What’s great about social media and having a lot of writer friends is that they share beautiful, striking poetry by many, many strangers (who are their friends), and you learn more and more of other writers and appreciate a very diverse pool of work from an arrayed crowd, all connected somehow in the vat called Facebook.
On this Christmas Eve morning, I read this beautiful poem by a stranger, and I fell in love.
“Notes Regarding Happiness” by Matthew Olzmann struck many deep-seated strings in me. I love the way he uses hyperbole and exaggeration. I love the way he moves from one idea to the next, all in a tangent, stream-of-consciousness form, how he ponders this exaggerated thought to another, but at the end, he pulls it back to a non-exaggeration, to a very still truth of his narrator, and he speaks and shows so much of the human experience through obsession and exaggeration that the poem becomes almost like a manifesto. It was this beautiful array of human emotion that pulled me from the inside.
Maybe it’s because of my state of mind right now that I was so moved by his words. There are a lot of things going through my mind right now—a lot of doubt (in terms of writing), a lot of “missing home,” a lot of love (for my husband and my family), and a lot of regret mixed in with hope. I miss home so much, but my last trip to LA reminded me why I needed (at the time) to “pick up my bags and leave.” Home was really broken back then, and it needs a lot of fixin’, but I know I’ll get there soon. 2011 has been a really beautiful, broken year, and I’ve been re-patching myself throughout it. I needed this time apart; we needed this time to grow as a two-unit family. I really miss home, but I understand why I left it. Next year, Josh and me will either be stationed in San Diego or elsewhere, and where ever we end up, it’s really up to God or whatever karmic powers. I keep second guessing whether I want San Diego or not, and, you know, sometimes it’s hard when the home you left isn’t there anymore to return to. Carson, California, you will always be home to me, but the houses I lived in are gone now, gone and foreclosed, and I have to pick myself up and keep moving, even if I do want to return back to something, return back to that place I once called “home.”
Sorry for the rambling. But here’s the section of Olzmann’s poem that really hit me (the crescendo is just beautiful and heartbreaking):
On the day my wireless connection
betrayed me, the was an article online
about the Westboro Baptist Church.
To get from Topeka, Kansas, up to Michigan,
their little convoy of hate traveled
a network of American highways—like poison
travelling the roads of the body—to protest
a high school play. It was my old high school.
The play was “The Laramie Project,”
a drama about the death of Matthew Shepard.
Here come the church folk. Here come
the picket signs that say “God hates you”
and “God Will Kill You.” And honestly,
when I thought of your birthday,
I did not intend to write about
the Westboro Baptist Church, a subject
guaranteed to make birthday letters fail
the way computers fail,
the way the engines of airplanes fail,
the way Gods fail
to convince their followers to treat
each other with any level kindness.
Let’s call this one big-ass mountain of failure.
Let’s grab some ladders and grappling hooks.
Let’s try to climb over the mess we’ve made of this place.
I am trying to do that. I am sitting in front
of a blue screen, hitting a button over and over,
trying to send you the following message:
Hello. I am your friend.
I am wishing you happiness.
— Source, Poetry Northwest literary magazine.
There are so many reason why this poem hit me, why it made me just sit there after I read it and let its words sink further and further in me. I used to be such a zealous Christian in my youth. I used to believe in so many things that this religion spoke of, and though I still hold many things of it dear to my heart (like the notion of objective goodness and its existence due to the existence of immorality—read Philippa Foot’s “On Natural Goodness” for more thoughts on this complex concept), I cannot bring myself to the beck and call of Christianity. Ever since I attended Wheatstone Academy in 2006, I told myself I will never be a lukewarm Christian—I would either be a Christian or not—and as I result, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I believe in a good God (because I believe in goodness—and I really believe there can be no goodness, absolute goodness that is good in itself, without a God), but the Christian religion has morphed into something very ugly in many, many people.
Excuse this brief downer on Christmas Eve. Despite all of this complicated, sad stuff, this is why I love Olzmann’s poem so much. The last lines stay with you, reminding you that there is happiness in brokenness as long as you try, pick yourself up, and remind yourself who you are and what you believe in.
No matter what, I will always believe that there is good in the world, that there is good in people, and even though I’ve been disappointed more times than I can say, by myself and others, if given the chance to make amends, I would. I believe in second chances, I believe in giving people the grace of trying again, and I believe in forgiveness, even when it’s hard. This is what this year, 2011, has meant to me, and this is what I believe Christmas celebrates. Second chances. Forgiveness. Family. Friends. Joy. And a new year. All of this, all of these things, are embedded in Olzmann’s poem, and I’m so thankful to have read it on this day because it made me re-remember all the beliefs and values I hold dear in life.
I wish everyone happiness on this Christmas Eve. Life has been good to me, and it keeps getting better and better. I hope life has been good to you as well, dear reader, and I wish you a very happy Merry Christmas.