Monday, December 1, 2008

About Angels and Poems

On Saturday, Kathy and I attended a memorial service for the sister of a friend. I barely knew the sister, having met her only once and in passing. I'm puzzled as to why the service affected me as much as it did.

It would be presumptuous of me to write that I "know" her, because all that I know of her is what I learned during the service and from talking with her family and friends at the service.

This person selflessly gave herself and her time to her chosen close friends and to her family. She wasn't a mother, in the biological sense, but *was* a mother to her many nieces. But at the same time she clung to her identify and knew instinctively that to avoid sinking into the muck of darkness and ugliness that surrounds us in our daily lives when we venture out of the safety of our homes, she must gain sustenance from the shared love, laughs and silliness with her husband, her close chosen friends and her family.

As it often seems, a person "comes by" when you need them the most. This person "came by", however briefly and remotely, when I was searching for the answer to the question "what next". I think I already knew the answer, but the memorial service was like the little man tired of being pushed back in the line because he is small and rushes to the front of the line and yells: "Hey! I'm tired of being pushed back. I have something important to say!" And say it, he did.

Don't isolate yourself.

That's it!!! As geeks, we tend to isolate. Perhaps we are by nature solitary and asocial. Perhaps the nature of our work requires lots of alone time. Perhaps it is due to the competitive nature of our existence, the competition that leads us to finding little faults in people, competitively self-elevating ourselves above the "faulty" others, and thus pushing them away. But in isolation, we can succumb to the darkness and ugliness. And no good comes from walking down that road.

During the service, a poem, "Questions About Angels" by Billy Collins, was read. One passage in that poem still brings a tear to my eye every time I read it.

She sways like a branch in the wind, her beautiful
eyes closed, and the tall thin bassist leans over
to glance at his watch because she has been dancing
forever, and now it is very late, even for musicians.

I'm pretty sure the poet's intention was to illustrate the timelessness of angels. But mortals in angel form must rest.

I ended up buying one of Billy Collins' anthologies, "Sailing Around the Room". For someone who hated "literature" in high school in general, and poetry in particular, Billy Collins' prose is quite lucid and understandable.

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