Walking Through Walls

Today, this is favorite poem, published in Dialogue 41:2 (Summer)
Here’s the first half:

Grace
By Annette Weed

I’m wedged between two lifetimes,
this one and that.
Like cement walls on either side,
they press close.

“What is okay for you is not for me,”
she taunts me, this daughter of mine,
letting me know she will not settle
for what I have settled for.
She will choose something all her own,
playing neither father’s game nor mine.
I’m glad.

I will need to work on these walls myself,
without her help, without her lovely presence,
a kind of lace on concrete…

I read the poem yesterday and have since been contemplating the idea of walking through walls, as Christ did after His resurrection. And frankly, the discussion of Thomas Marsh and the real history behind the story of the milk strippings has made me think about giving or taking offense, and “walking through walls” to find the real person behind the story. I’m not talking about just the events in the Marsh/Harris history, but the ways we’ve discussed the history. In telling the whole story, some rather unsavory details have been revealed about other players in the drama, such as Brigham Young. How do we respond generously to him? Some of his actions or words create barriers to many of us in the 21st Century. (Was he just a rude man, or was he a good-natured fellow who loved a laugh–even at someone else’s expense?)

As a writing teacher, I lead my students through the walls of their fears to get to the raw, often difficult details their hearts want to write about. As a mother, I try to walk through the walls of my children’s insecurities to give them some hint of how glorious they are (though the fact that I’m their mother usually makes my evaluation moot, dismissed because “mothers HAVE to say things like that”). As a daughter or a neighbor, I return to bad memories with insights my own passages and initiations have brought, and am often able to generously view events which once embittered me. The hardest walls to walk through are those I’ve created myself and reinforced by building an altar, as it were, to a bad choice or an offense—whether my own or someone else’s. I am capable of worshiping the moment of separation rather than preparing for at-one-ment. Thus, the altar becomes a fort.

Ephesians 2:14 says of Christ: For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.

The trick is to LET HIM effect the miracle.

When my brother was seriously (almost fatally) injured, Dad rushed to the E.R. There, my brother lifted his arms from the ganglia of tubes and managed to form one word: “Hug.” Dad, who had never been terribly demonstrative, maneuvered himself around the tubes so he could hug his wounded son.

Metaphorically, the walls or the tubes might be perceptions, preferences, or habits which come between us and those we are called to love (namely everyone–and not just in the present). They must be spiritually transcended. Dogma won’t do it, and physical fighting can land you in jail. Something in us must love enough to leave our mortal instincts and transcend our prejudices so that we can “walk through walls” or make our way around and through the tangle of invisible tubes all hooked to an incomprehensible life- or dignity-support machine.

I recall angry feelings I nurtured long ago because someone I loved was being mistreated. As I prayed, I wanted God to do an Old Testament sort of thing and rain down fire upon the offender’s head. The answer–almost verbally audible–was “You don’t know their pain.”

It’s a good sentence to remember as we catch an unruly teenager doing yet another stupid thing, as we endure one more complaint by someone who never stops complaining, as we hear someone lash out with hyperbole that would make us laugh if the person weren’t so serious, as we observe the social fool display his foolishness yet again. We don’t know their pain. We don’t see how many hard-to-bear tubes lead from their wounds to life support, and are keeping them from mobility in more joyful realms, nor do we guess how deep and even life-threatening these wounds are.

The Savior would “walk through walls” to get even to the doubting Thomas, would embrace the disciple who denied him thrice, would speak peace to the most obviously plagued leper, and tell a sinful woman that her sins were forgiven, for she had “loved much.”

This is how the poem ends:
And so I do, mastering
new arts which give
the power to walk through walls,
to skip through time, to spin—
only with Christ’s help—
hate into gold,
strands of sparkling filigree
so bright, so true, they are
the only things I can recognize
can grasp, more real than iron,
to transcend the walls. Praise God.

Comments

  1. S.P. Bailey says:

    Beautiful post. Thank you.

  2. Mommie Dearest says:

    I appreciate this post because it gives me a forum to speak to the questions raised about Brigham Young without threadjacking another post. I’ve never had a big problem with BY’s rough edges, although the worst reports, such as the one I read in the recent post, are disappointing. I became acquainted with what we have of his history, years ago from reading Arrington’s “American Moses.” I read it accepting that Arrington would have a bias, but what I really found was that the sheer volume and difficulty of what BY succeeded in doing, over his lifetime, inspired in me an admiration for him that is durable still, despite the occasional report that I come across that shows him at less than his best. He’d never make a good diplomat. Sometimes I am surprised he made a good prophet/governor/colonizer. But he did succeed despite an impressive array of obstacles.

    I tell myself I choose not to judge others, take pride in it really, especially people in history that I only know through reports that are taken to be accurate largely on faith. Not blind faith, mind you, but eyes-open to see if the proper conventions are observed, but in the end all I know about these things are what I have read other people say about them. That’s all we can ever know without being eyewitnesses ourselves. Reading history is an art as well as a science. So I think it’s only prudent that I reserve my judgements to some degree.

    What I find painful in this post isn’t about Brigham Young’s flaws, but this idea of the shrines we build to our pain that keep us confined within the walls of our isolation, and keep us from partaking of the miracle of walking through those walls. I do have quite a collection of lovingly decorated shrines that I don’t want to dismantle, fear to dismantle, cringe to dismantle, and yet I’m so tired of being alone.

  3. Gorgeous last paragraph, Mommie Dearest! You should write blogs!
    I have a strong prejudice against Andrew Jackson, and have sometimes vowed–as an act of protest–to never use $20.00 bills. (I’ve never been able to follow through on that–but I do spend twenties as quickly as I can so they’re out of my hands.) My husband, Bruce, has urged me to read the latest bio of Jackson, which apparently sheds a lot of kindly light on him. Sigh. I suppose I’ll have to do it. I really wonder if I can dismantle that particular wall. It’s a thick one–the Great Wall of America, following the Trail of Tears. But knowledge is power.

  4. Margaret, I’ve been trying to capture and write some of the feelings that this drew out of me. I can’t do it. This was so beautiful and captured some of feelings that I’ve been having of late that are captured perfectly by the image of your brother hooked up in the ER and unable to say anthink. I feel walled off. Like him separated and wanting to speak, but unable to say what I really want to communicate. I’m rambling, but this really got to me.

  5. The final image, about turning hate into gold that is more real than iron, was powerful.

    I’m learning the lesson you shared – “you don’t know their pain.”

    This was a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing that poem and your thoughts.

  6. Beautiful image. I do think I’m good at letting Christ break down walls, the problem is I tend to be a rather fast builder. I tend to build it all up the next possible opportunity.

  7. oh and hate for gold reminded me of beauty for ashes in isaiah

  8. I couldn’t get past the incorrect use of “cement” at the beginning of the poem. Where some people care about grammar and spelling, I care about the proper use of “cement” and “concrete.” A shame really, the poem was probably really good.

    Cement is to concrete as flour is to bread. You wouldn’t say “give me a slice of that flour for my sandwich.”

  9. L-d Sus, Sorry usage trumps technical definitions. One of the definitions of ‘cement’ in the dictionary is ‘concrete.’ That’s because in language usage ‘cement’ is used as it was used in the poem. I grew up saying, ‘the sidewalk is made of cement’ everyone knew what I meant. So again language is usage, and such usage is officially a part of the English language. I don’t like that people call spiders bugs, they are not scientifically. But if Webster declares it so I must bow.

    But enough of the TJ, this was too magnificent a post to quibble over improper language usage. Margaret said magical things here.

  10. L-d Sus–I’m really wondering if your comment is intended to be humorous. The line “I couldn’t get past the incorrect use…” is ironic, don’t you think? We tend to decide what walls we’ll go through and which we “can’t get past.” There’s a guy in my stake who simply could not believe that his bishop could be inspired because he made grammatical errors. (“We was…”) My husband, then in the stake presidency, was asked to assure him–in his role as an English professor–that even people who didn’t speak well could be good bishops.
    I find it much harder to forgive an eloquently phrased lie than an ungrammatical truth. And I’m under no requirement to accept a lie. I am under some obligation to view the liar with some charity, though.
    I like the poem. And thanks for the dictionary’s validation, SteveP.

  11. One addendum: I’ve been thinking a lot about what comprises good teaching. Last week, I read tributes to Elie Wiesel from his former students, one of whom called him “a holy man.” Through his love even more than through his experiences in Auschwitz or Buchenwald, Wiesel moved his students into new paradigms and, as they reported, changed them. He listened to them in all things.
    In my life, there’s another man I respect greatly–a pastor of another faith, who is so filled with love and so guileless and approachable, that I find the merest association with him to be enlightening. His presence is so bright and good that it breaks down walls.
    He’s in our documentary, and talks about President Hinckley apologizing to him about “the role the Mormon Church played in slavery and in discrimination.” This pastor, who had been told by Mormons in his army days that he was “cursed” simply does not let anything keep him from loving Mormons. According to him, he said to Pres. Hinckley, “You’ve done so much good, and now to hear these words–it says your hearts are right.” In other footage, he talks about the Church’s efforts in genealogy and about the Mormon missionaries’ humanitarian efforts, done in connection with his own congregation’s. No walls there.

  12. Margaret, I wish I could be that ironic.

    SteveP, I can concede that usage trumps the technical, but I didn’t want to pass the chance to comment on the one thing that I actually know something about.

    Back to the more meaningful discussion of the poem…

  13. Antonio Parr says:

    Margaret:

    Your essay is very beautiful, and very moving. Thank you.

  14. Final thoughts on this from me (unless someone says something really interesting):
    It strikes me that the endowment–the veil ceremony in particular–is the ultimate symbol of “walking through walls.” I don’t think I need to go into detail.
    And of course, I have a new favorite poem today, but I still like this one–and I’m glad to know there’s a difference between concrete and cement.

  15. Annette Weed says:

    As the author of “Grace”, the poem cited by Margaret, I was delighted to see the discussion and ideas it had engendered. Most meaningful to me were the thoughts on walking through walls and building shrines to our pain. I wrote the poem after many years of struggling with some particular pain, which had been partially eased in various ways, but continued to plague me. In the temple and in prayer I ultimately realized that through principles taught to me in the LDS faith such as the love of God and the atonement, I could hand the pain and the trauma that caused it over to Christ, that his grace was sufficient even for this, that I didn’t have to figure it out on my own. I continue to call upon him, and remain astonished that he would care.

  16. Thank you so much for the poem and for that beautiful comment, Annette. Now that you’ve found us at BCC, please keep visiting. Your voice is wonderful. Where can we find more of your work?

  17. Annette Weed says:

    “Grace” is the first thing I’ve had published for a long time, but my work has also appeared in Sunstone, the Friend, and other volumes of Dialogue. Here’s to more interesting discussions at BCC and more poetry in many places!

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