Philosophy on Tap: When Truth Becomes your Happy Hour
In less than two months, I will cross the big 3-5. And while I would like to think I’m fine with this transition, most other sources state it as something worthy of attention.
Apparently, 35 is the age where people start paying attention to you. It’s the age where doctors start wanting to become pals and have tea, during appointments which really aren’t tea at all, but preventative checks for cholesterol screenings and mammograms, if heart and breast cancer runs in the family. In fact, my OB/GYN made a special point to remind me that, at 35, I have won the Baby Mama prize. I get to wear the “high-risk pregnancy” corsage and maybe even win a red balloon, as my cycles will also start getting heavier. Or slowly creep to non-existence.
Not that I am pregnant, nor is there much high-risk about my lifestyle. This is just the prize I win when I put on my birthday hat come March.
Thirty-five is the midway to 40 mark, I have also heard. True, if we are counting. It is the last true year I can comfortably pretend I am still in my “early thirties,” and that is only if I stretch mid to mean 6. Mid always means 6, right? I highly remember that in calculus class.
Is this really all that awaits? No one really mentions these luxuries when they remind you your 30’s are the new 20’s. Isn’t there an owner’s manual for this aging thing?
In fact, there is. CNN, in collaboration with Oprah, posted a survival guide to Life After 35, complete with fashion tips such as “leggings are not pants.” But, dear fashion guru, what if most all of my pants are leggings? The bottoms of which are covered with leg warmers left over from the ‘80s? (The ’80s. A decade that died long ago, children of which are now 35.) For more keen insights on how to cope, read here: http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/19/living/oprah-rules-after-35/
Well, I’m sorry, Oprah. I wish you well, Preventative Medicine Magazine. And thank you kindly, CNN. But really, it is time to take matters into my own hands.
Which means it is time to start amassing giant quantities of poetry.
Pamela Allyn, founder and executive director of LitWorld and LitLife, writes in her Huffington Post article, “Poetry is how we say to the world and each other, ‘I am here’.” She goes on to write of the structural necessity that poems offer to the human experience, blending literary freedom with predictable syntax, allowing for expansion and containment all in a few lines. In a poem, we touch the whole world. In a poem, we are safe in our small corner of it. For more of Pamela’s thoughts, click here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pam-allyn/why-poetry-matters_b_5185399.html
Pamela is right. Many great literary works are epic poems, such as the Odyssey and Dante’s Inferno, two seminal pieces that give us the Hero’s Journey (see Joseph Campbell) and, sadly, the Protestant mis-interpretation of hell (see Rob Bell, Origen, and any first century theologian). Poems teach us about everything, well beyond the mere sappiness of Hallmark cards. All creation stories from across the globe are narrated in poetic structure, giving a feel for the world’s origins as opposed to a scientific retelling. Because in times of birth and chaos, science is not the whole answer. For a great read on this, try chemist Walter Heisenberg, who writes, “The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass, God is waiting for you.”
True, our brains love theories. Our hearts beat to mathematically appropriated timings. Yet, our souls home alive to feelings. There is a reason true comfort comes to us through the gentle hum of a familiar song – a sung poem – rather than a textbook. Go to any wedding, birth, celebration, or funeral and what is read? Scriptures, poems, lyrics, love letters, songs: these are the tools of the angels, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
While our heart is beating rhythmically, it keeps beating for love. It is the very truth we were born into, the honest purpose for our lives, and the very reality to which we will return.
The human heart is built on beauty, timelessness, and metaphor: messages that are too expansive for literal expression alone. The human heart grows strong through pain, sacrifice, and service. Again, hardships that are often beyond our comprehension. Why does a mother give up years of her life for her child? What compels a young man to serve for his country? The answers are not simple; in fact, they are a mystery.
Poems remind us of this Mystery, that we will draw near to and never full grasp. In the words of St. Paul, we are reminded to gently “hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience.” We must be clear and honest about all that we know and may never know. And in that clarity, we open our hands to cup the mystery of things we do not see, yet still trust. Faith is this evidence of things unseen.
So close your eyes. Go on, now. Find your pulse. Take a deep breath and tune into your heartbeat. And ask, what is unseen in your life right now that you are believing for?
What am I believing for? What possesses my mind? I have quite a few answers to that. But since we are on the topic of aging, I’ll stick to something simple, such as this sketchy 35 number. I trust that this life transition will not be ferocious as the critics have warned. And for solace, I look to the thinkers, philosophizers, and poets who have gone before me — men and woman who recognize that the proof is in the mystery pudding.
Over the last few weeks, I have begun collecting poems in preparation for the big 3-5. Some I have heard at a campfire. Some I have been gifted by friends. Some are old goodies that returned to my lap. Some have been sent me out of the blue. Whatever the case, truth has arrived in the package of poetry and is meant to be shared, not hoarded. So, my dear friends, here is my small gift to you.
Let the good medicine cure you.
Welcome to Philosophy on Tap, the truest happy hour of them all.
For help giving thanks, when all seems quite murky, try W.S. Merwin.
For a reminder that you can’t fix anyone but yourself, try good old Mary Oliver.
For the gentle reflection that you are loved beyond words, try Sufi Hadiz.
If you want to know about life-long learning, try Mark Nepo.
For thoughts on faith, try Anne Lammott.
For a reminder that the best is yet to come, try David Whyte.
For all of these and more, read below.
For yourself, just keep dreaming.
Thanks by W.S. Merwin
Listen with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow for the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions.
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead whether or not we knew them we are saying
looking up from tables we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you, thank you,
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes of our lives
we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth we are saying thank you
faster and faster with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is.
The Journey by Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
An Astronomical Question by Hadiz
What would happen if God leaned down and gave you a full wet
Hafiz doesn’t mind answering astronomical questions
You would surely start
reciting all day, inebriated,
Behind the Thunder by Mark Nepo
only to find that fish learn from water
and birds learn from sky.
If you want to learn about the sea,
it helps to be at sea.
If you want to learn about compassion,
it helps to be in love.
If you want to learn about healing,
it helps to know of suffering.
The strong live in the storm
without worshipping the storm.
From Plan B by Anne Lammott
I have a lot of faith.
But I am also afraid a lot,
and have no real certainty about anything.
I remembered something Father Tom had told me –
that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.
Certainty misses the point entirely. Faith includes noticing
the emptiness and discomfort and
letting it be there
Everything is Waiting for You by David Whyte
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
Everything is waiting for you.