Monday, June 07, 2004

I find myself confused by many things. Sometimes I think the purpose of writing a blog is to share "un-confusions" and maybe this is my hindrance to writing some things. What if I just wrote? That is the question I played with in my poetry workshop two weeks ago. I found that it wasn't so bad, just writing, without knowing.

I spent many years in Reagan's country, both as a Californian while he was governor, and of course under his presidency. Most of those years pretty cognizant of the events of the world and his actions. I still don't really understand the news obsession, and apparently US-wide obsession with his death. I feel no loss, only puzzlement over the elevation of one man's death. It brings up for me again the idea of molding people after they die into the thing we wanted them to be. Or the thing we want them to make us into now that they are gone. I can't get my sights on this though, maybe it doesn't align with my values or maybe I'm wishing it wasn't true for me too, or maybe something underneath it all and more fundamental about death.

There was an amazing elderly man attending my poetry workshop. He arrived with a cane and assistance from a writing associate, and gamely shared he was joyous to be with us rather than the alternative hospital bed. This became a central concern of ours on day two when he started to suffer some physical distress and it was our role to determine how best to act. Do we follow his instructions and help him get comfortable so he can stay? Or do we err on the conservative side and get him to a doctor?

He had opened the workshop with the statement "I am so excited, as to be pulled to the edge of my seat, by the anticipation of hearing the questions our teacher will ask, and the poetry we will write in response, and the stories we will share in the process."

It seems ours were the last stories he would hear, as we tried but soon realized that whatever had happened on our second day was serious, and he needed to go to a hospital. Two days later word came he had died of internal bleeding.

Awkward, trying to fill the silences around the workshop table while people more in charge conferred on what to do, I learned this man had a long history in public education and broadcasting, in fact had much to do with the existence of public radio in the South, and was a peace activist much of his life. There was peace and optimism in every action and word he offered to our workshop, truly inspiring coming from someone who had seen a lot in his 90 years to be jaded by. He was easy to love in the moment, but I also found myself admiring what that inner character had done to change the world for the better too.

I read that people are leaving flowers and remembrances for Reagan, that they feel they know him without having met him. But I find myself confused in the strange intimacy of meeting Ralph Steetle in the last two days of his life, seeking an appropriate way to grieve his passing. I might think I "know" Ralph, or "know" Reagan, but all I really know is the glimpses I have registered and their significance to me.

A Parting Gift

It isn't obvious to us, but
he clearly knows these
are the last grains of sand
slipping through the funnel
so slowly savors the full taste
of the strawberries I brought.
Now I am glad they were just picked
bright bursts of sweetness
Fruit of sun and rain and the rich rich soil
to which he will too soon return.

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