It’s That Time of Year Again

It’s That Time of Year Again

Laura K. Secor

Hello my friends, welcome back to another year of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester.  I know some of you met over the summer, but I am going to suppose that most of you spent the summer in a languid torpor, as I did, and are only coming back to life with the return of cool breezes and nippy evenings.  Summer was glorious, but it has ended for another year.

I’m glad to be back together with you, starting the adventure of a new year.  Perhaps, like me, you had a rather challenging 2018-2019 and you are looking forward to a fresh start, new projects and new energy, maybe even new fortunes, why not dream big?  Let us plan to share our projects and our energy this coming season.

But the commencement of the UUCW season is not the only date we are marking now.  This is also 9/11, the day we remember the terrorist attacks that shocked us all eighteen years ago.  Can you believe it has been eighteen years already? I’m supposing (again) that you are like me and old enough to remember the day.  My daughter is only 14, and so it is only a story to her. This was the first year she studied the events of 9/11 in school, and she has been stunned to learn what happened, the deaths, the heroism, the tragedy.

The first few years after 9/11, I would go through the anniversary date in a daze, a haze of misery.  As the years have passed, the intensity of mourning has lessened. But the troubles highlighted that day have not been solved, and we are still struggling to find common ground with Muslim communities here and in the Middle East.  As well, there are so many other tragedies, before and since, and sometimes it feels as though life is just one piece of bad news after another.

What are we supposed to do in the face of the woes of the world?  Of course we fight for social justice, we do the Food Pantry, we reduce our carbon footprint.  But how do we find JOY in the midst of it all? Are we obligated to mourn 24/7? Is the fact that there is always something bad happening somewhere enough to require us to feel that bad news in our marrow, day in and day out?

Or do we become indifferent?  That may work for some people, but not the people of this church.  We are more likely to fall into the prior trap, the one of taking it all too much to heart.

I’m going to depart (briefly) from our usual poets and provide a thought from the poet Jack Gilbert.  He argues:

Sorrow everywhere.  Slaughter everywhere.  If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else.  With flies in their nostrils

… [and yet]
We must risk delight.  We can do without pleasure, 
but not delight.  Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world.

Apparently Jack truly lived this way.  He lived all the emotions, the raw, the tormented and the joyous.  How can we do this? I didn’t find any useful advice in the rest of his poem, so I did what I always do and turned to Mary Oliver.

(Yes, it’s that time of year again.  Time to commune with Mary!)

Going to Walden

It isn’t very far as highways lie.
I might be back by nightfall, having seen
The rough pines, and the stones, and the clear water.
Friends argue that I might be wiser for it.
They do not hear that far-off Yankee whisper:
How dull we grow from hurrying here and there!

Many have gone, and think me half a fool
To miss a day away in the cool country.
Maybe.  But in a book I read and cherish,
Going to Walden is not so easy a thing
As a green visit. It is the slow and difficult
Trick of living, and finding it where you are.

Does this help you the way it helps me?  I love Walden Pond, it’s delightful. But it’s not practical to go as often as one might like, and so I am grateful to Mary for teaching me that the important thing is to go to Walden in your mind, in your heart.  Not, I understand, an easy thing. But an important thing.

We can find the joyous places in our minds, in our hearts, and they are our touchstones.   We cannot ignore the bitter realities of the world, but we can live in both sorrow and in joy, holding both realities in our spirit, together.