Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Dynamics of Family and Sacrifice

        Last week, I went to a lecture given by Dr. Maiju Gardner of the Theology Department on the Catholic tradition of fasting. The talk focused on the origins of fasting, particularly as a Lenten tradition, which was appropriate considering Lent is fast approaching! Dr. Gardner also talked about some saints or other extremely devout Christians like Catherine of Siena or John the Baptist lived on practically no food at all for most of their lives, and how that method of fasting has been scrutinized by theologians as a sort of “Christian anorexia”. Moreover, Dr. Gardner described fasting as just one of the ways people make sacrifices for God. This relates to the three poems we read for this week, all of which deal with what we endure in the name of family. As the lecture relayed, people sacrifice many things, such as food for their family as after all, God is our Father.
            Peter Meinke’s poem “Untitled” is an incredibly powerful account in the form of a letter of apology written to the speaker’s son. It is deeply personal, almost without regard for style, as the first line begins without capitalization, and punctuation is only used sporadically. The speaker seems genuinely remorseful and regretful of what he has done, but the imagery is so incriminating. The reader can clearly see a little boy being beaten in the lines, “thin wrists and fingers hung / boneless in despair, pale freckled back / bent in defeat, pillow soaked.” Whether the pillow is soaked with blood or merely the little boy’s own tears from crying into it, that image brought tears to my eyes because I know that it is the story of innumerable little boys around the world. Even though he is sorry, I didn’t feel as though the speaker was sorry enough as it just ends with “so I write this for life, for love, for / you, my oldest sun Peter, age 10 / going on 11,” and I wasn’t satisfied with that conclusion.
            Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” is a very well-known piece dealing with a similarly dysfunctional father figure. I had read it before, but after reading “Untitled” the poem just fell kind of flat for me. Sure, it’s a beautifully-written piece about a boy whose father comes home drunk often, but it just didn’t resonate for me this time. I didn’t think it was descriptive enough or told enough about the story behind this night, and not in an interesting “leave the reader to their own interpretations” way. While the poem is well-composed, I was still reeling from “Untitled” and was therefore unable to appreciate it in the way it was probably meant.
            The third poem, Fleur Adcock’s “The Video” describes the kind of mild family problem to which most readers can probably relate. In comparison to the preceding two poems, “The Video” seemed incredibly petty and childlike and whiny, like an older sibling who was still holding a grudge about the birth of their younger sibling. Granted, I am sure many an older sibling has felt this way, but the tone was so immature, I was disinterested and almost immediately put-off. All three of these poems speak of what we excuse and what we put up with in our family lives. But as Dr. Gardner's lecture conveyed, sometimes we need to take a step back from our own lives and make a real sacrifice in order to achieve a better perspective on ourselves and the people around us. 

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