pillow, his toes fidgeting till he fell asleep.
It was not like it was with Willy Loman, that my father was born to be most fulfilled with labor, with whistling while he worked, with getting his hands dirty with building a stoop. Dad was born to lead and learned to lead. In his career at least he did not, like Willy Loman, have “all the wrong dreams.” Before he met and married my mother, he walked away from what would have been an easy life in the Pakistan Air Force to teach at half the pay as a professor at a mission college. Later he would lead that college even though it had been nationalized and also the entire Church of Pakistan for a time as moderator. And yet, still, I have seen him after weeding happy and sweaty as a masdoor,* as he would call it, marveling at the wonder of work. I have also seen him bedraggled, dirty, and dragging home discouraged. I cannot pretend that the difference between these two states of his was not often simply the result of the proximity or lack thereof of me to him, of me being with him in the work or not. And yet in work, perhaps especially in labor with ones hands, it is the long drudgery of the weary days that makes the epiphanies epiphanies, the feasts feasts.
The weeds have taken over the entire garden, and I imagine Dad grasping my arm and looking in my face and saying in the hushed, excited voice he used to tell a truth, often again and again, “You know the Bible is so true. Look at how quickly the weeds take over.”
Thankfully, the ground is yielding and I am able to grasp out the runners and bunch up the crab grass and pull out its roots. Some of the thick pithy plants break off, leaving the roots in the ground, but I am lucky with most. The morning wears on and I divide the garden in two and try to decide whether I will finish the task of completing half of the garden or finish at a specific time, no matter what my progress. I choose the time–making a choice that I wish my father would have made more often. And, yet, as the finish line nears it becomes evident that I will not be done just on time. I press on and finish just twenty minutes past my target. A manageable task…a time to be done…with only a little extra wiggle room, seldom used, for finishing off some thing close to being done–I will have to remember that combination.
And while I weed, I think of the parables and of Genesis, of satisfaction and futility, of the weedy life I so often seem to inhabit, of the put-off efforts to weed it and the futility so often attendant when I do. And as the sun climbs higher and I weary of my labor under it–gathering, grasping, pulling–I pull out a big plug of grass with a large amount of soil. And even though it has been a very dry summer, from the soil the brown and earthy smell of loam fills my nostrils, and something changes. For a moment I feel the kinship of soil, echoing to our making, to its easy tilling, to feeling its life and substance as part of my own substance–me a cube of soil, with earthworms like mitochondria, shaped and breathed into–me a gardener working without toil.
I stop and think…I hope…that Dad, too, knew the smell of loam.
oh, come the day that
backward cheers all our weathers;
now the sod is like
patchwork from grandma’s quilts; you
sleeping till the day
oats and cinnamon
apples and nutmeg; rich words
seasoned with beauty
pandora gives gifts
of longing, ache; an aching
for a truer world
If it weren’t for photography, I wouldn’t be a flimmaker. Every film I make is fueled by photographs. Sometimes it is a particular image of a photographer, sometimes it is what I have learned by seeing the world through his or her eyes. Either way, photographs have always helped me crystallize the visual style of the film I’m about to make. -Mira Nair
I have just finished watching the film The Namesake which always fills me with a complicated set of emotions and leaves me with a sadness and an ache, I am not entirely sure for what. And on another day watching Hoosiers will produce exactly the same combination of feelings, though with a completely different tenor. One day, I will write about all that in more depth, but not today, not aside from reprinting two poems below, which will have to suffice for now.
The quote at the top of this post, though is from a featurette which appears on The Namesake DVD which shows some photographs which supplied inspiration for some scenes in the movie. Though, in truth, I did not need a featurette to tell me of the value Ms. Nair places on visual images and her immense skill in creating them herself. It is as if scene after scene of the movie, both in India and America, snap into stills in my mind and catch my breath. As a photographer, this kissing of the moving image and the still photograph which informs Ms. Nair’s process makes me very happy.
In my opinion such virtuosity would all be of little account if it did not service a great story, with deep themes and symbols. And the movie does not disappoint, though not having read Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel I cannot comment on its effectiveness as an adaptation. With Ashima’s goodbye speech and peaceful final smile at the end of the movie, we understand that home truly can be a many splendored thing.
Watching Hoosiers in the Himalayas
I never thought I would ache for Illinois.
Especially here in this cherished place,
Amidst these swaying pines that whisper joy,
Of windswept hills and cold alpine spaces,
Amidst these pines that wreathed in monsoon mists
Transform the world medieval once again,
That silent stand like monks in sacred trysts.
Yet in this cherished place there comes this pain
For rich, dark, furrowed fields a world away
For harvest leaves that dying golden fall
On silent walks of silent towns that stay
More silent still when winter carpets all
And winter snowdrifts sweep, and families keep
To glowing houses. I watch this screen and weep.
i stand and breathe
my last few gulps of air duty-free
shuffling up the aisle
of this airlock between atmospheres
soon i will be complete
torn into a duality
that appears unseamed in separate hemispheres
that tears each time they meet
at the touching of my sleeping eastern flesh with east
i walk through door
and I am me
in ways that i have not been for years
as thick warm eastern air enfolds me
and fills my lungs
displacing stale indifference
and leaves me coughing sputtering
amidst these warm embraces
invading my protesting western space
amidst these cluttered streets
breaking life into me
more honest and complete
it may take some time to breathe
A friend of mine passed along this article to me as my local church community recently experienced the death of a friend and some of our grieving was expressed via Facebook. Our friend did not have a Facebook profile himself, as the very popular girl in the article did, so we did not have that dynamic with which to interact. Also, even though I waited for a good while before breaking the news on Facebook, there were some people who did hear the news via Facebook or email. I am afraid that though that is unfortunate, as the medium does not feel weighty enough to bear or perhaps even deserve the carrying of such news, this is likely an unavoidable reality of our times, just like letters or newspapers or telegraphs or or telephones or radio or television were bearers of such news in other times.
If you notice the progression of media in the last sentence of the previous paragraph (save for newspapers), the technology allows broadcast to more and more people over time. Now the interesting thing with the Internet in general, and social networking media in particular, is that 1) not only the very famous now can have news of their death broadcast to many people (even though newspaper obits did this to some degree), but 2) that many of the people to whom it is broadcast can respond and their responses become part of the broadcast itself. Of course this dynamic is at the center of social media itself and, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. And yet with such personal thoughts broadcast so widely, it should give us such pause with how such communication shapes us and our collective life, yes even our way of being human in some ways.
This line of thinking is similar to an article I just wrote, but is more focused. Now, I am not a Luddite or tremendously old, but still I bring to electronic communication conventions and courtesies learned before its advent. I am very curious to know how new conventions and courtesies are developing amongst those who have always, so to speak, swum in this media. I certainly hope such courtesies do develop, and yet I suspect that any given persons development of these will be, as always, dependent on what they learned in that other little social network, their family, and yet even that network itself cannot help but be influenced by these new media and networks.
At any rate, before I philosophically wandered off, I was commending this article to you. It is a good one.
if tears, i hope he
also keeps these tangled threads;
neurons wiring griefs
My outlook at this very moment is not really as bleak as my last two haiku might suggest. Thank the Lord However, inasmuch as Wordsworth is right about poetry being, “emotion recollected in tranquility,” they do reflect strong emotion, specifically emotion over the complexity of our emotions themselves and the interactions we have with one another, especially in trying to understand one another.
Sometimes the inability to do this is a major point of spiritual doubt for me concerning the goodness of God. Why does it have to be so, so hard? On the other side of that very same coin, though, our intricate emotional and mental capacities are also a deep touchstone of belief. The one who created the complexities of the universe, including the seemingly infinite complexities of the creatures who we are (“What a piece of work is man?”), surely must understand every bit of each of us, at least that is my great hope.
Whatever else the new heavens and the new earth will be like, I am deeply looking forward to the restoration of communication. I do not know if Adam and Eve fully understood one another, perhaps that faculty always was and will be a role for God alone even in an unfallen context, but surely their communication was free of fracture if not misunderstanding.
“You number my wanderings; Put my tears into your bottle; Are they not in your book?
“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.
Alright, thanks for indulging a prose interlude. Now, back to the pictures and poetry