6: Greatest Love

I had the decency to read Thoreau’s Walden this summer, while stationed in a canvas hammock under a great white oak and a swamp ash. As you might imagine, the literary experience was narrated by the rush of the bending, breezed pondweed and buzzing dragonflies. God, nature, commerce, technology, time, people, conversation, labor, etc. were all fair game, but I must say that I especially loved his eloquent familiarity with solitude. My busy, tired brain was justly reminded of the enrichment in quiet and isolation. Having been familiar with that, it seems fitting that we study his words on the polar opposite (or is it?), the bond of friends:

Friendship

By: Henry David Thoreau

I think awhile of Love, and while I think,
Love is to me a world,
Sole meat and sweetest drink,
And close connecting link
Tween heaven and earth.

I only know it is, not how or why,
My greatest happiness;
However hard I try,
Not if I were to die,
Can I explain.

I fain would ask my friend how it can be,
But when the time arrives,
Then Love is more lovely
Than anything to me,
And so I’m dumb.

For if the truth were known, Love cannot speak,
But only thinks and does;
Though surely out ’twill leak
Without the help of Greek,
Or any tongue.

A man may love the truth and practise it,
Beauty he may admire,
And goodness not omit,
As much as may befit
To reverence.

But only when these three together meet,
As they always incline,
And make one soul the seat,
And favorite retreat,
Of loveliness;

When under kindred shape, like loves and hates
And a kindred nature,
Proclaim us to be mates,
Exposed to equal fates
Eternally;

And each may other help, and service do,
Drawing Love’s bands more tight,
Service he ne’er shall rue
While one and one make two,
And two are one;

In such case only doth man fully prove
Fully as man can do,
What power there is in Love
His inmost soul to move
Resistlessly.

______

Two sturdy oaks I mean, which side by side,
Withstand the winter’s storm,
And spite of wind and tide,
Grow up the meadow’s pride,
For both are strong

Above they barely touch, but undermined
Down to their deepest source,
Admiring you shall find
Their roots are intertwined
Insep’rably.

I would claim that the only thing more magnificent than nature is man himself. Hopefully you enjoyed that gem of a poem, happy Monday!

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You’ll Be In My Heart

There is no stress, no anxiety, just this feeling of fullness. Perhaps that’s when you know you did something right.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

-Winston Churchill

Early yesterday morning, we had to kiss the Mississippi ground goodbye and embark on our 14-hr road trip back to good old Omaha.  I’d been dreading my return to the real world – throngs of emails, midterm grades, tedious assignments, the general organization required for living –  but I wakened today in my own bed with this prevailing sense of peace.  Instead of hurriedly checking my phone, I silently gazed out my window at early Autumn’s display of green and gold. There is no stress, no anxiety, just this feeling of fullness. Perhaps that’s when you know you did something right.

The pleasant aftermath of my service trip has reminded me of three important lessons:

1. Don’t worry about tomorrow.

It’s actually kind of embarrassing to think about how many times we have heard this, and still we continue to fritter away our time-allotment worrying and planning and stressing and talking about stressing and complaining about worrying… It takes a dramatic change of routine to break out of that vicious cycle. I attribute this newfound sense of peace in the present to the leaving behind of our cellphones for the entire week during our service trip. Hopefully you’ve heard it before, but just in case I will emphasize it again – life is much fuller when we don’t attempt to fill it with meaningless distractions. That week we did something different and uncomfortable, because we trusted that it would toughen us up for the better. We were reckless youth, but we were reckless with our kindness, openness, and joy, gambling that our time would be well spent in the service of others. We rebelled against the norm by staying up into the early hours of the morning – reflecting on our service, playing games, and baking cakes. We didn’t worry about what the next day had in store, because we knew we had more than enough in front of us, right then and there.

2. Reading will shape you into a more empathetic, understanding, and insightful being.

Oh, how I wish I could somehow fully convince the sweet kiddos that I tutored and hung out with this past week to take that truth to heart. As time goes on, I’ve witnessed more and more the incredibly forceful effect that good (also bad) books have on lives. I mean, how great is it that you can get an insight into someone’s head and have a shared experience, without ever having met them? Whether we like it or not, new understandings impact us. Literature give us a clue to the thought well thought, the word well said, and the deed well done. It is then up to us to make those noble thoughts, words, and actions our own; we must edify our lives into heroic poetry. I wish I could tell the kids that spending a summer day reading in a tree, and then consequently not being able to help but go out and hunt for the excitement you just got a glimpse of, is ten times more thrilling at the end of the day than curbing boredom by watching show after show on TV or the computer. Everything in moderation, of course, but I noticed a severe lack of enthusiasm for reading amongst the teachers and students, which I would dearly like to remedy. My suggestion? Read a good book. Think about that book, then talk about that book, then write about that book. I promise, you won’t be able to stop, and your life will be all the better for it.

3. Humble yourself.

There is an unparalleled power and beauty in the rawness of the human soul.

We nine of the “Calhoun Clique” have something real neat. We left our phones and our façades at home. We have a shared week-long experience that no one else will ever be able to replicate or to understand. And I tell myself, hold onto that feeling. But the truth is, I’ve felt like this before, and it put down roots. This past week gave birth to a peace that significantly deepened and heartened the stately tree of serenity that was already alive in my soul. It brought a renewed clarity to my life, improving upon the particular perspectives I had previously held and also forging new ones. Teaching ourselves to search out the beauty in the people and places we run across is a lifelong task, but I do know that we all grew by leaps and bounds in that area during this past week. I look back and think, how did I not know the beauty in the innocence and simplicity of waking up next to my new pals each new day? It is in the gift of a sleepy “good morning” to the occupant of the neighboring air mattress, while handing them that much-needed cup of black coffee. How did I not know the beauty in the wildly distracted student who could never sit still? It is in the gift of her endearing trust in me, as I later learn she is a foster child, yearning for care and comfort. How did I not know the beauty in nine wearied voices singing in unison on the last leg of our trip, just so that we may give each other one last precious, enduring memory? It is in the gift of the relationships that only open, exposed human souls can give one another. We left our comfort-zone to become humbled by each other, and in return we found uplifting peace.

The task now before us is to become a channel of peace for others.