“Do not go gentle into that good night.” I thought this line, from poet Dylan Thomas, “at” a friend.
She’d posted this on Facebook:At least a hundred replies arrived within 15 minutes. Friends sent love, reported dialing 911, asked for her phone number.
It was the end of the workday. I added my own “please stay strong” plea to the thread. Then I went to my desk. Thinking I was alone, I sobbed.
A coworker rushed in.
I explained. Not knowing what else to do, she asked if she could hug me. I said yes, although I don’t like being physically touched when I’m sad. I understood her need to help, though, as I also felt it. I wanted to help my troubled friend, even though we hadn’t spoken in decades and lived thousands of miles apart.
John Donne wrote,
No man is an island
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
When people we’re connected to become lost, we ourselves feel lessened.
It can be difficult to pray in terrible situations
Prayer is supposed to help, but agnostics like myself sometimes find praying awkward. Also, sometimes people don’t want prayers. After the 2015 Paris attacks, cartoonist Joann Sfar expressed a common sentiment, asking people not to pray for Paris because, “We don’t need more religion!”
I am a Buddhist and I believe in praying. But humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it. It is illogical. God would say, solve it yourself because you created it in the first place.
This is true, but sometimes we’re unable to find solutions.
Someone reported that my friend had been taken to a hospital and was, for the moment, all right.
The next day, my friend posted a note that she was still suicidal. Then she posted that she wasn’t anymore. Then she disappeared.
An APB went out.
She was sighted by police.
She disappeared again.
Poetry as “secular prayer”
Poetry is sometimes referred to as “secular prayer.” Its words can be more soothing than spontaneous prayers. Poets might or might not tap into higher powers, but, being human, they tap into the collective consciousness of humanity.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The Thomas poem, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” is often used to urge people to fight against illness. Since depression is an illness, I couldn’t stop thinking words from it “at” my friend. Doing so made me feel more connected to her than praying to a deity would’ve. For some, singing might do the same thing. Others might mentally send images.
I “thought-sent” image-based poems about nature to my suicidal friend, hoping she’d find solace in unexpected sightings during her journey.
These included the haiku written by Japanese Soto Zen master Ryokan, after thieves broke into his room:
The thief left it behind:
at my window.
I also sent “A Cautionary” by my father, Dick Allen, a former poet laureate of Connecticut. On how to get through pain, he wrote,
You walk a little. You stop. You hurt.
And then you go on.
I whispered a W.B. Yeats piece that was pinned on a fence near the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks. Yeats asked that his words
Spread out their wings untiring,
And never rest in their flight,
Till they come where your sad, sad heart is,
And sing to you in the night.
Messages rising and flying like birds
My friend, at last, posted a picture of herself safe. She’s now seeking treatment.
Did the poems I thought “at” her do any good? The skeptic in me says they most likely didn’t, although they helped me through my own anxiety about the situation. I’m also enough of a believer in magical thinking, though, to let myself think that maybe, when joined with the words of others, they did help her. I imagine our prayers, songs, images and whispered poems rising and flying to her like birds.
I’m writing this piece as an excuse to physically send my friend the poems, in case they can be of actual help.
I’m also writing this for others who are worried about sick or endangered loved ones, or people who are acutely aware that, as said in the Maggie Smith poem “Good Bones” that went viral after the 2016 Orlando shootings,
Life is short and the world is at least half terrible.
The world is also half wonderful. There are always kind strangers, and all our voices are needed to join in song and send each other our love.