Thursday, January 7, 2021

Come to the Edge


As I’ve mentioned before I love listening to NPR radio because I learn so much. And not just about politics and pandemics.

Earlier this week I listened to a story about the Seine River in Paris. When I visited Paris (Psychobabblings of a Middle Child : Au Revoir #Paris! (tonimccloe.com) I didn’t expect to fall in love with that city, but I did.

The report on NPR was about a woman who often escapes her apartment during the pandemic to walk along the Seine. In one such excursion, she came across a miniature copy of the Statue of Liberty. After the original statue was created, she said, it sailed down the Seine on its way to the Atlantic Ocean and America. And that a fire barge,  sailed up that river to help put out the fire when Notre Dame was burning. Listening to that report made me think about how connected we all are and how, spiritually, we are all one.

Earlier that day I listened as Dr. Dan Gottlieb, a psychologist, talked about how difficult 2020 was. To remind himself of how resilient we humans are, he said he keeps a copy of a poem in his office, a poem by Christopher Logue called “Come to the Edge.”

Come to the edge, He said. 

No, we said.

We might fall.                                   

Come to the edge, He said.

No, we said.  

It’s too high.

Come to the edge, He said.

And we did,

And He pushed

And we flew.

 

Happy New Year, Everyone. This year we will fly.

 

I wrote the above post before the events that occurred in Washington, D. C. on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, a day when many working in our nation's Capitol experienced an epiphany of their own. Despite those events, I stand by my last line.

 

 



Wednesday, December 30, 2020

"Hello"

 

I was listening to one of my favorite television shows, "CBS Sunday Morning,"  – listening because I was sorting laundry, getting ready for the workweek ahead – when I heard an interviewer talking to author Charlie Mackesy, about his book, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse.

I smiled as I listened to the interviewer reading from the book, like when the mole asked the boy what he wanted to be when he grew up, and the boy answered, “Kind.”  And when the boy asked the horse, “What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” and the horse answered, “Help,” which really got my attention because I’ve had to ask for help myself from time to time - even when there wasn’t much time between the askings.

 I decided right then and there I would give copies of this book to my children, my grandchildren, and great-grandchildren because I want them to know that asking for help isn't giving up. It's the opposite of giving up, and because as Mackesy wrote, "This book is for everyone, whether you are eighty or eight. I feel like both sometimes.” So do I! And I’m willing to bet that you do too. That is, if you are eighty, you sometimes feel like eight. And if you are eight, you sometimes feel like – well, maybe not.

 Anyway, I love this book. I love that it begins with the word “Hello," and ends with “Thank you.” I love that the book is about friendship, that the illustrations are simple but effective, that the pages aren’t numbered so you can start reading at the end and go backward or in the middle and go in whichever direction you choose, and because it reminded me of something a friend said once when I was complaining about something I'd lost, telling me that I, (and you, and probably all of us) "can live without everything  - except a friend."    

 

 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Nickel Boys

 

I can’t do this, I thought as I closed the book I was reading and pushed it away. I can’t read this book. What do I know about being Black? The book, Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, is a novel about a studious young man who is accused of a crime he did not commit. By the end of the third chapter, he’d been arrested, sentenced, and headed for a reform school where unimaginable things were about to happen to him. Except, I could imagine them only too well and was afraid to go on reading.

But then, haven’t I ever been accused and punished for something for which I was innocent. Of course, I have. Hasn’t everyone? If this is true, reading this book shouldn’t upset me. It should make me angry and want to right a wrong, I thought as I slowly picked up the book, opened it, and continued reading it. 


This time I was able to get through to the middle of the book because of the way Whitehead wrote, because of the promise of a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow - or of a rainbow at the end of a storm.


Whitehead calls the reform school in this book, The Nickel Academy, named for a former director, although the students believe that it is so named because “their lives weren’t worth five cents.” The Nickel Academy is a fictionalized version of the very real Dozier School which operated in Florida for more than 100 years until an investigation exposed the horrors -  rape, beatings, and a secret graveyard with the unidentified remains of more than 50 students - that were perpetrated inside its walls by those who were supposed to be teaching reform.

By now I have gotten almost to the middle of this story. But to tell you the truth, I don’t know if I can finish it. There is something physical I feel while reading about man’s inhumanity to man, something that rises up from the earth, into my feet, and up through my body until I am doubled over with pain.

Stop! I tell myself. Finish it. 

I procrastinate. I whine until, crying, I pick up the book and continue reading. Outside, it is a wintery night. I can hear the wind rattling a windowpane as I read deep into the middle of the night until I come, finally, to the end of both the book and the storm. I couldn't sleep after that. I had to shake it off  - or let it sink in. I'm not sure which.

In the morning I rise up and walk to a window. Outside, the earth is blanketed with snow, a symbol of stillness and hope and peace.


    

 

 

 


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Soothing Thoughts, Soothing Sounds

The last time I wrote, it was to tell you about a radio program I was listening to. So enthralled was I, I want to tell you more, like when Marin Alsop, the conductor of the Baltimore Symphony, was asked to select four pieces of music that would soothe and uplift us during this holiday season, she said, that even without realizing it, she gravitated toward the human voice. “Like the voices we miss and are longing to hear.” 

The first music I heard was the voice of Katrina Gauvin, a Canadian soprano, singing Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville The Summer of 1915,” the lyrics to which describes people sitting on their porches rocking gently and talking gently. She said she chose it because “it’s like sharing a summer evening, the memory of a summer evening…And I think that what we’re all feeling now is this extraordinary desire to be together, to hug one another.”   

Her second selection was "The German Requiem" by Brahms, which "he originally wanted to call The Human Requiem. And it's interesting because it's not predicting hell and damnation. It's really a celebration of life."   


After the brief silence that followed, I heard the sound of a single cello, part of a movement by Osvaldo Golijav, who Alsop said “is a wonderful human being who’s interested in inclusion. It’s called ‘Azul.’ And it brings together influences from across the globe.” I may not know much about music, but I found that piece to be healing.

And, finally, the piece she chose because she was wondering what she would recommend for that moment when “we can all run out of our houses and be together again” was something she said  “we call too hot to Handel - a gospel version of “Hallelujah” from Handel’s Messiah.  "It’s so much fun. And I thought, you know, with the holidays here, let's just hope for a hallelujah soon – very, very soon.” I smiled as I listened to this piece knowing that the music may be too hot to Handel, but the sentiment was exactly right.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Serendipity

It’s amazing, I think, how adding the smallest of details to a story can put so much pleasure into the reading of it. Like in the book I’m reading now -  the way it details, not just what thoughts a character is thinking, but what he’s doing while thinking of them. Like the order in which he puts on his clothes early in the morning - or rather in the middle of the night after receiving an emergency phone call - reaching first for his socks, his “drawers,” his undershirt, and his trousers.


Then, after pulling up his suspenders, he decides he wants to add a clean shirt - that he likes the way he settles the deep tails of his shirt into his trousers and, how for some reason doing this makes him feel particularly masculine. And how, after deciding to shave, he thought about shaving as something that took a good deal of time, “not because he enjoyed it (he loathed it),” which is something I've always suspected men dislike doing.

The book I’ve just started reading is James Agee’s A Death in the Family. It’s a book I had heard of before but never read, and only picked up after hearing the Baltimore Symphony conductor, Marin Alsop, telling Scott Simon on NPR’s Weekend Edition about a piece of music called "Knoxville, The Summer of 1915," the lyrics to which are taken from the beginning of Agee’s book.

And it’s funny that I was listening to that show early on a Saturday morning only because I was driving to a body shop for an estimate which I needed only because I was rear-ended, the day before, which 



happened only because I was driving somewhere I did not belong. 

But it was a lesson, I think, about the way serendipity works - how, but for an unfortunate accident, I would never have been introduced to a book that is giving me hours of pleasure (exactly 8 hours and 4 minutes according to my Kindle), and insight into what makes a story work.

 


Thursday, December 3, 2020

Keeping the Faith

 

Toni?

No!

No?

I’m tired, God. I’m tired and I’m scared.

You’re not alone, you know.

Then why do I feel alone?

You’re not. The whole world is feeling what you’re feeling.

But why, God? Why is it happening?

You know why.

No! I don’t!

You do. You know about opposites. You know there is no “up” without a “down.” No “in” without an ‘out.”

But why, God? What does it mean?

Mean? Maybe there is no meaning.  Remember what the poet said: What does a flower mean? Maybe the only meaning is in the experience. Experience it. All of it. The good and the bad. The love and the fear. Besides, it’s almost over. Hang on! Keep the faith! Can you do that?

I'll try. 

Will you do that?

Yes.

 

 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Red at the Bone

 

Of the books chosen for my Literature/Discussion class this semester, which included, Normal People by Sally Rooney, Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, Lily King’s Writers and Lovers and Parakeet by Marie-Helene Bertino, our instructor saved the best for last, the best being Jacqueline Woodson’s Red at the Bone.


In this class, I learned that there are two ways to tell a story: from the head or from the heart. Woodson’s story is about a fifteen-year-old girl who gives birth to a child she loves but cannot mother. It’s a story about a young woman who burns (and burning is a theme in this book) with a hunger for learning. It’s a story about a family of five, each giving their own point of view. From the Tulsa Oklahoma massacre to a death at the world trade center,  Red at the Bone is a story told with compassion and love. 

After I read this story, I listened to it on audible. Twice! I suggest that you listen to it too and that when you do, you will find it’s a story that will reach into your soul and stay there because after all, when it comes to love and loving, we are all just a little bit undone, a little bit raw, and a little bit red at the bone.