Giving Voice, and Living with It
Last night, I wrote a long-winded tome about a confrontation I had last Wednesday with a relatively new member of my longtime Glastonbury book club. In deference to those of you kind enough to read this every week, I deleted it. You don’t need to know the metaphorical blood that was let, the words hurled, the skin-peeling looks blasting through the breeze on the Broad Street Green in Old Wethersfield. After months of holding my temper on Zoom against what I saw as elitist and biased comments about the subjects of the books we were reading, in person, I lost it.
There is never, in this life, an excusable time to lose a temper. My fury flung my words to the wind; no one in attendance listened to the point I was trying to make. Once we lose a temper – which is why the pundits call it ‘losing’ – there’s no completion. No victory. No point made. My temper ran off without me.
I continue to feel guilty for scolding someone so energetically, and even worse for failing so miserably at taking her to task in a more effective manner. I can make all kinds of excuses: tension from pandemic emergence, fatigue, a confusion over people who make sweeping generalizations about entire cultures. But I feel remorse at my behavior nonetheless. I am certain I did wrong, and I am certain I did right. I did them at the same time, which is illogical at best. I suppose I can only pledge to be better tomorrow than I was yesterday. Or last Wednesday.
Today, though, I share two writings that address the arm-wrestling of emotions in my head and my heart. Perhaps one of them will speak to you today.
The writer Mary Shelley, she of “Frankenstein” fame, born in 1757, wrote these words in her book “Lodore” aka “The Beautiful Widow”:
“Words have more power than anyone can guess; it is by words that the world’s great fight, now in these civilized times, is carried on; I never hesitated to use them, when I fought any battle for the miserable and oppressed. People are so afraid to speak, it would seem as if half our fellow creatures were born with deficient organs; like parrots they can repeat a lesson, but their voice fails them, when that alone is wanting to make the tyrant quail.”
And the second, from a poem originally published in the Atlantic, in 1949, was written by Robert Tristram Coffin:
Forgive My Guilt
Not always sure what things called sins may be, I am sure of one sin I have done.
It was years ago, and I was a boy,
I lay in the frostflowers with a gun,
The air ran blue as the flowers,
I held my breath,
Two birds on golden legs slim as dream things
Ran like quicksilver on the golden sand,
My gun went off, they ran with broken wings
Into the sea,
I ran to fetch them in,
But they swam with their heads high out to sea,
They cried like two sorrowful high flutes,
With jagged ivory bones where wings should be.
For days I heard them when I walked that headland
Crying out to their kind in the blue,
The other plovers were going over south
On silver wings leaving these broken two,
The cries went out one day; but I still hear them
Over all the sounds of sorrow in war or peace I ever have heard, time cannot drown them,
Those slender flutes of sorrow never cease.
Two airy things forever denied the air!
I never knew how their lives at last were spilt.
But I have hoped for years all that is wild,
Airy, and beautiful will forgive my guilt.
Have you ever had a time when you forged ahead on an intent, and stumbled over the behavior? If so, please write about it. If you want, share it with me. I promise to be enormously, irrationally, and infinitely sympathetic.