Thursday, February 3, 2011


Of late I've been called to stand up with my understanding; be a poet, witness.  I watch, listen and speak what I see hear.  I travel a narrow passage between one side and another.  It's difficult to keep balance and not tip too much one way or another.  This isn't about neutral; this is about following the precipitous trail of truthfulness.

"I've found in poetry that it's better to ignore the facts and tell the truth."  (Ani DiFranco)

When I'm in high school we play various team sports in gym class.  During an inning of softball, I'm playing first base.  A woman from the opposite team smacks a powerful line drive toward the short stop who manages to field it, and she zings it over to me.  It's one of those sports moments when the action is faster than the humans playing the game.

The ball and the runner arrive at the bag at just about the same time with a whisker's width of a difference in timing.  The gym teacher who's umpiring has her view slightly blocked by my body.  She misses the play and doesn't know if the runner is our or safe.  She needs a second opinion.  The runner can't give it because she is only aware of when she hits the bag, not when I catch the ball.

The only person who can answer is the first base player; that would be me.  I know for sure because  I can feel both the runner touch the bag and the ball touch my glove.  The fact is that if I say she's out, my team gets the advantage.  If I say she's safe even if that's true, her team gets the advantage and my team gets even with me.  I could say I don't know, but there's no honor in that kind of obfuscation.  So I answer with what I know to be true from my view of the bag:  the runner is safe.

"The politics worth having, the relationships worth having, demand that we delve still deeper."
(Adrienne Rich, Women and Honor…)

In the early days of my arrival in California I participate in a therapy group.  There are seven of us and the counselor.  One night the counselor throws a Kleenex box into the center of the circle.  She asks: What do you see?  We look at the box; we look at her.  We look at each other' we look at the box.  In the interim created by these silent glances, an exasperated incredulousness grows in us:  we're paying her forty bucks each; that's $280 for two hours worth of work; and here she is asking us the silliest of questions.  We look back at her and a few exclaim in annoyed unison:  It's a dang Kleenex box!

She asks again:  No, I'm asking, what is it that you see?  Now we're absolutely piqued to redness of the face:  just Exactly what is your point; it's a dang Kleenex box!  We fail to notice that this is a Buddhist lesson moment.  The point is actually at least two.  It's a Kleenex box because we, as a group, agree to call it a Kleenex box.  What each one of us sees of the Kleenex box is different depending on where we're sitting in the circle.

Two people sitting across from each other will see not only a different side but different directions.  My left and right is the right and left of the woman across from me.  We all see different sides and ends; and some of us only see extended corners.  These are blocked from each other's view until we describe them.  Even though we can all see the top, we see different angles of the box.  None of us can see the bottom.

I know what my view is; I speak it without alteration or apology.  If someone sees something different, the difference does not make either view untrue.  I don't have to change my view in deference to someone else's; I understand there are different views.  How we honor the group is to describe our view.  How we come into agreement with the group is in the naming of the dang Kleenex box.

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