“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.”
The death of author Maya Angelou on May 28 and the murderous massacre in Isla Vista in Santa Barbara County, California, on May 23, 2014, occurred within a week of each other. Both forced me to turn my attention away from work on the final proofs for Journey through the Power of the Rainbow, Quotations from a Life Made Out of Poetry. Then both, in the end, for different reasons, persuaded me to remain as focused as I could and to get the work done.
That last phrase in particular––“get the work done”––stood out because I recalled Angelou using it when noting how prolific James Baldwin (as an author of novels, plays, poems, essays, short fiction, and screenplays) had been in comparison to Ralph Ellison (celebrated during his lifetime mostly for a single history-making novel and collection of essays). Angelou acknowledged Ellison’s towering achievement with Invisible Man but also felt Baldwin deserved recognition for the more extensive body of critically acclaimed work. Therefore, upon her passing, those words thundered through my skull with the full volume of her majestic articulation: “Get the work done.”
It was a wholly different matter in the case of the misogynistic implosion that Elliot Rodger unleashed in the form of a psychotic detonation that took the lives of six people, wounded seven more, and scarred countless others. The introductory essay in Journey through the Power of the Rainbow talks about how the book was inspired largely by social media’s adoption of a certain quote that might have helped Rodger change his troubled mind. It is one that encourages individuals to seek, claim, and celebrate their innate value as human beings rather than suffer from––or make others suffer from––delusions of rejection and insignificance.
The Man in His Mental Mirror
Rodger acted from the perspective of a mental model––or image of the world held in his mind–– that gave him a lot of misleading assumptions and generally bad information. He assumed his experience of college life must necessarily mirror that of the stereotypical representations so often depicted in popular films and TV programs. Otherwise, it meant either he was failing as a human being or others were failing him.
He convinced himself that being a virgin at the ripe old young adult age of 22 was a reason for self-condemnation. He persuaded himself––while enjoying forms of privilege and luxury unknown to most––that others disliked him when he probably spent too little time actually communicating with anyone to learn whether they truly did or not. Or to determine if it mattered as much as he apparently thought.
Please Click to Read Part 2: Maya Angelou, Elliot Rodger, and Getting the Work Done Part 2
“We are the mirror as well as the face in it.
War is an addiction to chaos that shreds human souls into tattered rags of trauma. In acknowledgement of Rumi’s 806th birthday, I’m all for Syria, Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, and all other countries and organizations at war with each other to exchange their guns and bombs for poems by Mevlana. Replace tanks and drones with open mics and let everyone brave enough go at it. Whoever spits the most verses, quatrains, long poems, or quotes by Rumi wins the right to proclaim peace and throw a feast in honor of sanity, brotherhood, sisterhood, and childhood.
Is that likely to happen? No, not very, but the ecstatic beauty and soulful grace of Rumi’s poetry inspires human hearts to believe in possibilities beyond the predictably fatal. So does the Herculean effort it took for him to produce the works for which the world now reveres him: the ever-astonishing Masnavi, his discourses, the Divan of Shams of Tabriz, and various letters and sermons.
As one of his most celebrated translators, Coleman Barks, has noted with amazement, Rumi seems to have composed no less than a dozen poems every single day for the final 12 years of his extraordinary life. Within that incandescent corpus are works that address nearly aspect of what it means to be human and what it could mean to embrace life with a sense of divine co-creation. This last idea, in modern terms, is much less mystical than some might think when considering the environmentalist concept of people as stewards of the earth rather abusers of it. (continues below after video)
Rumi’s legacy is one of many that remind us there are options to giving violence control over our individual and collective destinies. Moreover, life- and history-altering transformations can take place when we least expect them to occur. One such transformation in Rumi’s life was when he met Shams of Tabriz, the man whose influence is generally cited as the catalyst that caused Rumi to evolve into a whirling light of divinely-inspired creative genius. For those who daily discover and rediscover his work, it sometimes happens with the sudden realization that the idea of “us versus them” may be less accurate––and far less important–– than the idea that not only are “we also them” but “they are also us.”
Sept 30, 2013
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.