A Christmas Wish

Family Stone

The Family Stone: A tale of Christmas Dysfunctionality

Everybody thinks they are right.  If you asked Hitler, Stalin, Ivan the Terrible or Robert Mugabe about their records they would explain to you why they were right and what they did was right and there is a good chance that after an hour with any of them you would begin to accept that they had a valid position.

Everybody thinks they are right.

Christmas is time for families.  If anyone knows how to push all your emotional trigger buttons it is your close family.  This makes Christmas a time of stress and tension for many.  Old arguments bubble to the surface.  Kind words and gestures are over-analysed and misinterpreted and rejected.

If you have stress in your relationships here is some sage advice from John Greenleaf Whittier.  Just forgive. Whittier is one of the “Fireside Poets” and born this day in 1807.  I like to think of the Fireside poets in terms of life before TV, when you might spend a cold winters evening by the fire sharing poetry and stories.  Time spent with family and friends, like Christmas.

Forgiveness is hard, because if you mean it then it must be unconditional.  You are not offering an olive branch to begin peace talks.  You are giving it away, opening your own heart with no expectation of any reciprocal action on the other side.  That is real forgiveness.

 

Forgiveness; by John Greenleaf Whittier

My heart was heavy, for its trust had been
abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong;
so, turning gloomily from my fellow-men,
one summer Sabbath day I strolled among
the green mounds of the village burial-place;
where, pondering how all human love and hate
find one sad level; and how, soon or late,
wronged and wrongdoer, each with meekened face,
and cold hands folded over a still heart,
pass the green threshold of our common grave,
whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart,
awed for myself, and pitying my race,
our common sorrow, like a mighty wave,
swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!

Longfellow

Longfellow

This post is about a poets birthday, an Irish rebel, and a diving bird.

Today is the birthday of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, most famous of the New England “Fireside Poets”, born on this day in 1807.  Longfellow is best known for his (very) long lyrical/romantic verse tales such as the Song of Hiawatha and Evangeline.  They are poems that had a role in the days before the invention of TV.  They occupied a long winters night with a well told tale set to verse.

The song of Hiawatha tells the story of a fictional Ojibwe warrior named Hiawatha and his tragic love for the Dakota squaw Minnehaha.  Now here is where things get weird.  Here is a photo of the Irish rebel Eamonn DeValera taken in 1919.  He is wearing the headdress of the Ojibwe-Chippewa tribe, who made him an honorary member, in Spooner Wisconsin.

Devalera

During the rebellion the Irish leaders were referred to by nicknames.  This avoided their real names being overheard by spies.  Micheal Collins was nicknamed “The Big Fellow” and DeValera, who was tall and lanky, was nicknamed “The Long Fellow”.  Longfellow writes Hiawatha about Ojibwe warrior.  Irish rebel nicknamed Long Fellow is made an honorary Ojibwe warrior.  That is just bizarre.

DeValera survived the executions of the 1916 rebellion because he held entitlement to American citizenship from his birth in New York.  He toured the USA in 1919/1920 to raise funds for the rebellion and to secure recognition for the cause of the Irish Free State.  Post-Treaty he broke from Collins and led the IRA rebels in a doomed civil war which split the country for three generations.  He went on to found Ireland’s largest political party, served as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and as President.  The classic terrorist – rebel – freedom fighter – elderly statesman cursus honorum.

Finally we come to the diver.  Divers are a breed of bird in the British Isles that are usually called Loons in North America.  The smallest diver, the red throated, develops the signature red throat feathers during the breeding season “when ocean by the sun is kissed”.  So it is clear that the interlocutor of this Longfellow poem is a Red Throated Diver.  The poem is shorter than the great lyric beasts that Longfellow is famous for, but sits well here on “Mindship” as it touches on themes of ships lost at sea.

RedThroatDiver

The Sea Diver: by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My way is on the bright blue sea,
my sleep upon its rocking tide;
and many an eye has followed me
where billows clasp the worn seaside.

My plumage bears the crimson blush,
when ocean by the sun is kissed!
When fades the evening’s purple flush,
my dark wing cleaves the silver mist.

Full many a fathom down beneath
The bright arch of the splendid deep
My ear has heard the sea-shell breathe
O’er living myriads in their sleep.

They rested by the coral throne,
And by the pearly diadem;
Where the pale sea-grape had o’ergrown
The glorious dwellings made for them.

At night upon my storm-drench’d wing,
I poised above a helmless bark,
And soon I saw the shattered thing
Had passed away and left no mark.

And when the wind and storm were done,
a ship, that had rode out the gale,
Sunk down, without a signal-gun,
And none was left to tell the tale.

I saw the pomp of day depart–
The cloud resign its golden crown,
When to the ocean’s beating heart
The sailor’s wasted corse went down.

Peace be to those whose graves are made
Beneath the bright and silver sea!
Peace – that their relics there were laid
With no vain pride and pageantry.

 

 

 

 

A candle for hope.

1st Sunday

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the season of discipline preceding the Celebration of Christmas in the Christian calendar.  Traditionally this is marked by the lighting of the first of the purple candles on the advent wreath.  There are four purple candles and one white.  Four weeks of discipline leading to Christmas celebration.

Advent is a time of reflection, introspection, self examination.  But it should never be a time of misery.  Discipline should never be seen as denial – and all too often it is.  The tradition I was raised with in the Catholic church was to deny yourself something you like for Lent.  Give up chocolate!  And so it was generally seen as a time of misery.  But that is simply weak teaching.

Yoga is a discipline, one which makes us stronger, more supple, healthier.  It is an expansive form of discipline.  Learning is another discipline.  When we learn it requires the discipline of time and mind, but the result is to accumulate knowledge and broaden the mind.  Sporting exercise is a discipline that can make you faster, stronger, better.  Charitable acts are a discipline that improves the lives of others.

Don’t see Advent as a time of less.  See it as a time of more.  More of the right kind of thing.

Purple is the colour of discipline in the Catholic church.  The first purple candle is called Hope.  So today we light a beacon for hope.  First poem that came to mind was “Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson, but I have used that in my blog before.  So here is a poem about another beacon.  It is also a poem of the sea and the mind, so it belongs on Mindship.

Burning Drift-Wood; by John Greenleaf Whittier

Before my drift-wood fire I sit,
And see, with every waif I burn,
Old dreams and fancies coloring it,
And folly’s unlaid ghosts return.

O ships of mine, whose swift keels cleft
The enchanted sea on which they sailed,
Are these poor fragments only left
Of vain desires and hopes that failed?

Did I not watch from them the light
Of sunset on my towers in Spain,
And see, far off, uploom in sight
The Fortunate Isles I might not gain?

Did sudden lift of fog reveal
Arcadia’s vales of song and spring,
And did I pass, with grazing keel,
The rocks whereon the sirens sing?

Have I not drifted hard upon
The unmapped regions lost to man,
The cloud-pitched tents of Prester John,
The palace domes of Kubla Khan?

Did land winds blow from jasmine flowers,
Where Youth the ageless Fountain fills?
Did Love make sign from rose blown bowers,
And gold from Eldorado’s hills?

Alas! the gallant ships, that sailed
On blind Adventure’s errand sent,
Howe’er they laid their courses, failed
To reach the haven of Content.

And of my ventures, those alone
Which Love had freighted, safely sped,
Seeking a good beyond my own,
By clear-eyed Duty piloted.

O mariners, hoping still to meet
The luck Arabian voyagers met,
And find in Bagdad’s moonlit street,
Haroun al Raschid walking yet,

Take with you, on your Sea of Dreams,
The fair, fond fancies dear to youth.
I turn from all that only seems,
And seek the sober grounds of truth.

What matter that it is not May,
That birds have flown, and trees are bare,
That darker grows the shortening day,
And colder blows the wintry air!

The wrecks of passion and desire,
The castles I no more rebuild,
May fitly feed my drift-wood fire,
And warm the hands that age has chilled.

Whatever perished with my ships,
I only know the best remains;
A song of praise is on my lips
For losses which are now my gains.

Heap high my hearth! No worth is lost;
No wisdom with the folly dies.
Burn on, poor shreds, your holocaust
Shall be my evening sacrifice!

Far more than all I dared to dream,
Unsought before my door I see;
On wings of fire and steeds of steam
The world’s great wonders come to me,

And holier signs, unmarked before,
Of Love to seek and Power to save,—
The righting of the wronged and poor,
The man evolving from the slave;

And life, no longer chance or fate,
Safe in the gracious Fatherhood.
I fold o’er-wearied hands and wait,
In full assurance of the good.

And well the waiting time must be,
Though brief or long its granted days,
If Faith and Hope and Charity
Sit by my evening hearth-fire’s blaze.

And with them, friends whom Heaven has spared,
Whose love my heart has comforted,
And, sharing all my joys, has shared
My tender memories of the dead,—

Dear souls who left us lonely here,
Bound on their last, long voyage, to whom
We, day by day, are drawing near,
Where every bark has sailing room.

I know the solemn monotone
Of waters calling unto me;
I know from whence the airs have blown
That whisper of the Eternal Sea.

As low my fires of drift-wood burn,
I hear that sea’s deep sounds increase,
And, fair in sunset light, discern
Its mirage-lifted Isles of Peace.