The Inn of Great Happiness

What’s on my mind…as Facebook queries…is not independence. Or even Independence Day. This 4th of July what is on my mind is interdependence, loneliness and connection. Over the past few days I have been resting up, napping and sleeping long hours. Recuperating, in a way, from the marathon of workshops I have facilitated from last December. In between reading detective novels I have been listening to Brené Brown interviews on YouTube, as well as reading some of Maria Popova’s Brainpickings that have dropped into my email inbox. And in the way that things happen the themes of loneliness and belonging all coalesced. Hannah Arendt writes that loneliness is “the common ground for terror”. So, that “terror…ruins all relationships between men.” I guess she meant that to cover both genders and used it in the sense of the human race. That was how they styled the language in the 1950s and 1960s when she was writing.

Brown, in her National Cathedral sermon in January 2018, mentions that loneliness is so endemic that in the UK in 2017 it was recognised as a public health issue. Loneliness is a greater predictor of premature death than all the smoking, excessive alcohol imbibing, overeating and no exercise that are the usual warnings.

Arendt (and Popova) note that tyranical regimes and totalitarian regimes weaponise loneliness. They sow disconnection. Brown tells us how they do this – by dehumanising people, often those that we disagree with, by making them out to be somehow subhuman. That was what Hitler did. But we also do it, maybe not on the same scale, maybe in microagressions, but we still do it. And this dehumanisation of others is the the real public health and public discourse plague.

So, this 4th of July, that is what is on my mind. How lonely people can be angry people. They are certainly isolated and alienated people. It is a wonderful belief that we are all made in the image and likeness of Deity. But it is hard work to actually walk that talk, especially when the beliefs and actions of some are anathema. It can be hard work to discover where that divine spark is hiding. Yet, that is the work of being a human.

Poetry practice today is a mash up of Brown, Arendt, Popova, John O’Donohue and Rumi.

The Inn of Great Happiness

It can be awfully lonely
in your tribe
even if we all subscribe
to the same codes,
those screeds of belief. But

if we have not love
written into our tribal DNA
then it's all out of key.

It's good to sing with strangers.
It's also a good thing
to break bread and drink wine
with strangers.
It's a good thing to get together
even with the ones who really irritate.

Like Mom said, " Be polite."
Talk about the weather.
Ask after their health,
that of their family members.
Be Kind. Pass the cookies. Or more wine.

It takes some practice
this being human.
It's all about there always
being a room ready for
everyone passing.
Anyone passing.

So check your larder and linen closet.
Make sure some sheets are aired.
Plump up the downy pillows.
Have the instruments tuned and prepared.
(Don't disturb the cobwebs
because some spiders are guests there.)

Sing into the night
with strangers
as they become like family
if not quite like friends.
Sing into the new day's light
until they become our family,
blood of our blood, bone of our bone,
until it's not just pretend.
until we all comprehend
this being human.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Feature image Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash

We are Family

Back in the 1960s there was an amazing photo collection published called “The Family of Man.” I found a copy on my sister’s bookshelves and poured over the beauty of so much diversity in all those pictures. Edward Steichen had curated the collection back in the 1950s. It was a landmark in helping us see others worldwide as this one diverse family called human.

That book made a huge impression. I come from a family which is notable (according to the Sociology of Family professor who marked my term paper back in the day) for its diversity and fluidity of religious allegiance. By the 1980s, when I considered up to the cousins twice removed, we had a representatives for a multi-hued array of Christian sects, as well as every other world religion bar Hindu. A lot of that could be accounted for by intermarriage.

We ‘adopt’ people along life’s journey, just like the informal adoption of my great-aunt by a childless Jewish couple when that large immigrant family were on their uppers. She didn’t lose touch with her birth family and routinely visited with her sisters . She gained a larger and more diverse world – and family.

How we identify is an interesting phenomena. It’s why I get quizical looks when my mixed race nieces call me Aunty. People get addled trying to equate this Wonder Bread white face with these two beautiful brown young women. But it an an honor to be their aunty and a sign of their respect for their elders that their African family would surely approve.

Last night I was watching an old episode of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s PBS show “Finding Your Roots” which highlighted a remote settlement of mixed race people close to Phillippi, West Virginia. I had an aunt, uncle, and cousin who lived there. My paternal grandfather died there. My mother worked in the 1930s in the local hospital. Yet I had not known there was this hidden community who had banded together to duck the colour bar and racial politics that is part and parcel of America’s story. Family is truly a complicated mix that weaves a rich tapestry.

This Being Human

Is about making family,
which is much more complex
and sometimes more
problematic than
finding your tribe.

Stratch the genomes

and you'll find we are all
quite mixed, actually.
We talk to God
in differant tongues
while some stay
resolutely silent
during grace.

We come in all shades
of our skin, these beautiful
cells we shed every seven years.
And the colour of our eyes
vary, yet we still call each other
cousins. We have a common
ancestry as our glue.

All are welcome to
the Great Feast's table
where we will exchange
gifts with each other
in peace at winter tide.
We are all so differant.
yet in that moment
as we bow our heads
in grace, and to each other,
these humans  - this great family -

are all in one common space.

©  Bee Smith 2018

Featured image Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash