Sunday, October 3, 2010

Longen Folk: The Parade, the Pilgrimage, the Poem

"Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages"
—Chaucer

This morning, the Maine Marathon was going by just up the street, and when I saw all the activity, the cars parked all up and down our normally rather quiet block and so many people rushing by with their kids and rattles to cheer the runners on, I felt compelled to join them.  I grabbed my favorite percussion instrument, a little hand-drum with a lizard painted on it and a great sound, and made my way up the street to where the local market was handing out cups of water and a trio of bearded Baby Boomers with electric guitars were belting out Beatles songs.

The runners, of all ages, genders, races, sizes, weights, heights, and physical conditions, in emotional states apparently ranging from triumph to desperation, were already straggling by in outfits ranging from lobster hats to high-tech runwear.  People around me were waiting for their friends, cheering, and then getting their kids and leaving.  My daughter had had no interest in coming, and I don't know a lot of runners; I recognized one (or maybe two, I'm still not sure).  But it didn't matter.  It seemed they could use some support, and I was finding the experience quite moving.  I stayed for quite a while, clutching my hand drum, and as each runner came by, I raised it up and honored them with a little tattoo.

A surprising number of them managed to look up from their sweat and breath to catch my eye, smile, or even say thank you. But even when they didn't respond, why was it so intensely satisfying?  It wasn't just the pleasure of helping out, or the novelty, or delight/amusement at the amazing variety of people, or the vicarious satisfaction of participating even so indirectly in the race.  It was really about the privilege of witnessing such an honest depiction of the human journey.

I used to feel confused by my love of parades; I thought of them as full of imperialistic pomp, as descendents of Roman victory triumphs, and yet they compelled me.  But today I was reminded that any procession can be as much a pilgrimage as a triumph: a group of people, each on an individual journey yet sharing so many challenges, each caught up in their own struggle with self-esteem, discipline, and goal-reaching, each needing something so different from others, and yet each somehow after the same goal.

As I cheered each person on, I realized that perhaps the work was not so different from teaching poetry.

8 comments:

Annie Finch said...

Comment received backchannel: " A race is not a parade--I mean, ask e e cummings, a parade guy, not a racer"

I can see the point that most races are not parades, but community-building events such as the Maine marathon surely blend the definitions; this one sure felt that way as the racers straggled by. Surely for most of these folks, it was not about winning or competing in speed as much as it was about completing the course, for the sake of doing it rather than winning, for community-building rather than competition, not to mention for the benefit of friends among the onlookers.

Again, the comparison with teaching poetry is intriguing to me, because of course that is the spirit in which many people, even quite serious practitioners, write poetry as well (and I'm sure, do many other things)--not to "compete" with the Parnassians, but to stay the course, be part of a community, and develop oneself in the process. There is a continuum here, entre chien et loup, entre race and parade, entre love and war.

LP said...

I like thinking of the marathon as a parade, and the lizard drum's beat must have been the perfect accompaniment for the runners.

FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK said...

Annie -- Your blog is intriguing. I am a first time reader and I will be back -- barbara

Annie Finch said...

Thanks Barbara! Glad to see you here.
--Annie

Free Tarot said...

Thanks for this great post Annie, very interesting and thought provoking.

Annie Finch said...

thanks, Free Tarot!

How do you do your free tarot readings, by the way--by telepathy?

Free Tarot said...

The Free Readings are automated, but are written in advance by myself. I feel that people are drawn to the card that has a specific message for them.

Annie Finch said...

ah, thanks for the explanation!