The title of my blog page, “Stubbornly Facing the Light” was inspired by none other than the wonderful Elizabeth Gilbert. I have read (actually more like devoured) her books, “Eat Pray Love” and “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” and also recently saw her speak at the First Annual International Women’s Summit in Phoenix, Arizona. I also follow her on facebook and Instagram, and of course, have watched numerous youtube videos of her. Okay, yes, I’m a fan! In her work, she has made reference several times to a poet hero of hers, Jack Gilbert, and a poem that he wrote, “A Brief for the Defense”. I never heard of Jack Gilbert before and I am not somebody that spends time reading or researching poets or poetry but this particular poem I find very resonate personally and also with respect to what is happening all over the globe right now. I read it and it gives me some perspective; healthy perspective. Here is “A Brief for the Defense”:
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies are not starving someplace, they are starving somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils. But we enjoy our lives because that is what God wants. Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women at the fountain are laughing together between the suffering they have known and the awfulness in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody in the village is sick. There is laughter everyday in the terrible streets of Calcutta, and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay. If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction, we lessen the importance of their deprivation. We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil. If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down, we should give thanks that the end had magnitude. We must admit there will be music despite everything. We stand at the prow again of a small ship anchored late at night in the tiny port looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront is three shuttered cafes and one naked light burning. To hear the faint sound of oars in silence as a rowboat comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth all the years of sorrow that are to come.
In a world that is giving us so many reasons to spiral into fear, into hatred, to focus on all the things that are wrong (globally: terror attacks, war, famine, hunger, disease, politics) (personally: worry, stress, kids, ailing parents, marriage, work/career, and more worry, and more stress!) this poem provides a manual for living. We are here, not to be overcome by the darkness and the suffering, the devastation and the grief, but we have an obligation to grasp on to its companions: joy, delight, tiny beautiful wonders that we all have been blessed with on our life journey. An appreciation and gratitude for the magnitude of getting the chance to live (and die) is how I want to live my life. I want to take in the terrible beauty of it all and celebrate it.
I thank Elizabeth Gilbert for bringing Jack Gilbert and this lovely poem to light for me. I am striving to live in “stubborn gladness” even though there is darkness, strife, fear, and worry in our world, and even in my own little world. I consider myself blessed to be a part of it.