Brothers and Sisters:
This morning I was listening to NPR’s Morning Edition as host Noel King interviewed book editor Ilan Stavans about his anthology And We Came Outside And Saw The Stars Again. According to Stavans the book is a combination of poetry and prose about living in times of radical change like the world is experiencing with the Covid-19 pandemic and the upheaval of society being felt across America and around the world.
King brought up three interesting points worth commenting on: two about the content and a third about the title.
The first point focused on one of the pieces written by a contributor from India. The poem is about her first day in quarantine. After bringing in the morning paper she noticed an ant crawling on the pillow where she placed the paper. Her mission for that day, even if she did nothing more, was to find that ant and return it to the outside. King and Stavans agreed the poet used the action as a metaphor for kindness as the ant was introduced into the home within the newspaper containing the dysfunction of the world. The confinement of the poet to her home made it impossible to accomplish anything society would otherwise deem worthy but, by freeing this ant something good would be accomplished that day.
The second observation was that most anthologies, whether poetry or prose, focus exclusively on one form to the exclusion of the other. Stavans made the point that European bookstores do not make a distinction between fiction and non-fiction, poetry or prose. Instead books are jumbled together in a randomness that would drive librarians and those with OCD to madness. His point being there is a beauty to this entropy and it is based on the understanding of time in both a scientific and religious context.
There is an agreement between science and religion, and that basis grows greater with research into the true nature of time, that the concept of time as perceived by humans as linear is false. Instead, time is as an ocean where all events, like droplets of rain, are in a state of simultaneous existence and one droplet becomes indistinguishable from the next. Our perception of time as a linear progression of discrete events exists because our mental abilities are incapable of seeing the whole of existence as simultaneous.
This is a mind blowing concept and one FAR outside the space allotted to even begin to scratch.
The last point, the title of the work, attempts to give perspective to the struggle of existence. The line “and we came outside and saw the stars again.” is the last line of Dante Aligheri’s The Divine Comedy. The line, and thus the overarching message of both Dante’s masterpiece and the Stavans anthology, is that through all the struggles of the individual and collective hell we face, there is an end.
We will find the end.
We will find the light.
For those looking for assistance, IUEC Local 17 has a web page dedicated to mental health, financial and substance abuse resources for members, non-members, friends and family. The page is available on the Health and Wellness tab at the Local’s website, iueclocal17.org. There are no trackers or cookies on the site so access is entirely anonymous.
By the time you read this, there will be about four weeks before the election. Local 17 has a link to the Ohio Secretary of State voter website as well as the IUEC site created in conjunction with the North American Building and Construction Trades. These are important sites for voter information.
No matter what your political persuasion, if you don’t vote, don’t complain.
Until next month…
Work smart, work safe and slow down for safety.