Not waving but drowning

“Just smile and wave boys,” he said, as he walked out of the office door. We were going for lunch, and our poor colleague was stuck with the boss.

It was a Madagascar reference. A cute, funny scene.

But what it reminded me of was a poem by Stevie Smith; not quite as funny; not quite as cute; but just as apt.

“You know,” I said, “this reminds of a poem called ‘not waving but drowning.'”

And something in me made me google the poem and share it.


To be honest, I felt a bit uncomfortable doing that – he wasn’t/didn’t look like a poetry buff.

And I was afraid of coming across a little too bookwormy.

But I couldn’t help it. Not Waving but Drowning was one of the first poems I’d ever read and loved; one of the first that made fall in love with poetry:

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

It was a poem that made me realise that not all seemingly happy people are happy, myself included; that we may not be waving, but drowning.

 

Memory

Just the other day I stood waiting to cross the street. As the cars passed in front of me I started thinking about how odd it’d be if one of these cars were to veer a little to the left. Maybe a crying child; maybe a bad day at work; maybe the shadow of a cat on the road; the causes could be many, the outcome the one. Onto the pavement the car would go.

Violence. Then silence.

Opening my eyes, I might remember, vaguely, that yes I’d gotten off work (what work do I do?) but now I’m here, looking at you looking at me: you who are in the scrubs; you who are telling me you are my wife; you who are calling me papa (I’m a dad?)

How strange it would be. Without memory would I be me?

As I stood waiting to cross the street, I took two steps back. Let that not be today.

The Run

We act very much as if we were on a voyage. What can I do? I can choose out the helmsman, the sailors, the day, the moment. Then a storm arises. What do I care? I have fulfilled my task: another has now to act, the helmsman.

If the weather is bad for sailing, we sit distracted and keep looking continually and ask, “What wind is blowing?” “The north wind.” What have we do to with that? “When will the west wind blow?” When it so chooses, good sir.

– Epictetus

I went out for what was supposed to be a short run today.

Didn’t feel like it. It was a long day; I was tired.

But the run was scheduled. “Not my problem,” the schedule seemed to say.

You don’t fight schedules. They don’t listen.

*****

Shoes on, I walked out the door.

Took a step; then another; then another.

A slow trot. Then quicker.

It’d rained earlier; the air felt fresh and cool.

*****

Reached a fork in the road.

Turn left as planned and in 30 minutes I’d be home.

Turn right and in 30 minutes… in 30 minutes I’d be 30 minutes from home.

I looked left. Turned right.

*****

29 minutes in and my legs were feeling good.

One-two-inhale; one-two-exhale. The rhythm felt like poetry.

But my mind — it disagreed.  “You can’t keep this pace,” it said. “Slow down.”

I feared it was right. Last time I ran this quick I fizzled out at 30. Which was… now.

*****

Then I remembered Epictetus.

My mind chose this route; this pace; this moment. It’s job was done.

My legs didn’t think there was a problem and neither did my lungs. They were fine; they were strong.

“Trust them,” I told my mind. “Trust them to do their job. If I collapse, I collapse.”

*****

Until then, I run.

The Cloths of Heaven

One of my best friends got married over the weekend. The first of my close friends whose wedding I attended, and it might be a little unmanly to say it but I was actually quite moved by it.

Last night, as I was reading through the compendium of beautiful poems by Garrison Keillor aptly named Good Poems, I came across a poem that I fell in love with back in my University days at UWA (the University of Western Australia): The Cloths of Heaven, by W. B. Yeats:

Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

The poem reminded me of the speeches that the bride and groom gave over the weekend, which to me felt were beautiful not because they were polished, but precisely because they were the opposite of that: raw; slightly apprehensive; and yet absolutely sincere.

Here’s wishing you all the best Mr. & Mrs. Ng. May you both tread carefully on each other’s dreams for a long time to come.


31 Oct Bonus: I was (re)reading one of my favourite books (Words I Wish I Wrote by Robert Fulghum) when I came across this piece that I felt too apt not to share, and which encapsulates so wonderfully how I hope we all treat out significant others and/or close friends:

“Where’s home for you?” a stranger asks a fellow traveler on a plane.

“Wherever she is,” comes the reply, as the man points at his wife.

Stars

I used to look up to the stars with a quiet mind and a quiet heart, thinking but not thinking; wondering but not wondering. It’d always amaze me how quickly the stars moved if I tracked them against something close by, like the tree outside that partially blocked my view. Without the tree as a reference, though, it was impossible to see how the stars moved. Which was good when you just wanted to get lost in time and space.

There was once I tracked a group of stars all the way across the sky, from the moment they appeared behind a neighbour’s house to the moment they got lost in the brightening sky. I hadn’t realised it, but I’d been wondering and wandering for what must have been half a day.