The Accrual of Small Triumphs
In case you didn’t know, April is National Poetry Month. In the absence of my day job, in the absence of normal routines, I have endeavored to pick up some of the poets I have dragged around with me since college. They operate like friends. They bring familiarity, a functional intimacy. As if they know me and I know them better than either are willing to admit.
Symbolically—William Carlos Williams, selected in slimline, not more than 80 pages, but holding over 100 poems. W.H. Auden’s collection is a door stop. The yellowed, dog-eared pages of my favorites, Roethke and Rilke carry the scent of age and wisdom.
I recently added Robert Francis to my ‘collection’. Francis was a contemporary New Englander to Robert Frost. On the back cover of the collection Donald Hall wrote, “Francis must be read in bulk. He does not write big poems. The accrual of small triumphs…” Hall describes Francis’ early and late career perfectly. Rather than the grand portraiture of Frost, Robert Francis made a career of snapshots.
This notion—the accrual of small triumphs—touched me. It seems an absurdly obvious lesson for these days. We—I—want the knockout shot. I want the vaccine, the magic pill that will right all that is akilter. I want it not for me, but for all who are truly suffering—the sick, the health care providers, the caretakers, the people who clean up other people’s messes, the parents trying to teach 5th grade math and cook and clean and stay sane, the old people in old people homes isolated from one another, the essential workers working their essential jobs.
In a chapter entitled “God is in the Details: Winter Wheat”, Kathleen Norris wrote in her book Dakota: A Spiritual Geography:
She said, ‘Well, you seed it in September. And it comes up right away. Then it dies back down and you hope for a good snow cover. If there’s been enough moisture it comes back up in April, around Easter.’
This, by my accounting, is an accrual of small triumph…a whole chapter of her book in four lines. A whole gospel in four lines.
We should be content in our smallness. We each bring value. We each add to the fullness.
I’ve sung in choirs since seminary. (I discount my two years in Triple S, the Emmaus Junior High School boys’ choir.) Standing next to Chris Giesler, finding a voice among other seminary staff and students, helped me find my place. Through my years in ministry, I have enjoyed singing in different settings, with different voices, with different personalities, and different theologies.
What I recognized then, and know deeper now, is that we are better with each other.
I love you.
I hope for you.
Please be safe.