Posted by: MC | March 4, 2011

March Forth!

I’m not sure the first time I realized this day, March 4, is the only day of the year that doubles as a poem.  Poetry is, by nature an illusive combination of feeling and fact.  It is mysterious, powerfully so.  It is anchored in words, also pretty imprecise when it comes down to it.  There is certainly reality in it; otherwise poetry would never catch our attention at all, but it’s bigger somehow.  Way bigger.

The white spider
whiter still
in the lightning’s flash.

Geraldine C. Little

Haiku and other short forms are great examples of this bigness.  So is March Fo(u)rth.  That poem grew exponentially in mystery and power when last year on this very day my mentor, guide, fairy godmother, dear friend Mayme Lou Porter left her body.  She was 84 years down the unique road her life had defined.  The last few years had become increasingly rugged as she crossed into terrain pocked with Alzheimer’s.

Mayme’s childhood came about on the two-toned landscape of the dust bowl years in west Texas where she absorbed a vastness of perspective.  Wide vision combined with a character of kindness, of forgiveness; and further with an incisive version of what we commonly celebrate as intelligence.  All of that showed up woven into expression as Mayme’s quite uncommon and fortunately consistent wisdom.

By luck, I was able to find Mayme again in a nursing home in Sherman, TX.  Our reunion included her offer to be one of the 100 EX:Change voices.  Her words were the effortless brushstrokes of a master considering change in the waning days of a magical life (EX:C blogs, 2-22-2009, Coffee Klatch as Foretold by Mayme; 3-9-2010, Weather Report).

Two small sketches:

  • When I was much younger, Mayme told me of riding in a large wagon as a child.  An adult, maybe her father, steered the wagon.  Maybe there were horses; maybe a motor.  The sun was strong against the straw hat with the tight strap tied under her chin to keep it in place.  The wind was strong.  Her small body was being pelted with an incessant contagion of cotton, her small fingers bleeding from the sharp edges of the bowls she searched to for crickets.  Her assigned task was to pull the insects from their soft hiding places and crush them.  One after another after another.
  • Tim was one of thousands of children to whom Mayme returned her or his learning.  She listened through Tim’s drawings, his stories (sparse and mumbled at first), through his dreams and his play.  She listened through his silence.  With color and sandpaper, with the traced shapes of words in print, she found keys to unlock his knowing.  She showed him his learning, his unique way to reading, to writing, to numbers – a trail none of his teachers could see.  I watched and learned.  As the years passed, Mayme unlocked more than learning for more than children.  Person after person regained courage and liveliness from knowing her – from being known in the unique way Mayme recognized the essential core of people.

Dust bowl west Texas – no one in our country has a life untouched by working and workers.  Tim tracing then reading his first word – no one in our country has a life untouched by teachers.  Then there was last night.  I sat into the wee hours in a warmly lit living room with the members of a folk band from Pittsburgh – the Newlanders [http://www.newlanders.com/].  With harmonies precise and seamless, making adventurous and mature music from the acoustic and electric strings of the tradition the Newlanders sing adaptations of the union/worker/protest tradition (Weavers, W. Guthrie, Ronnie Gilbert …).  They were in rural central Wisconsin for a concert.  What timing.

The public debate and attendant unrest continue – in Wisconsin, in Ohio, in Indiana and now with a pending bill in the U.S. Congress (language in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that would make it drastically harder for rail or aviation workers to unionize).  Workers and teachers make up the vast majority of people immediately affected by what turns out to be a conversation that’s been going on in our country since the late 1700’s, nearly as long as the United States has been.  Public advocacy for fair work conditions and wages are characteristically American.

But many of the people opposed to unions these days are working people.  They are people who work in corporate systems well beneath highly paid management, people who work for upper income independent business people (for example medical and dental partnerships, legal firms, local manufacturers) and people who make their economic way outside the union systems (e.g., small business owners, non-corporate farmers and ranchers).

So here are all these people working hard to care for their families.  Arguably everyone has benefited from the advocacy of unions – say with the existence of weekends.  Still, the intensity of disagreement continues as attention turns again and again to somebody maybe getting more than I get in a way that’s unfair.  “What about me?” persists as one of the noisiest, most seductive and divisive questions in American experience.

Any chance it’s a divide-and-conquer situation?  If we’re hating and struggling against one another we won’t have time to see the system that’s benefiting the very few winners behind the scenes?  But then, does recognizing and dwelling in that dynamic only perpetuate the addictive us-against-them thinking that so corrodes our lives and spirits in the first place?  I can’t know.  I can think about it.  I can talk about it.  But I really can’t know.  At this point, I’m also not sure any definitive and final identification of the ‘why’ of our disagreements about unions, about taxation, about the role of government is even possible.

What I do know here on March forth is this.  Mayme Porter’s life – the way it influenced mine and so many others – proved there are answers to this unrest.  Those answers reside in listening and in truly desiring peace and happiness for all people.

It wasn’t until I was well into the EX:Change trip that I really began to get the fact of this fairly simple truth – not until the words of dozens of Americans revealed patterns across their (and our) astonishing variation.  The great majority of us have this desire.  It shows up again and again in the 100 voices.  I hear it daily in conversations since then with friends and with strangers.  We have the desire, but we don’t know how to live out of it.  Mayme knew.  She lived peace and happiness for all beings.  In her life as a teacher she could unlock that capacity, that freedom in people.  I have a feeling she left behind many who learned from her in ways our lives are only now revealing.

This quality of listening across our differences is what I write and think about, now.  Mayme’s returning to me the confidence to dare acting as an agent of real peace and happiness is what, this week, linked the words of an out-of-work Wisconsin chef with Tim’s locked up capacity to read.  “I feel like I’m just a little piece of lint on the earth. A little dust bunny,” the 59-year-old woman with a culinary arts degree said outside the Wisconsin statehouse.  “I have so much to give.”

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Responses

  1. WOW! How wonderful to read how the legend of Mayme Porter lives and could possibly thrive in these times when we need her wisdom and compassionate teaching! I was her student, dear friend, and co-seeker for 29 years, and know how her essence continues to influence my life!!!! I am so grateful for having her in my life and the impact she had on me and the multitude of people with whom she shared.

  2. […] friends and family, gains a Christian perspective on change, and reconnects with the late Mayme Lou Porter – her mentor from college – for more words of wisdom. Episodes are free to stream, http://www.communityradio.fm/100voices


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