I am, in essence, a be-er. I’ve been around the sun enough times by now that I know this about myself. My initial impulse is always to stay home, to say no, to plant myself on the sidelines, to wait and see how the thing plays out, thank you very much. When I dream of the future, more and more frequently I just think of Yeats’ poem “Isle of Innisfree” where peace comes dropping slow and evening’s full of the linnets’ wings.
I leave the pushing and the challenging and raising of voices loud enough to be heard even by those who don’t want to hear them to the fighters of the world. They can have that, I think. I’m not built for that, and I don’t want it.
But in the last month I had a large and sticky situation rise up. It was clear to anyone with two eyes in their head that without my asking this thing had fallen directly in my lap. And as I sat there for a few weeks with it heaving great shuddery, mucus-y breaths on my knees and occasionally baring its teeth, I understood that I needed to do what I never do—I needed to fight. I needed to take a few good swings and risk missing. I stood up, wiped the slime off my skirt and had a series of hard conversations where I pushed and I pushed. It wore me all out. So when I was certain that what I had to say had been heard, I retreated safely to my Innisfree to sleep and sleep the whole thing off. I went back to being the self I knew.
This is not the first time in my adult life I’ve chosen to get up and walk against the current. I’ve done it here and there before, but I can only exist in resistance for so long. I am not one of the perpetually brave. I soon run back to the hollowed hands which say, “The Lord will fight for you, you must only be still.”
And I don’t think I’m wrong, not really. Jesus didn’t spend most of his earthly life picking fights. In fact, he spent decades of it just making tables and eating with his family and praying and following the seasons round and round in their rotation. But when the fights came, the moments to push landed in his lap, he took them. And he fought in all the ways no one expected him to, all the way up a hill, onto a tree, and back down again.
So I think God’s world has a place, an important place, for both the fighters and the be-ers, the brave and the steadfast. But as I have been thinking about all this in the past few weeks, there are a few things the contemplative watchers–like me and maybe you–must remember.
Peace is not dead space. It requires cultivating, which, in fact, is a fight of its own kind. Even Yeats’ island retreat has nine neat bean rows. In peace, we must teach stubborn soil to grow, both the soil of the earth and the soil of our “great sloth hearts.” While we stay at home, we must paint beautiful colors loud and bake good bread and sing with all our might and dole out glasses of cool water. When I sit on the sidelines avoiding the tumult of grit and sweat and uncertainty, and pull out my journal to write a few disjointed words, I must not leave them there to shrivel on the page. I must take them home and add more to them and more, till at last they join up properly and I have made something I can call good.
If I was formed, as I believe I was, to plant my feet deep but send my words out like lines, to pour my overripe little heart out onto a page from the peanut gallery, if writing is indeed part of my being, then my peace-time, my bee-loud glade, should be full of written words. If I’m not out fighting demons, I should be home with a pen in my hand, teaching castles to rise from stone.
Large and thought-provoking. You might work to shape some of this into a poem (“after Yeats”).
But remember, pursuing peace is like pursuing happiness: it doesn’t work if that’s your chief goal. Rather, each should be a by-product of following your calling(s).
At least, that’s my thought for the day.
Hope Howell Hodgkins firstname.lastname@example.org (336) 404-2571
Lloyd International Honors College Faculty Fellow Department of English The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Style and the Single Girl: How Modern Women Re-Dressed the Novel, 1922-1977