Monthly Archives: May 2024

World Peace

She isn’t best known for her poetry or her praying. She’s known for the decades of research on our evolutionary cousins, the chimpanzees. But anyone who seeks to understand fully, and who seeks this understanding for the benefit of life, ends up living a prayerful life. It may not be outwardly religious, but it’s reverent. And it’s Jane Goodall’s words, paired with Feeroozeh Golmohammadi’s images, that will end our foray into poems, prayers, and promises.

With luck, this is all three…

Love, Honor, Cherish

For better, for worse

In sickness and in health

Forsaking all others

I think the vows are a pair of tickets to a music festival: the main attractions you know going in, but the rest of the acts are a mystery. Some of it will be amazing, some surprising, some disappointing. But, at the end of the day, it’s the person you came with that makes all the difference.

A World of Common Things

Pets. Untensils. Fruit. Clothes. These are the things that we touch and see and hear and taste and smell every day. Pablo Neruda wrote a whole book of odes to them: spoons, an onion, the cat, and a pair of socks. He celebrates how much they have added to his life, and how he loves them for that.

I love this collection of poems because it is clear how much he sees common things as life-enhancing objects of wonder. Not because they can make him happy in more than a fleeting sense, but because they offer a chance to express gratitude for life in a tangible way – deep, inner joy brought into words through a cat, an orange, French fries. Here’s the end of the first poem – Ode to Things:

O irrevocable

river

of things:

no one can say

that I loved

only

fish,

or the plants of the jungle and the field,

that I loved

only

those things that leap and climb, desire, and survive.

It’s not true:

many things conspired

to tell me the whole story.

Not only did they touch me,

or my hand touched them:

they were

so close

that they were a part

of my being,

they were so alive with me

that they lived half my life

and will die half my death.

Pablo Neruda (Ken Krabbenhoft, translation), Odes to Common Things, Ode to Things; New York: Bullfinch Press, 2010, p.17

Jane Goodall’s Prayer

A Prayer For World Peace, Jane Goodall and Feeroozeh Golmohammadi(illustrator), Hong Kong: Minedition, 2015

We pray, above all, for Peace throughout the world.

I happened upon it in Northshire Books a couple of months back, this illustrated prayer of Jane Goodall. These are the opening words. They come from a remarkable woman who has spent the majority of her life seeking deep knowledge about chimpanzees, adjusting her whole life to respectful observation and interaction with our evolutionary cousins. It isn’t just research, though, it’s a labor of love – meaning good things for another species and sacrificing to bring them about. And from this devotion the rest of humanity caught a glimpse of the holiness of another species; from this, all people were offered the chance to value and honor life beyond their own.

I think this is how we learn to pray for peace above all: becoming aware of the holiness of others and valuing it enough to stand up for it.

Foundational Promise

I’ve said the words many times to many people in more situations than I can recall. I’ve said them to friends, relatives, and strangers. Sometimes, they are casually spoken – other times, with an intention way beyond serious. It’s rare that I think of them as the promise they are, and then usually because that promise has been broken. I’ve fallen short of keeping the promise, and I’ve been the one on the receiving end. They are behind every wedding vow, contract, baptism, and social obligation. Trust and forgiveness hang on them, and love grows out of them:

I’ll be there.

[This is one in a series. For more, click Three P’s above]

Uneasy

Absence

This morning as low clouds

skidded over the spires of the city

I found next to a bench

in a park an ivory chess piece –

the white knight as it turned out –

and in the pigeon-ruffling wind

I wondered where all the others were,

lined up somewhere

on their black and red squares,

many of them feeling uneasy

about the saltshaker

that was taking his place,

and all of them secretly longing

for the moment

when the white horse

would reappear out of nowhere

and advance toward the board

with his distinctive motion,

stepping forward, then sideways

before advancing again –

the same move I was making him do

over and over in the sunny field of my palm.

Billy Collins, Nine Horses; New York: Random House, 2002, pp.19-20

When I leave a particular job or community, I want to leave behind people who are more than capable of carrying on without me. I want them to be glad for my time there but not dependent on my presence or uneasy in my absence. I want to leave people stronger, not weaker. I want them to welcome the new person who takes my place, anticipating the new adventures she or he will bring. New possibilities will come with my departure (saltshakers bring new ideas and opportunities).

It’s a wonderful truth that doesn’t get enough attention: everyone is irreplaceable, but someone else can surely do the work.

What is true in work is also true in life. When I go, I want to leave behind a world stronger for my having visited, and more than capable of joyfully moving on without me.