Sometimes I wake up with lines of poetry in my head that are streaming across the bridge from sleep into wakefulness. That’s probably more than you want to know about the inside of my head. But one recent morning a budding poem began “After my father died, a decade beyond my mother’s death…”
Just like a dream we might wake up with, lines to a new poem can easily evaporate into thin air like a bubble pops wherever it lands. I am going to get to the point of all this, really I am, so please be patient.
The next line streaming from out of the dissipating night was only half formed and it was about how it feels to be in the world without either parent even decades after they have disappeared into death. But then the night brain fell silent and the morning brain was not churning yet, so I never got the next line.
Last week’s column featured a homeless guy who called himself Minnie Mouse, and it was about the hazards of challenging other people’s reality. It drew a number of comments. They were queries about how we are supposed to carry on meaningful conversations with people whose politics provoke our apoplectic disagreement. So that’s what this is about.
Someone I had the honor of knowing died recently, and this is what I wrote in part, to his widow: “I hope God brought another beautiful and great soul into the world because it is now less of a world without Ralph…I always felt enveloped by his love. His love cast such a big net that he will never be forgotten and always be missed by those who were loved by him.” So Ralph has joined my parents in the circle of people I loved and who loved me, but whom I get to see no longer. They were also different from me.
Ralph was a Vietnam Vet, I am not a vet; whose personal faith was evangelical, mine’s not. My parents were Republicans, I’m not; who were avid Anglophiles, I’m not. Many of the people who live on in the nest of my heart because they are no longer in their bodies, are people whose real-world experiences and opinions were quite different than mine. Still, I loved them and knew they loved me. It is safe to consult them.
I know, now you are asking to yourself, is this guy a spiritualist or something? No. I mean that we can consult our memory of them in order to ponder what they might think of a given situation. Although I never had a conversation with my parents or Ralph about the immigration crisis, I can imagine what they would say about different aspects of the problem and the proposed legislation. The same is true for the other lively voices of dead people that live on in my heart and mind. If I subject my opinionated self to that community of voices I am bound to learn something about myself if not the subject.
I know, it sounds bizarre but really it is only a simple values clarification exercise. That community of love that lives on in death within our hearts and minds, is a rich and safe host of opinions to consult. Practicing with them can teach us how to hold the same conversations with the living.