Last night, I was reading through some of my students’ responses to the question – “Why read poetry?” Most of them said that they didn’t really like poetry. I wasn’t surprised by that fact, but what did surprise me was why they didn’t like it. It wasn’t simply that it was hard to understand; that I would get. It was that to understand it they had to read the work a few times and really think about it. The problem, it seems, was that they just didn’t want to sit and look and think to figure things out. They wanted the meaning and ideas to just be apparent to them on a quick, first read. This made me a little sad.
And then I got to thinking about my life and realized I’m the same way, not about poetry, but about life in general. When something is hard, instead of staring it in the face and pondering what it means that I find this part of life hard or trying to find a way through it, I turn on the TV, grab a handful of Reese’s Pieces and avoid the problem altogether. In her book Women, God, and Food, Geneen Roth calls this “bolting,” where we choose to run away from our pain rather than deal with it.
This morning, I was rereading Annie Dillard’s essay “Seeing,” and she talks about how 300 redwing blackbirds were hidden in an Osage orange tree. She didn’t even know they were there until she walked up to the tree and the birds scattered. When she looked back, the tree seemed the same until she got closer and 100 “diehards” took off again. It took some effort of looking and approaching – seeing and not bolting – to witness the spectacle of the hidden birds.
So much of life seems like this – it is when we stride (or waddle or crawl or tiptoe) up to life that we can see the beauty and truth in it. Sometimes we have to sit and stare it down for a while; sometimes we have to stroll up and shake things loose. Sometimes, we have to wait for our vision to become clear. But always we have to keep our eyes open and see; we have to not turn away. Whether we have to read the poem for the fifth time, whether we cry through the pain of life for the 100th, whether we simply take a walk in the woods by our house and see hundreds of bits of color flash in the sun, we must learn to see.