These last weeks have been as tough as any I have known, and with work piled on top of the worries of home, it has been hard to stay centered.
In what felt like the nick of time. Roisin McAuley posted this poem on her blog on World Poetry day. Horace wrote it yonks ago, and this translation is by American poet Heather McHugh.
Don’t ask, Clarice, we’re not supposed to know what end the gods intend for us. Take my advice: don’t gamble so on horoscopes of Babylon. Far better just
to take what heaven might allot us, whether it’s winters galore, and more, until we’re stiff, or only this one wintertime to end all others, grinding the Tuscany Sea with its pumice of cliff.
Get wise. Get wine, and one good filter for it. Cut that high hope down to size, and pour it into something fit for men. Think less of more tomorrows, more of this
one second, endlessly unique: it’s jealous, even as we speak, and it’s about to split again….
McHugh was only one of the poets and translators I discovered this week.
I was working with a group of government executives from India and stayed with them in a hotel close to Terrapin Grove, for each day was long and involved a lot of travel. One night I sat in the bar with the group’s self-appointed leader. I was definitely feeling a little sorry for myself—tired, frustrated and unready. Arun was having a brandy with some hot water, trying to ward off a cold. It was shaping up as a pity party. And then Arun started down a conversational track that would be unheard of for a Westerner. He told me about his morning meditation and his daily hour-long walk with his wife. He talked about following his bliss (he is a tax collector) and of the importance of just being. “Don’t try too hard to make things happen” was the gist of his philosophy ” Concentrate on your attitude and perception, which you can control and change, and just let things be what they will be”
I went to bed feeling a little less frayed at the edges.
The next day, Arun shared with me one of his own poems originally written in Hindi but translated for my benefit. This urges readers not to be constrained to “limited shape and fugitive form” by “cobwebs of alleged truth” and urges an appreciation that our real form is as follows:
I think he may have been heaven sent, along with the business school professor who the next day demonstrated that gratitude is an important component of resilience. It appears Pollyanna had it right. Find something to be glad for, and you will be glad enough to get up and go to face whatever it is you fear.
My goal for the coming weeks is to concentrate on being, and being glad. I am cutting back on doing and making, or having and changing. I am going to get back into my swimming routine which will be my equivalent of Arun’s daily walk. I will keep a close eye on my attitude and perceptions. By Thanksgiving, I will be so damn glad that they will have to play me off like Meryl at the Oscars when I start to recount my list of blessings. I am feeling better already.
My father would, I believe, have put a spirit level in his top five of favorite tools, along with a table saw, a pair of long nose pliers, a junior hacksaw and a penknife. Now I will be spending more time “in the moment” than at the mall I will still keep my designer earrings on. One never knows when I will be called upon to keep his legacy alive, straightening a crooked picture, or helping a line to find its plumb.