Friday, February 3, 2017

"As the child drinks..."

When we're attached to being helpful, we may use manipulation to influence people or step into the middle of things, giving help and advice whether others want it or not. True generosity, however, is at the core of the human spirit. In Louise Erdrich's "The Glass and the Bowl," the simple act of pouring milk for a child epitomizes that generosity:
The father pours the milk from his glass
into the cup of the child,
and as the child drinks
the whiteness, opening
her throat to the good taste
eagerly, the father is filled...
Sheila Bender brought nurturing to a high art when she simultaneously celebrated and mourned her grown daughter's departure to a new life ("For My Daughter Who Has Gone to Study in Japan"). The poet likened herself to a planet having given birth to the moon lying on its back with its tiny toes in the air:
I sang these words to you and never wondered
if the planet that gave birth to the moon
was as brave as her offspring, if vines and trees
mourned the dropping of their ready fruit.
When self-aware, we share the gift of unconditional love and then rejoice when those we've helped are strong enough to act on their own, even in the face of loss. So Bender rejoiced in the bravery of her offspring heading out into the world, yet mourned as vines and trees might mourn the dropping of their ready fruit

Sometimes we sublimate our own unacknowledged needs through caring for others. Instead of being loving, we act out the image of a loving person, which can only be sustained if there's someone needy to care for. This kind of love becomes, as Cathleen Calbert depicted in "The Woman Who Loved Things," a cult, a way of being:
But, of course, it had to be: the woman's love kept growing
until she was loved by trees and appliances, from toasters
to natural obstacles, until her ceiling shook loose to send kisses,
sheets wound tight betwixt her legs, and floorboards broke free
of their nails, straining their lengths over her sleeping..
.
Calbert exaggerated how people might cling to someone who loves them so much, but in that exaggeration we see the potential for hysteria when the desire to be loved for what we give becomes a compulsion. 

The transformational path from pride to unconditional love entails finding and acting upon our own needs without ignoring those of others. In "Summario," Pablo Neruda showed what must be overcome in this path when he characterized his impulse to be myself, only myself as the weakness of self-pleasuring:
...That is why -- water on stone -- my life was always
singing its way between joy and obligation.


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