Image by jonathanpberger via FlickrAt the time I signed up for the program, I already considered myself a reader and the only reason I wanted to participate was to have a free hour to do nothing and still get some credit toward graduation. The reality was, I loved that class, looked forward to it, and spent the time doing some serious reading. I think that was true for many others who took part. It was a great idea, simple in concept, and I’m sure there’s nothing like it today. One problem of our age is that we scorn the simple in favor of high falutin’ ideas concocted by “professionals,” we fall for theories and scorn practice. I think, along with St. Benedict, simple is usually better.
A WONDERFUL bird is the pelican,
His mouth can hold more than his belican,
He can take in his beak
Enough food for a week –
I’m damned if I know how the helican.
Very funny to a 10 year old.
There is another poem that I memorized large parts of in there too. I used to recite it often although I’m sure it is no longer included in many anthologies of poetry and is not well known today. It was The Congo by Vachel Lindsey:
Fat black bucks in a wine barrel room,
Barrel-house kings with feet unstable,
Sagged and reeled and pounded on the table,
Pounded on the table,
Beat an empty barrel with that handle of a broom,
Hard as they were able
Boom, boom, BOOM,
With a silk umbrella and the handle of a broom,
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM.
And so on. Is that great poetry? I don’t know, it sure impressed me with its vivid imagery, highlighted by almost excessive alliteration; it must have impressed Oscar Williams too. But that was back in the fifties.
There is one other book I still have from childhood, a Bible, Revised Standard Version. It was given me by my aunt and uncle when I was baptized at the age of seven. It was in April of that year and I remember it well, also receiving the gift and being delighted with it. The Bible has no notes, but a fairly good set of cross references and the difficult words have pronunciation marks. It’s an old-fashioned Bible meant for reading. I guess another example of simple being better. It’s near falling apart now, I read it haphazardly but fairly regularly until maybe my sophomore year of high school, and I think I took it with me when I left for the Air Force. It’s had good use.
Is there a point to all this? Each of these three books brings back memories to me every time I pick them up. Until just a day or so ago, I hadn’t thought about the English D.E.E.P. program in years, maybe since high school, but suddenly the memory of it rushed back to me, just by looking at that old copy of Walden. There was almost a sacramental power in the book, their physical presence after all these years still invokes meaning. Also, surprise. The biggest surprise is the reminder that I am capable of growth but also of constancy. There is part of me that, through the experiences of life, has learned to look at things differently, but that recognizes things that cannot change, that do not change. I’m much more aware that I have that in me; before seeing Walden again, before seeing a bit of myself as a struggling, learning teenager, I would not have said I was capable of such things.
Before re-reading The Congo, a poem I appreciated for the sound of it, not thinking much about the message it contained, I wouldn’t have seen the way I’ve learned to look at things from more than one side and to try to see if things that seem innocent might not be so.
All this was a surprise. The surprise is learning to recognize such things, learning something about myself that I didn’t know before. The monastic fathers thought such things important, I didn’t know it could still happen to me.