LET IT aLL sTART hERE
For Catholics who care...
A poet friend that I respect posted a Charles Bukowski poem, alerting her friends on Facebook to the fact that: "it was her favorite Bukowski poem of all time."
Because its title: No Help For That immediately set the tone of the poem for me, I hesitated to tune into the poem, the way one hesitates before stepping off into oncoming traffic at a busy intersection's crosswalk. I knew where the alcoholic Bukowski was going, because I'm familiar with the vacant heart of an addict. I decided: I wasn't going there, not today; not with the restlessness and dissatisfaction, I myself, was already feeling. I waited till the next day to retrieve the poem and read:
There is a place in the heart that
will never be filled
and even during the
the greatest times
we will know it
we will know it
there is a place in the heart that
will never be filled
we will wait
in that space.
I've known that kind of emptiness, a feeling that has a way of loitering around inside oneself, for so long, it becomes personified, taking on an uncanny resemblance to self, then clinging to one , much the way a shadow does.
My friend's Facebook page blew up with responses! Many liked the poem--giving it a thumbs up, some loved the poem tagging it with the symbol of a heart. ( We live in a sad age where words have lost their power, as modernity prefers to "sign" rather than speak or write.) All were, no doubt, quite familiar with the despair Bukowski wrote of and yet none seemed confident of the means to which they might rid themselves of the inhospitable feeling. It seemed as though they recognized the address of their own untenanted heart, but prefer to keep watch at its threshold rather than do something about it.
I offered the prescription that none-the-less helped that which ailed me and wrote: "I filled that space with God and He changed my life. For much of the time, I feel better now. And I'm a better person, a better writer... a better poet."
I got a variety of responses to my post, none more telling than this:
"Honestly, pressing religion on people is highly unappealing
and does nothing but reinforce the unpleasant feeling that
if I don't accept your opinion you will only persist. Which
is not the point of this conversation at all. You gain nothing
by quoting the bible to atheists other than driving me to not
want to enter conversation with you at all."
Our atheist friend's response was to my offer of: "This will work for anyone who
honestly gives it a try: 'Do not be anxious about anything, but
in every thing, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present
your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all
understanding, will guard you.' (Phillipians4:6)"
Always, I am looking for the meaning behind things. I watch how people behave and ask: Why? I interpret dreams. I record parts of conversations in my mind and then replay the sound bites, looking for clues. I study the words people use... holding them up to the light...turning them over and over.
There weren't many clues offered in that thread about the Bukowski poem, because atheists are locked inside the place in the heart that the pseudo-Beat poet describes; it is a kind of self-imprisonment that they relish. And God help anyone who offers them a key.
When I get to Heaven I'm not going to ask God why bad things happen to good people; I'm not going to ask Him why there exists such a gross imbalance of the distribution of wealth on the planet; I’m not going to ask Him why I never hit on the lottery ticket I bought daily, despite my promise to allocate my winnings to The Catholic Church, The Albany City Mission, and the domestic violence group that assisted me 25 years ago this month.
No. The question I have for God is this: What the heck is wrong with people?
I mean…why do we, as a society, suffer from perennial amnesia? Why have we forgotten how to behave well? Why have we disregarded so much of what our grandparents and parents worked so hard to teach us? Why do so many care so little about honoring and burying the dead these days?
Last week, a good soul left this planet: a man whom everyone liked very much, a man whose vocation was actually that of burying the dead. He spent nearly two decades witnessing and carrying other people's grief in our little town's funeral home. He spent countless days and nights attending to Death and all of its demands. He kept watch far into the night after the deceased's friends and family had returned to their clean, well lit homes, comforted by the knowledge that the person they loved and lost was not going to be alone that night. This man carried bodies out of empty houses, dug graves, placed flowers on altars and in cemeteries, and always did so as if he had had the most important job in world! His life was indeed a daily "corporal work of mercy" and yet I am sad to say, little mercy was returned to him in kind. There was hardly a bouquet of flowers at his coffin.
This gave me pause. It caused me to think about tradition and ritual, and how beauty, even in death, is in the details. We as Catholics are called to bury the dead. We are called to take the time, to stop whatever we are doing for ourselves, and acknowledge a person's passing, honor his memory and make certain that he is not just left alone ... abandoned like an old tire on the side of the road as we speed by on our way to our next appointment, or to the shopping mall.
The wake-up call for me around the passing of this one man, whom I hardly knew, was this: One can’t even rely on who attends your funeral as a measure of the good you did in the world. Well, at least a few recognized the service this man provided to so many ... the mercy he showed so many. And this is just to say: “Danny … you are not forgotten. Thank you, and I hope you liked the flowers.”