I wrote a poem recently entitled ‘Importance‘. I wrote it because a man I quite admired passed away, and that got me thinking as to what I remembered about him. I remembered very little, if I’m to be completely honest, mainly because we’d never actually talked beyond greetings. He was a fairly deaf old man by the time I first met him; I have always been fairly soft spoken. The combination resulted in quiet hellos and how-are-yous.
But the one thing I remember above everything else was a Sunday ritual. While I would sit towards the rear of the church I used to attend, it was his church-calling to tally the numbers of attendees for each Sunday session. As he walked past his family and the children in the chapel, he would smile warmly at them; a grandfather’s smile. When he got to the rear of the chapel where I was seated, he would take hold of my hand and smile at me before moving to finalise his tallies. Every week we that attended, that same ritual would occur.
I grew up surrounded by and encapsulated by cynicism. The fact I was at a church was already a bit of a red herring as far as normal life was concerned. However, one particular piece of cynicism that remains a vice to this day is my assumption that people assume I am lesser as a result of my disability. Essentially, if someone is paying attention to me, it is a result of pity or patronisation. Now, obviously this isn’t always the case (possibly not even usually the case), but it is a mindset I have held as far back as I can remember.
So when this man smiled at me and warmly took my hand, my natural reaction should have been cynicism, right? Well, not this time. As far as I could tell, this man didn’t really bother too much in differentiating his feelings anymore. He had a certain love for his wife, a certain love for his children, a certain love for his grandchildren, and that was about it. Beyond that, if he had any love for you, he had love for you and that was the end of it. He had a love for me the same as those children and their parents and those he considered his spiritual leaders. He just loved as best he could for those he could. (I should conclude this by saying I don’t know this idea of his love for sure; it is almost entirely predicated on nothing more than a cynical mindset ignoring natural tendencies for a very specific circumstance.)
The reason I talk about this is because McDonough’s poem hit a similar feeling that inspired that poem of mine. People talk often of vague and unknowable things, ways of making people better or systems for moving society into a more socially or economically or spiritually prosperous future… I talk about these things. I have friends and family who talk about these things. But that’s it: they’re just things.
When you get to the true heart of it all, things can be quite simple really: people are people, laughter is laughter, love is love. When belief systems and political systems and social systems are removed; when people talk to people without preconceived notions, without vices; when people focus on the bare truth that people are people, laughter is laughter, love is love; when these things are done, life becomes a lot more bearable, a lot more beautiful. This is, I feel, McDonough’s message placed nicely in an easy-to-read, American-style, storytelling poem.