Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ashes to Ashes

I get called to jury duty every three to four years like clockwork. One time I was even sequestered on a jury. That’s a tale for another time.

A few years ago I was in a different room than my usual at 110 Centre street. This room had a white marker board behind the officers’ desk. On it were written quotes meant to be funny to those hanging out in the jury pool:

“They also serve who only stand and wait”

check—-Churchill by way of Milton “When I consider how my light is spent”


“Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still”

Hmm. I didn’t recognize that quote. It really bothered me.

It happened to be Ash Wednesday. At the lunch break I made my way over to St. Andrew’s, the Catholic church near 1 Police Plaza.

Where, to my complete amazement, in the middle of the sermon, I hear the priest say “Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still”

And then go on to explicate some of the T.S.Eliot poem it is from, Ash Wednesday.


The homily on the day I saw the quote? And that somehow I had missed studying that poem in a fairly rigorous English lit education.

Sometimes the universe simply gives you what you want. I wanted to know where that line was from, and through no effort of my own, the universe tossed me the reference.

I’d like to see that kind of cosmic action on some of the bigger things I want . . . .

Here is the last section of Eliot’s very ample, “conversion” poem.

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.