We retrieved F from school today. Because of having to drag all her stuff home from the dorm, we took both my car and R's pickup, so I have driven for 6 hours and I'm tired.
I think that's my mantra lately: I'm-tired. The new medication the neurologist has me on has a possible side effect of fatigue. I don't think my fatigue is a side effect of the medication, though, I think it's a side effect of being tired. (I like the new stuff. The tremor is definitely knocked back down. Not sure about helping the migraines, although a few times I've found myself thinking "I'm tired and mad, where's my headache?" so perhaps it is.)
It's raining, which complicates the business of getting her things in. We thought we'd wait it out, but it looks like it will never stop.
So I'm going to write a few thoughts about poetry. I read recently about a book for boys that apparently lists 5 poems every boy should know. I don't know what those 5 poems are, but I tried to come up with some myself, although I'm not big on sexism. I thought of Kipling's If, of course, and Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade. The latter, by the way, would be a good jumping-off point for a conversation about when to follow the rules and when to break them. There is an absolutely terrific book, The Reason Why, which tells the background story of that famous charge, and also explains how the Crimean War marked a turning point in British military history.
F thought Casey at the Bat, and of course she's right. It's a fun poem and it makes a good point about hubris. And another, serious poem about hubris is The Convergence of the Twain, Thomas Hardy's poem about the Titanic. To F's surprise, I had never run across this poem before. It's really quite something. I wonder if Hardy got hate mail about it.
And then we thought about Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky too.
There was another poem I thought about, and I'll put it in here after I tell this story.
When F was a senior in high school, I worked with the mother of one of her classmates. This coworker told me one day that her daughter had called her, crying, because a boy had died the day before. When I got home I found F on her bed with a look on her face.
"Are you OK?"
"Did you know that boy?"
And F started crying. Yes, she knew that boy. His name was Okechi Womeodu and he was in her math class and her study hall. Okechi was in the very tough and challenging magnet school program that F was in, and in addition he missed a good bit of school to play tennis. One day Okechi had been playing tennis in the morning, and in the afternoon he had a soccer game. He didn't feel well, so the coach had him on the bench. During the game, Okechi suddenly tumbled over. His mother, a physician, ran to him; the paramedics were called, CPR was started, but he couldn't be saved. Apparently he had a heart defect; if he hadn't been an athlete, or if it had been caught and corrected, it might not have been a problem. As it was, it was a very tragic one-of-those-things.
The kids didn't know till after Okechi died that he was a nationally ranked tennis player. What they did know was that he had a smile that would light up a room. It made you feel good, F said, just to be around him. F said he was kind of a klass klown, except that he never carried it too far. If his teachers told him to be quiet, they were laughing too. In the days after his death, F told me that the kids and the teachers all were crying. The math teacher rearranged the seats, because even though Okechi's desk was empty when he was playing tennis, it was too painful to look at it and know he was never coming back. The study hall teacher, who had previously spoken to the kids only to tell them to be quiet and get their books out, talked to them at length about Okechi, and then talked to them about themselves, asked questions about their plans, and so forth; and he kept this up the rest of the semester.
At some point later on F and I were talking about the poetry of A.E. Housman, and she remarked that for her, "To an Athlete Dying Young" would be forever linked to Okechi. She said that again today. That's the thing about poetry: like all art, it's a repository for ideas and feelings to be expressed and shared and understood. It connects us to each other and to the universality of the human experience.
To An Athlete Dying Young
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.