Tag Archives: loneliness

Elizabeth Bishop and a Poet’s Loneliness

I have a close personal friend in Oregon that I’ve known for decades and kept in touch with him as he pursued a career in teaching English literature at a small college on the coast.  He sent me a link to a New Yorker book review of a new biography about poet Elizabeth Bishop which explored her tumultuous family, romantic, and literary life.  This life story might be summed up with a note she sent once to poet and lover, Robert Lowell, “When you write my epitaph, you must say I was the loneliest person who ever lived.”

Bishop’s loneliness was a common theme in her poetry.  My friend, who also writes poetry admits he shares the same label that I do, a “word fetishist,” though both of us at this point in our life very much in recovery.  He shared with me his impression from reading the review, noting his own profound loneliness over the course of his life time even though he is quite gregarious, socially adroit, and well-regarded.

He described his own love of literature, poetry, and writing as, like Bishop’s, some effort to assuage this loneliness which could best be described as existential.  Being familiar with psychological “shop-talk” which is my forte, we recently explored how words are one powerful way of bridging the gap between humans, extending a hand across the abyss which separates us and hoping to find a receiving hand.  He has been fortunate to often finding that receiving hand as his literary skill is of note.

Something was lost in this man’s childhood which the contrivance of culture has helped, but has not sufficed.  Words have helped him address this lack, just as it did apparently with Bishop and I think with many other writers.  I think Tennessee Williams knew about this loss and had reference to it in a closing line, describing Laura’s brother Tom, who was leaving the dysfunctional-family black-hole and setting out on the life of a vagabond, just as his father had done decades earlier. The narrator in the movie, as we watched Tom exit the drab flat and descend the stairwell, he intoned, “Trying to find in motion what has been lost in space.”  “Space” in this context refers to a spiritual space which most people cover adequately with the aforementioned cultural contrivances.  Tom could only seek this in the frenetic motion of a vagabond life while my friend, and Tennessee Williams, found it with words.

(You might enjoy reading this very interesting, well-written, and insightful book review:  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/03/06/elizabeth-bishops-art-of-losing)

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ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are: 

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/literarylew.wordpress.com

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Human Belonging and Connection: Addendum

One of my readers sent me two responses to my earlier blog about “Belonging and Human Connection” which I want to share.

The first is a poem which reminds me of a young lad I noticed a couple of years ago when sub-teaching in elementary school. He was about seven or eight and by appearance alone was very “troubled.” And then during recess he wondered aimlessly around the playground clutching a large teddy bear. He never said a word or had an interaction with anyone. He just roamed like a zombie.

THE CROWDLESS MAN
By Michael Leunig

See him wandering alone,
The crowdless man,
He has no group,
He has no tribe,
He carries his identity in his pocket.
His pocket has a hole in it,
His story has a hole in it,
His tragedy is not a tune you can hum.
His suffering and sacrifice,
They have no handles;
His persecution has no logo,
No shrine, no yardstick.
His joy has no credentials,
His observations have no fixed address;
There are no awards whatsoever.
His gaze and yearning are way outside the loop,
His pilgrimage has lots of holes in it.
See him wandering alone.
Beaming to himself.

The second contribution from this reader is about creating welcoming space for others by extending our boundaries to those who might otherwise be excluded:

One way of measuring whether our love is genuine, however, is to examine how far we’ve extended the boundaries that determine whom we are willing to be in relationship with. When these borders reach out as far as they can go, there will be no one left outside, there will be no one cursed. There will be no more strangers. Everyone will be welcome.

Reflect for a minute on what it feels like to be welcomed. The word means, simply, ‘come and be well’ in my presence. It’s a fundamental human experience, and a very crucial one. When I am welcomed, I feel good. I can be myself. I relax and feel unself-conscious, energized, happy. On the other hand, when I am not welcomed, I doubt myself, turn inward, shrivel up. I feel excluded, not accepted, and not acceptable. This is painful. If it happens often enough, I will question my own self-worth.

Hospitality means creating welcoming space for the other. Henri J. Nouwen notes that the Dutch word for hospitality, gastvrijheid, means ‘the freedom of the guest.’ It entails creating not just physical room but emotional spaciousness where the stranger can enter and be himself or herself, where the stranger can become ally instead of threat, friend instead of enemy.

[…] That precious experience — when contemplated, cherished, and celebrated — enables me in turn to welcome others: I begin to be less fearful of the other; I start to see the stranger as gift. I become willing to create space in myself to invite the other in, and I open myself to the possibility of being changed by the presence of the other.

I invite the reader to sit with any of the wonderful hospitality stories found in the traditions of all the great religions. Mull them over; ask God for insight into them. Then ask for courage to take small steps in expanding your own circle of hospitality. These might be as tentative as smiling at the stranger in line with you at the grocery store, as deliberate as hosting a get-together for all the strangers in your apartment building, or as dramatic as volunteering to foster an unaccompanied refugee child in your own home. It might not cost you much, or it might mean going out on a limb: Can you imagine yourself during Thanksgiving dinner speaking up to your brother-in-law in defense of the undocumented, pointing out that, really, everyone is kin to us, and everyone has a human right to live where they can support their own family?

(Marilyn Lacey, R.S.M., is the founder and executive director of Mercy Beyond Borders, a non-profit organization which partners with displaced women and children overseas to alleviate their extreme poverty. Sr. Lacey is a California native, and has been a Sister of Mercy since 1966. This piece is excerpted from her book This Flowing Toward Me: A Story of God Arriving in Strangers.
– See more at: http://www.awakin.org/read/view.php?tid=1034#sthash.McJ3H2UK.dpuf)