H. R. Blyth wrote, “Wherever there is a poetical action, a religious aspiration,a heroic thought, or a union of the nature within man and the Nature without, there is Zen.”
Prompt: Respond to one or more elements of Blyth’s perspective.
Emily Thompson stood at the front of room, ready to explain how she had completed the assignment to participate in a “poetical action.”
“The first thing I did,” Emily Thompson said, “was to look back through my notes to find Ms. Maycomb’s definition of poetry. I found it from my notes on October 15th: it said, ‘Poetry is the expression of vivid images and emotional truth.’ So I googled the term ‘vivid images,’ and I found this image.”
Emily Thompson raised up the poster board she had carried with her to the front of the room, revealing a color image of the Edward Munch painting, The Scream.
“Right away I knew,” Emily said, “that I wanted to use that image for this assignment, and the only thing I had to decide was where I could go to make me feel like the person in the painting.”
“Do you mean,” Ms. Maycomb asked, “you were looking for a place that would make you want to scream?”
“Yes, because hat would be the ‘emotional truth’ part of my assignment.”
“Did you think about looking in the mirror?” Raymond Iverson asked from the back of the room.
The ripple of laughter he could have expected in middle school didn’t materialize; instead, Mrs. Maycomb stared at him. Normally, Ms. Maycomb avoided making sarcastic statements to her students, but her self-control slipped when one student disrespected another; and at those times she recalled aloud whatever quotation she felt appropriate. In this case she said, “Fear is the main source of cruelty, and to conquer fear is to begin the road to wisdom.”
“Is that Thoreau?” Emily Thompson asked, wishing she had brought her notebook to the front of the room.
“It’s Bertrand Russell,” Ms. Maycomb said, without taking her eyes from Raymond Iverson. “Please continue, Emily. Hopefully no one will interrupt again.”
“Thank you,” Emily said, setting her poster board on the floor. “The first place I went was St. Andrew’s Catholic church before the 10 o’clock Mass on Sunday, and I stood near the front door and made the face I’m going to do now.” Emily threw her hands to the sides of her face, opened her mouth wide, and made a surprisingly close approximation of the expression on the face of the man in The Scream. She maintained that expression until Ben Johnson said, “What’s scream-worthy about St. Andrews?”
Emily relaxed her face and said, “Is that a serious question? After decades if not centuries of sexual abuse of children you are asking what there is to be upset about in the Catholic church?”
“I go to St. Andrews,” Ben Johnson said, “and there’s never been any sexual abuse that I know of at our parish.”
“I didn’t say there was. And everyone was very nice to me on Sunday. Half a dozen people asked if I was okay, and one of the priests came out because he was worried that I needed help. And when I told him what I was doing, he knew the painting I was talking about, and he actually made the face along with me because he said he was probably even more upset about what had happened than I was. I took a selfie of the priest and me if anyone wants to see it. And I took a selfie this morning when I went to my old middle school and did my expression in the lunch room before anyone else was there.”
“I think I would have joined you for that,” Raymond Iverson said. “Did you ever have the meatloaf at that lunch room?”
“Emily,” Ms. Maycomb said, “I can appreciate your anger about sexual abuse, and I realize that middle-school lunchrooms can be the site of cruel social dramas, but what you were doing seems more like political actions than poetical ones; and while I respect your perspective and admire the way in which–”
Before Ms. Maycomb completed her thought, Leslie Young, a tall, blond-haired girl in a desk near the hallway door, interrupted. “I saw you at cheerleading practice yesterday,” she said. “You were making that face.”
“It wasn’t about you, personally” Emily said. “It was just me reacting to a group of girls spending all their time figuring out ways to celebrate boys.”
“We don’t do it for the boys,” Leslie said. “Do you think we’d practice two-and-a-half hours a day just so we can cheer when a tool like Raymond Iverson he kicks a field goal?”
“Hey!” Raymond said. “Ms. Maycomb! What would Russell Bertrand say about that?”
“It’s Bertrand Russell, and while I’m not exactly sure, Leslie, what you mean by tool, you probably did cross a line. But perhaps now that you’ve spoken up, you’d like to be the next to share with the class.”
It appeared the only thing Leslie Young wished to share was the sound of the bell that ended class; but that longed-for sound was a half hour away; so while Ms. Maycomb thanked Emily for sharing and Emily returned to her seat, Leslie opened the notebook lying on her desk and glanced down at what was written there.
To be continued . . .