The way Herod liked to listen to John the Baptist, summoning him from his cell for private chats but could make no sense of what he said; the way Festus kept the apostle Paul locked up for two years because he enjoyed hearing him talk, although his words made him afraid; the way the German guards, terrified by night bombings, sought out Pastor Bonhoeffer, even though he was, by his own account, a provider of cold comfort, writing to a friend, “I can listen all right, but hardly ever find anything to say. Yet perhaps the way one asks about some things and is silent about others helps suggest what really matters”—did not stop the sharp rap on the prison door or the words “get ready to come with us” as if for one more quiet conversation about what really matters.
You do not need me to bless you for the shorn field easily gives up its treasure into your baskets. Your quick fingers conjure food out of early morning mist, and in this light even the dumpster gives up its chipped vase, its clawfoot end table. The sidewalk gives up its clear brown bottle. You do not need me to bless you but I will anyway wish you clear sight into the world’s crevices and corners. Harvest the chives flowering under the workbench. Harvest the copper tubing looped in the scrap pile, the chrome fendered bicycle at the sidewalk sale. Clamp the broken slats of the chair together. Restring the guitar. And let your metal detectors whine always with joy. May you find all you seek, because at the end of the story the woman knots up her apron heavy with grain, then steals up to the sleeping body of the man who does not yet love her. And when she lies down next to him she will gather even the scent of his sleep— the smell of all future harvests, ripening.
An old Senegalese proverb says, “An elder who dies is like a library that burns.” This belief is at the heart of the small but moving independent film Goodbye Solo, directed and co-written by Ramin Bahrani. It’s also the conviction that drives the main character, Solo (Souléymane Sy Savané), an upbeat Senegalese immigrant to the U.S.
One morning this summer I was basking in the sun With the brother closest to me in age. We had been Brought up almost as twins but then took disparate Roads, as twins do. He was sobbing and I was near Tears and the ocean was muttering. I heard a heron. We had been having the most naked open talk we’d Had in many years. I wanted to tell him how deeply I loved him but words are just so weak and shallow. So I talked about the forsythia bush we used to hide Under together. It was the safest place on the planet. The light was always amazing in there and it wasn’t Ever muddy somehow and you were draped in gold. It was a hut a huddle a tent a canopy a cave a refuge. Sometimes you have to use a thing to say something Else. We do this all the time. We talk sideways, yes? But sidelong is often the only road that gets to where You know you need to go. So much means lots more Than it seems like it could mean. Tears, for example.
John Coleman, who died recently, presided over Haverford College during the tumultuous Vietnam War era. He sympathized with students’ antiwar protests but also tried to channel the antiwar movement in constructive ways. When students considered burning the American flag, Coleman placed a washing machine at the center of the campus and encouraged students to wash the flag instead. He persuaded dozens of college presidents to sign an antiwar statement. On sabbaticals he took blue-collar jobs to explore the gap between academics and workers (Inside Higher Ed, September 12).