Reflections by Jerry Webber

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Window into My World

Last week someone shared a short book review with me about a new book of poetry by Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry journal. I read the review and added the book -- Every Riven Thing -- to my wishlist.

Tuesday, my poet/English teacher/soul-friend son in Arkansas sent me a magazine article from Poets & Writers magazine about Christian Wiman. Turns out he has the same form of “incurable cancer of the blood” that I have . . . Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia. I placed the order for his book of poetry that day.

Yesterday I read an online essay Wiman wrote about 4 years ago in which he wrote eloquently and passionately about his faith, life and the disease that lives in his blood. This is the link:

In the article he writes about love, disease and a faith reclaimed with words like these:

I was brought up with the poisonous notion that you had to renounce love of the earth in order to receive the love of God. My experience has been just the opposite: a love of the earth and existence so overflowing that it implied, or included, or even absolutely demanded, God. Love did not deliver me from the earth, but into it. And by some miracle I do not find that this experience is crushed or even lessened by the knowledge that, in all likelihood, I will be leaving the earth sooner than I had thought. Quite the contrary, I find life thriving in me, and not in an aestheticizing Death-is-the-mother-of-beauty sort of way either, for what extreme grief has given me is the very thing it seemed at first to obliterate: a sense of life beyond the moment, a sense of hope. This is not simply hope for my own life, though I do have that. It is not a hope for heaven or any sort of explainable afterlife, unless by those things one means simply the ghost of wholeness that our inborn sense of brokenness creates and sustains, some ultimate love that our truest temporal ones goad us toward. This I do believe in, and by this I live, in what the apostle Paul called “hope toward God.”

Today his poetry book came. I opened it randomly and read the first two poems I came to. They were intense, containing familiar images I recognized from our common disease, real with pain and real with hope. I had to put the book down after those two poems -- painful to read -- yet I cannot wait to pick up the book again.

Most often I don't know what to say about the disease I live with. People who love me want to know how I'm doing. But generally, most folks really don't want to hear that much about the disease. In my silences and alone-moments, it can be depressing enough for me. Surely it must be so for others as well.

Often, people will ask in kindness how I'm doing, but I'm never sure how much to say, how much they really want to know.

Two lines in one of Wiman's poems:

"How are you?" Pity soaks the moment like wet bread.
Do I spit it out, or must I gum this unguent down?

It's difficult to put my inner landscape into words. Sometimes when I try to find language for the shape of my inner world, it just feels cheap.

I shared these Wiman articles with colleagues this afternoon. I'm writing this out tonight in this space because the two articles and the book of poetry provides as much of a window into “my life and world” as anything I’ve read. I suppose I would say, "Here. Read this article. Read this poem and that poem. This is how I feel. This is what it feels like to be me. These are my doubts and these are my hopes. Here are my dreams and there is my dream-impotence. This is something of the shape of my inner world."

Certainly his experience is different from my experience, but many of the questions and struggles are similar. His vocabulary is familiar. He says eloquently what I struggle to put into words in my own existence about my life and the cancer within me. It feels like I'm getting a glimpse into my own soul from a fresh angle.

So I share it with you.


Anonymous said...

my words too, feel cheap: Thank you for sharing, dear friend.

Kimberly Walker said...

Chronic illness is indeed an extremely personal journey that many of us do not get to live privately. As you have shared glimpses into your own journey you have reached into mine. Thank you.