December 2, 2014
— Calvin Luther Martin, PhD
I was 17 at the time. In Southern California. A college friend, Mike Madden, had invited me to spend Thanksgiving with him and his family, since I couldn’t go home for the holiday.
Mike and his mom lived with his mom’s dad, a retired medical doctor. I remember sitting in the living room with the old doc. Just the two of us. Around 6 pm, Mike’s mom brought his dinner on a tray, turned on the evening news and left the room. I stayed with him, the two of us reviewing the events of the day around the world.
At one point I happened to glance at the old man. He was quietly weeping. Tears streaming down his face. He said not a word, just tears — which said everything.
“He does it every night,” Mike later explained, obviously embarrassed. “He insists on watching the news, alone, and without fail he weeps. He’s getting senile,” he added with lowered voice.
No. This wasn’t senility, I decided. The old black-bag healer who had brought children into the world and watched over the feverish and dying — had the courage and wisdom to weep at the horrible spectacle we casually refer to as The News.
Daily, I read the NY Times. (I don’t own a television.) The stories appall me. I am grief-stricken as I read. Even so, something compels me to read on, day after day.
I read on, even as I am wounded. And feel helpless. That is, I felt helpless till I discovered this poem. Its message whispers to me. I have fallen in love with it. It tells me I need not be the hapless victim of human folly and tragedy.
It tells me to wage peace and goodness.
Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings
and flocks of redwing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children
and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen
and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
Wage peace with your listening:
hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools:
flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.
Play music, learn the word for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious.
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Don’t wait another minute.
— Mary Oliver (I believe)