Above the change and the loss,
father and freer,
your singing continues,
god of the lyre.
How can we embrace our sorrows
or learn how to love,
or see what we lose
when we die? Only your song
over the earth
honors our life and makes it holy.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
Rilke has long been a favorite poet, and quotes from his writings weave through my conversation regularly. That may happen more often this year as I just found a book I didn’t know existed called A Year with Rilke with readings for every day. When I read today’s piece, quoted above, my mind went to an enormously touching scene in yesterday’s news report from Haiti. A woman had been trapped inside a building for 6 days – her husband apparently just knew she was alive in there without any way to validate that knowing until yesterday. Finally, miraculously, they dug to a place where there was a hole in the rubble. The man called his wife’s name and she answered. She was right inside that hole.
When after three hours of careful digging they pulled this woman safely out and put her on a stretcher, after six days in the dark with no food or water or clue whether she would ever be found, she lay on that stretcher and started singing with a full rich voice. Singing! Reporters, on-lookers, people all crowded around and I wished I could have asked everyone to gently back away and let this woman sing until she was finished singing. Sing over this whole tragedy. Please let us hear the song.
I was privileged to go to Kenya on an intercultural exchange organized by Daniel Martin and Wangaari Matthai in 1997. One of my most moving and profound memories of the people in the villages is of their constant joyful singing – all of them, all of the time, all day long. In the middle of a conversation a word spoken could trigger a song and they began, with smiles, shoulders and hips involved in the singing. It seemed everyone there had powerful, rich voices. After a few moments, the song would stop and the conversation continued; but soon another one would erupt. This happened during planting, carrying water, cooking, cleaning, you name it. I felt our cultural poverty that in general we don’t do that. Listening to music is very important to most in the world I live in, but actual erupting into song in the middle of a conversation or workplace – not so much.
Right now, reading this poem of Rilke’s about the god of the lyre singing over us, and hearing this woman from Haiti still singing in my brain, and knowing that the Kenyans and so many more are singing today, all day, I feel more at home in the earth. Conceptually I know that the air is not empty and it carries the earth’s song, but these memories help me to feel it in my belly and in my heart. I like that, and I’m grateful.
P.S. That was intended to be an ending for this writing, but as I was looking over it I suddenly remembered my dream of last night. It was of a man who shattered a vase over his wife’s throat and deliberately used a triangular piece of the glass to cut her wind pipe and kill her. Their daughter was looking on and crying. I seemed to be both the wife and the daughter. I went to the wake and was neither of them, the daughter was with me. I was the only one there who knew what had happened and I felt physically ill.
I didn’t know what I might write about today until I read that poem of Rilke’s and the woman from Haiti came back to mind. But my dream knew! There is personal meaning in it for me, of course, but also collective meaning I believe. In our patriarchal world the throat of the feminine has been sliced, her rich voice silenced. The daughter inside of each of us, male and female, is weeping at this tragedy; and the woman in us is a witness, and is physically ill because of it. God of the lyre, please help us.