Friday, November 06, 2009

In case of emergency, break glass and read Kahlil Gibran

I'm fairly sure that every month, I write that things have been crazy, but this October was truly a wild ride. Perceptions were shaken, life plans were changed, relationships were scrutinized, and Thao & the Get Down Stay Down released an album that was, as promised, a "festive" heartbreak album that sucker-punched my friends and I in the collective solar plexus when we weren't looking. Know better, learn faster, indeed.

At some point this summer I had some good conversations about "sacred texts": works of literature, film, music and art that form and inform each person's worldview. These can be as goofy as a showtune or Yes song or as profound as the Bhagavad Gita.

Among my sacred texts are the poems of Khalil Gibran, published in The Prophet in 1923. While these poems have comforted many people since then, Boston has a special claim on Gibran: born in what is now modern-day Lebanon, the poet immigrated to Boston's South End as a child in 1895 and spent many of his formative years here.

His cousin and biographer, also named Khalil Gibran, created many statues around Boston, including a prominent one in Copley Square where I stop sometimes. The square, a sweet little patch of grass bordered on all sides by busy streets and surrounded by the looming majesty of the John Hancock Tower, Trinity Church and the Boston Public Library, is a nice place to stop and find refuge; it's a metaphor for the way I feel when I stop to read Gibran's poems. Like I've found a place of silence in the midst of troubles grown disproportionately large and emotions rushing past and creeping confusion. (Luckily all the texts are online here, for easy access in case of emergency.)

Lovely photo of Copley by Ed Karjala via Creative Commons.

Today I shared Gibran's meditation on love with a friend who was in pain:

...But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears...

Meanwhile, I found myself taking comfort in his meditation on joy and pain:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, "Joy is greater thar sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater."
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

I think if I were to compile a book of all my sacred texts, it would be very thick, perhaps even thousands of pages, with lyrics and photos and golden fall leaves stuck between the pages ... I'd love to hear from other people about what texts they consider sacred, beyond the obvious ones.