Tuesday, October 28, 2008

John Henrys

What does it mean to know that we are, I am energy, all is energy? I know something about how science defines energy, and the many categories in which we relate to energy and its function in our lives. We put gas in our cars, we pay our electricity bills, we talk about turbines, nuclear power, the power of the water and wind in a storm, we digest food, plants convert energy. We breathe as we live, we get up in the morning if we can, we wake up if we are conscious, we swallow, speak, and share our energy in infinite ways. Why do we still believe machines are more powerful than we are? “Folklore” is full of tales of humans interacting with machines, with Nature, with each other as we have tried to define our human personalities as energy creating matter, without remembering that we are “Gods,” as energy constantly creating matter.

Remember the story of John Henry, that steel-driving man who beat the steam drill? In the 1800s, our history reminds us, when our country was recovering from the “Civil War,” railroad tracks were being laid to connect coast to coast. Thousands of men took on the job of clearing the way and laying the tracks, and some of the most challenging jobs were blasting tunnels through mountains, like the Big Bend Tunnel in West Virginia. Men used large hammers and stakes to put holes in rock that were filled with explosives to speed up the process of laying track. The folk hero image of John Henry reminds us of the “David and Goliath” story, any underdog-versus-the-dominating-force story, and we feel good when we hear of such a will that accepts any challenge, even if we die doing it. Singers and weavers of stories through our history have made this story their own, and the ballad of John Henry is said to be the most well known and often recorded American folk song.

Isn’t it easy to imagine at least some of that drive of John Henry’s? The purely physical pressure of survival, life itself, being proud of feeling full as an able body with the strength to perform, the will to live, the ability to do what we aim to do? Glistening muscles, sweat from exertion, the clanging of steel, the hard rock, the sparks of life and rock and iron and engine competing. So much is in only a few details. In the political news on television I hear commentators point out the presidential candidates’ careful language and the slippery slope of meaning and interpretation's influence – “After I am elected,” “After I win.” I feel a difference in the energy of the words, the determination, or desperation, with which they are delivered. I look at my life in this moment. A friend who recently read my book wrote to me and said, Was there an ending? I laughed out loud and wrote back, Now I remember - life is eternal. The love of life is eternal. Change is constant. Endings, and beginnings, change as I do (ENERGY is real, creating matter). Almost any good editor (one who "goes by the book") would tell me (as some have) that beginnings, middles, and ends must be clearly structured, defined - the reader must have this guide, like an internal clock that helps them feel comfortable. Most of us feel better going into a house that has a good foundation, some degree of order. It's funny to me - I find mine has been more like burrowing in to then blow off the roof and see the celestial beauty both in the heavens and underground. She wrote back: Thanks Margaret! Your ending is "the love of life is eternal. Endings and beginnings change as I do." Now I feel complete. (Guess I got used to roofs on my houses.) Thanks for letting me share your life and book. It was an interesting read.

What is it that moves us to pass a story on, memory to memory, a legacy of iron, steel-driving will, a song we make our own that we sing with all of the emotion of our heart? Hippocrates' teacher is said to have believed violent wrestling should always be prescribed as part of the healing process. Hippocrates disagreed. His focus is said to have been on gentleness, nurturing the body into a healing focus. When I listen to my mother’s voice over the telephone, I hear her lovely laugh, and I also hear the days when her voice seems small, a sound of “hello” captured in a paper cup and lifted out to the wind rather than spoken. I hear the vibrations of my own voice when I speak with her, and when I talk to myself inside my head before I sleep. I am writing songs sometimes. Other times driving steel, carving letters. Today is the paintbrush, tomorrow perhaps the glass-blowing, the abacus. Always the energy is real, and love is what heals.

No comments: