Every so often, a poem makes such an impression on me that I find it attaching itself to my inner template of ‘What’s Right, and What’s Wrong.” I doubt I’m alone in this, because poetry is the language of the Soul, going very deep.
Rumi, although he wrote in the 13th century, speaks to the 21st on something that has been grit to just about every philosopher, before and since:
“Out, beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the Soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.”
Recently I bought myself a new notebook (to begin my 2018 collection) in which to write quotations that have impressed me but, in looking back I found another.
“My Soul is from Elsewhere. I’m sure of that. And I intend to end up there.”
But this isn’t the one I’m thinking about, right now. It’s was composed by Dan Pagis, and entitled “Written in Pencil, in the Sealed Railway Car.” And, it’s, heartbreakingly, brief.
“Here, in this carload, I, Eve, with my son Abel. If you see my older boy, Cain, son of Man, tell him that I……..”
For me, these words bring together just about everything that has had me pondering since I was a very young child. And I’m not claiming to all that different from those born into my generation because, in being faced with a Second World War in just one century (with a mere twenty years from the First) most of us were bound to ask questions of the adults who would have lived through those years.
My father was an elderly parent, with a history I never fully comprehended; all down to the calls from my overly emotional mother (with her own demons) and only rare contacts with my grandparents. He had fought (along with two brothers) in a hastily gathered regiment-The York and Lancs- made up of young men, taken from close communities; and decimated in ghastly battles. I had asked him what it was, as we listened to Neville Chamberlain’s Declaration that “We were now at War. He had taken his time in answering, because he was weeping. “War is Hell,” he said.
Did any of those politicians and so-called ‘leaders of men’ who had been incapable of sitting around a table, and settling things, by an intelligent discussion, ever have the imagination to contemplate the mass of Grief that would become an all-encompassing Pall? And how is it that they were ever considered to be ‘leaders,’ when my understanding of the word (taken from a diligent study of dictionaries) had elements of ‘integrity,’ ‘uprightness,’ ‘honesty’ and an’unimpaired state of anything?’
“Hah!” says the Grown Woman that I am, to the Child that I was: “Ho we kid our selves, when we allow others to speak for us.” And, where does Soul come into things?
I guess that was the beginning of my philosophical musings.Right now, I’m thinking about Moses, and the Ten Commandments; and their relevance to the 21st Century. Should not the League of Nations be contemplating a revised version, in this time of relentless killing for ancient belief systems, and the relentlessly corrupt machinations of other politicians? Ah! That word “should;” and its innate connection with “right, sensible, and correct.” And isn’t it about time to put right words, into action?
Hillel was a good man, living in the 10th century (whose father was of the tribe of Benjamin, and his mother from the family of David) who set up his own school. As one of the sages of Mishnah, he posed the question: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And, in being for my own Self, who am I?”
In considering that every one of us is a member of the family of Man (with the so many diverse opinions’ and ‘perceptions, interpreted by so many religious ‘leaders,’) something else he said, is of equal importance: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole of the Torah. The rest is conjecture. Go, and study.”
So, how do we learn? Do we “read, learn, and inwardly digest” what comes our way, observing our ‘elders,’ as I certainly did; by studying the lives of those who led us into ‘Things,’ or , simply, not doing to others what we would not like to be done to us? When I was five years old, I demanded my own copy of the Bible, rapidly getting very bored by all the slaying; and only impressed by how the World was made. I took note of the book I found at the back of a wardrobe: “How to be Happy, though Human;” marvelled at the beauty of landscape that men were bent on destroying; and the magic of seasonal changes. I listened to the words of the Mediums my sad mother consulted, wondering if, one day, I might get involved in that line of work: and did. All grist to the mill and, still, so much to learn.
Dan Pagis and his poem, which is where I began, was imprisoned as a child, in a Concentration Camp. As a survivor of the Holocaust, in 1946, he found his way to Israel, and became a teacher. That was his Learning Zone in how not to be a human being. It was, of Primo Levi, in Auschwitz, before he wrote: “If This is a Man.” Except, for him, after all the ghastly things that were done, there, he shared a terrible dream (when he was back home) in telling people of his experiences that they were were “completely indifferent..speaking confusedly of other things, among themselves.” The writer, Harold Jacobson empathised, when he wrote of the ” dread to end all dreads-the ever repeated scene of the un-listened to Story.’
How many times does it take, until all of Us listen, and say “Enough is Enough?”