Two Verses – Different Moods

Two good friends write verse and poetry. Yesterday Steve Shoemaker’s “Anticipation” arrived. Having just re-discovered the verses of our mutual friend Dale Hartwig (1940-2012), it seemed right and good to place the two  voices together as part of a greater whole.

Anticipation: a Pagan Poem by Steve Shoemaker

(Virgil, b 70 BC, wrote farmers
should breed oxen while
the ox’s “lusty youth lasts.”
This reminded him that for
humans our “best days
go quickly,” then on “creep
diseases and gloomy age.”)

When injured, or sick,
animals may well know
something is wrong,
without knowing
they are dying.
We humans often know
even at a young age,
even when healthy,
that we will die.

When old, we breathe
death daily, wondering
if the next shuffled step,
the next irregular heartbeat
will be our last.

Will our last word
be remembered
or even heard?

Sudden Death by Dale Hartwig (1941-2012), written on the occasion of the untimely death of George Spriggs.

So sudden death comes
With raptor claws
To pilfer our world
Break our laws.

Abruptly breath stops
To quiet the stay.
So silent the night,
So numb the day.

The heavens are rent
But little is heard
Save soft moot whispers
Of Life’s absurd.

But wait! I hear
A tiny Babe’s cries
Of Life anew
And death that dies.

And Christ is come
To walk our way,
A Man who knows
With heart, our stay.

NOTE: Some days are like the one Steve was having. Others like the one Dale was having when a voice cries “Wait!” Dale and Steve were and are painfully familiar with “stays” in the Absurd, but also with the courage and joy of “a Man who knows With heart, our stay.”

Dale served only one church in his life, a small church in Concord, Michigan where he also became the chaplain to the village over coffee.  He was one of seven seminary classmates who gather each year for renewal of friendship and for theological reflection. He died in the long-term care center in Grand Rapids where his advanced Parkinson’s had taken him several years earlier.

At the last gathering he attended in Chicago, he left copies of his poetry with us. I thought I had lost them until they suddenly reappeared when my colleague at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church, Kathy, presented me with a bag of “stuff” she’d found while cleaning out my office before my retirement.

Look for more of Dale, as well as Steve, on Views from the Edge today and in the days to come.

– Gordon C. Stewart, December 16, 2014


Robin Williams and Us

Few people made so many laugh or cry as Robin Williams. Today we’re not laughing. We’re crying.

What Robin’s world inside his own skin was like no one else really knows. His sudden death strikes us with an equally sudden sadness. It punctures a hole in our perceptions, brings to a screeching halt the presumption of dailyness and the ordered worlds in which we wrap ourselves in a society whose madness Robin himself helped us to transcend.

We are not among the few who knew him intimately. As in the aftermath of Michael Jackson’s death, we are left to pause and pray for his family and closest friends and to consider again the greater tragedy of violent social order where reason and kindness are as alien as Mork was to this strange world.

The stories in the next days will feed public curiosity, appealing to the need for some cause on which to pin the tragedy, like pinning the tail on the donkey, some manageable explanation for why a man so funny and gifted would apparently take his own life. We will hear that it was clinical depression or bi-polar disorder or drugs or alcohol or some other diagnosis that explains his death.

But will they address the bigger human question to which Robin gave his life in comedy and in drama: why is the world so in love with death? Why is the world we have built for ourselves so cruel? Why does it take an alien named Mork with an innocent young woman named Mindy to deliver us from the love affair with a collective madness for which there seems to be no cure? And how do we, when we bump up against an inexplicable death like Robin’s, pause appropriately in his honor to give thanks for him in both his laughter and his tears?