Life in a Northern Town

A Ritual To Read To Each Other

This morning, I was in the basement attempting to make sense of the piles of clothes, socks and towels that resembled a small mountain range. Since the basement is NOT my favorite place to be, I thought listening to MPR might make my task more enjoyable. Eboo Patel, founder of InterFaith Youth Core, was offering his perspective on religious intolerance and the resulting violence we read and hear about every day. At the end of his interview, he quoted a portion of the last stanza of William Stafford's poem, 'A Ritual To Read To Each Other'. I stopped sorting clothes and let the phrase, 'For it is important awake people be awake' sit with me. What does it mean to be awake?

The mountain range of clothes kept me in the basement for the majority of the afternoon and I had plenty of time to think about Stafford's poem. I am awake when I am walking on the beach with the dogs, making cream cheese wontons with Charlie and Meghan, going on photo safaris with Will and Sadie on the Little Sioux River, watching Ted and Jack laugh about Henry's snoring or catching a glance of the lake on my way to pick up the kids at school. What awakens me can be as simple as planting a garden or as complex as protecting Lake Superior. It comes down to stewardship and legacy— how will I protect what I love and how will I leave it for my children and grandchildren. Poems like Stafford's remind me to be awake, listen with an open heart, watch the horizon and do everything I can to ensure truth will light the darkness.

A Ritual To Read To Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am and I don't know the kind of person you are a pattern that others made may prevail in the world and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind, a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail, but if one wanders the circus won't find the park, I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy, a remote important region in all who talk: though we could fool each other, we should consider— lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake, or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep; the signals we give— yes or no, or maybe— should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

William Stafford