You are currently browsing the daily archive for July 16, 2015.

May God bless you with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths,
And superficial relationships
So that you may live
Deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression,
And exploitation of people,
So that you may work for
Justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears,
To shed for those who suffer pain,
Rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand
To comfort them and
To turn their pain to joy

And may God bless you
With enough foolishness
To believe that you can
Make a difference in the world,
So that you can do
What others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness
To all our children and the poor.

Amen

100_1739

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world

Mary Oliver

How a Poem Helped Save a Suicidal Teen’s Life

Fred Barbash July 13, 2015

aiden kingwell
Aidan Kingwell. (Courtesy of the Kingwell family)

There are whole books devoted to demonstrating the power of the written word to soothe pain and heal the tortured mind, the most prominent perhaps “The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies.”And there are studies of the brain showing how the healing happens. There’s even a name for the practice of prescribing literature for its rehabilitative effects: “bibliotherapy.”

But for a deeply personal example — powerful and searing in part because of the youth of the writer — the experience of 16-year-old Aidan Kingwell of Oak Park, Ill., who read a poem that helped convince her life was worth living at a time she doubted it, is hard to match.

Kingwell wrote about her experience with the poem as an entry in the 2015 Library of Congress “Letters About Literature” contest, in which high-school and middle-school students from across the country write letters to authors who have influenced them. Entering the contest was an assignment from her English teacher, Mary Marcotte, at Fenwick High School, a Catholic school in Oak Park.

The choice of topic, a brave one, was Kingwell’s. She addressed her “letter about literature” to the poet Mary Oliver about the poem “When Death Comes.” (Go to page 10 to read it. You can hear Mary Oliver read the poem here.)

“I had been depressed since age ten,” she wrote in her “Dear Mary” letter, “but had never received any treatment. My mind was very dark … I was someone who was simultaneously terrified of dying, and yet obsessed with the very idea. I was also suicidal, which is a state of being that I cannot well describe, because there are not words that can describe such utter loss of hope, such bitterness and pain and unrelenting sorrow. I wanted to end my life so badly that most days I could not find one single reason for living.”

In an interview with The Washington Post, Kingwell said that so many of the feelings she later understood to be depression were easy to gloss over as teenage angst. She felt sad because she had switched schools — totally normal. She was withdrawn because she felt she didn’t fit in. She didn’t fit in because she dressed differently — like a boy. And she was bullied. Middle school is rough.

But inside her mind was rougher. She said she grew isolated and began to feel “hopeless.” There was “not a lot in my life that told me it was going to be okay,” she said, just “a quiet relenting acceptance that things are bad and they’re not going to get any better.”

That was about the time her English teacher assigned her Oliver’s poem. The poem was dark, Kingwell’s teacher told her, but ultimately a poem of hope.

“I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world” is the final line of the poem, and the one that seems to have resonated most with Kingwell.

In her letter to “Dear Mary,” she explained: “When you spoke of not wanting to have simply visited this world, my own world turned upside down. I began to think about how horrible it would be to have only been a visitor, in the way that you said; to not have made my mark on the world, to have only passed through with no real substance. I thought of a life lived entirely in absence of beauty and amazement, a life barren of love or excitement or laughter.

“I began to realize that that was what suicide would do to me. I saw that life was fast becoming my own. I saw killing myself would take me away before I even had the chance to make something of my life. Suicide would eliminate my pain, yes, but it also closed any doors of possibility that I might have still open to me; doors that may lead to happiness in my future.”

In her interview with The Post, Kingwell chose not to answer when asked whether she ever attempted to take her life.

The poem did not suddenly turn everything around. But it seems to have opened her eyes and given her what was missing: namely, hope.

Still, at 14 she went off to summer camp in Vermont. “I would have anxiety attacks and start crying for no reason. I would feel this absolutely crushing sense of badness and hopelessness. For a few hours, I’d be okay and then it would start all over again,” she said in the interview. “When my parents came to pick me up, they realized it was something more.”

That’s when she started seeing a psychologist and, ultimately, going on medication.

Poet Mary Oliver reads one of her poems during the lunch session at The Women's Conference in Long Beach, California October 26, 2010.  REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni  (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT POLITICS SOCIETY)

Poet Mary Oliver in 2010. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

The dark moods still come back, she said, and when they do, she returns to the poem, “When Death Comes,” which is framed on her wall.

She’s “in a better place,” she said. She acts in plays and competes in lacrosse, in a “quiz bowl” and on an engineering team. She’s got her eye on college and the future.

The fact that she won first place nationally in the Library of Congress competition is beside the point, as is the fact that she doesn’t know whether Oliver has ever seen the letter.

The point, she said, is the “epiphany” she had at the tender age of 13 — and the message she now wants to send three years later, at the less tender age of 16.

“I was thinking about kids who might be now like I was when I was 13,” she told The Post. “I wanted to speak directly to them, and want to say directly to them: ‘Please, I know how hard it is to be accepting of yourself when no one else is … Please keep fighting. It will get better. Things will get better. I promise.’”

And she knows, as she wrote in her letter, that “I am still alive today,” in part, thanks to a poem.

monthly archives

archives

Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

  • 347,953

say hello

If you drop by my site, I'd love to know what brought you here and a bit about where you are from and how you feel about your visit. Take a minute and say hello!

FAIR USE NOTICE

This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.
July 2015
M T W T F S S
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Pages

Beannacht

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory