This week’s T.S. Tuesday excerpt comes from one of my favorite Eliot poems, “East Coker.”
“Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”
When I first read these lines, I got stuck on the folly. I was angry about the poverty and injustice I saw in the world that was driven by the fear and follies and frenzies of old men. I was angry with old men.
I was also angry with myself, and the folly and frenzy I was clinging to so desperately. At the time I was battling a deep fear of belonging. In a world so hungry for attention and approval, it seems weird to think about not wanting to belong. But I didn’t. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to be alone. I wanted space.
I didn’t want the responsibility that comes with belonging. I wanted to pretend my actions didn’t affect any one else. That I could do whatever I wanted and it wouldn’t matter.
I didn’t even want to be loved. Being loved required too much responsibility.
It turns out I didn’t need space; I needed Love.
And luckily Love didn’t give me much space.
Years later, I have been and continue to be transformed by this Love.
Today as I read these lines, I’m drawn to the focus on humility. The humility that shows me that not just old men, but also angry teenage girls and less angry twentysomething grant writers can be driven by fear of fear and frenzy and possession. A humility that shows me that we are connected, and that if I insist we treat our coffee and banana and skinny jeans producers with respect and dignity, that I should exercise that same diligence and compassion with my friends and coworkers and mother and, even, the old men who originally sparked my anger.
A humility that reminds me I do belong to another, and to others, and to God.
This humility tells me that even if we were never asked, we carry each other’s hearts. And it is our responsibility to hold on to them tight.