Being With, Now

I am writing here to my students. But even if you and I have never shared a workshop, class, time together with poetry, you are welcome to read it as well:

Dear students, you who created my life,

Thank you.

As I have been making my way through the aftermath of the election, I realized again what we created together and what I, and maybe some of you, understandably took for granted — not blithely — but because we created a world where we delighted in our differences.

I had one “social rule” — prevent in any way a fellow student’s ability to be authentic in vision and voice, even with so much as an eye roll, and I will ask you to leave the class and not return. You all welcomed that “regulation,” that way of making our little place safe for everyone to, well, to be.

And now each of you will spend your days with a “Leader of the Free World” whose cruelty would laugh at our care for one another. You took us beyond tolerance, beyond the condescension of acceptance. You never thought about anything but the richness of being with those who were not like you. And our souls opened and welcomed, celebrated and danced, felt the unity of grief and the unifying joy of seeing the world through the hearts of those we were with.

Yes, with.

As daughter Mimi taught us, “with” is the most important word in the world. We are always “with.” Cruelty destroys every way of being with. It may now take its place in the land’s highest office.

But in our memories of being with one another, and in each day ahead, we will still be with, we will always be with, with one another and with all those who, on Wednesday morning, woke in fear, shame, humiliation, grief, despair, and rabid uncertainty. And woke, too, with the understanding that lovingkindness can be overruled and out-voted.

But it can never be overcome. Thank you.

Tonight I know more overwhelmingly than ever before what you created. And I know also that you have since then, every day, created places where those you are with are able to be who they truly are.

As I sat down to write to you, in came this message. Yes, this message came just as I was walking to the computer! From one of my friends, a student long ago:

Hi Jack,

I hope you are well.  Thinking of you today and grateful that on days like today when I can’t make sense of my world, I can turn to poetry to at least look at it from another lens.

The Peace of Wild Things

 When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.      

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 –Wendell Berry

Love to you,

Carrie Mitchell

34 thoughts on “Being With, Now

  1. Unfortunately I have never been a student of the wonderful Jack Ridl. I would have loved to.

    We don’t need leaders who behave like a loose canon on board.

    What this world realley needs is poets who teach us how to walk like a heron! Because poetry and poets – like Jack – give solace for us on this ship of fools.

    Kindest regards from Tuebingen, Germany


    • Ahhh my friend across the waters. You have joined me ‘n that heron and we shall
      practice and practice and practice. What this world HAS is you. Thank all the
      gods for that goodness.’

  2. Jack,

    Thanks for sending this. So important to remember all of this about “with” in these disappointing days. We have many brothers and sisters we’ll need to be with, looking out for them in this hateful period.

    The boys played their first game together on Saturday down in WV at Salem International University. We won 103-98, some serious shooting. Noah got in foul trouble, so he only played 10 minutes, but scored 9 points. Nathan came off the bench and played about 30 minutes, scoring 16 points in his college debut. His very first shot of his college career was a four-point play; hit a deep 3, was fouled, and sank the free-throw. Yeesh, that’s some beginning!



    • Great to hear from my buddy!
      Those boys. Holy first game for the amazing Nathan. His first shot!!!! Malik missed his first!
      Tell Noah that I’m giving my all to have that stupid foul stuff changed. C’mon! Let’s go like
      hockey, have ’em sit and then come back in. It’s so simple to change that rule for the
      betterment of the game, the players, and all of us who wanna watch the Noahs out there.

  3. Thank you. You have no idea how much I needed to hear these words of hope as I plan to meet with my students tomorrow (the first time post-election). I will carry this hope into my classroom – Erinn (Raymond) Bentley

    • My dear student with the warmest heart-felt smile on the planet–Thank you. To know I
      was helpful makes yer ole professor glad and grateful. Carry good you into that
      classroom. Those students–how lucky they are to be with you.

    • Jim, it’s about time I made ya proud! : ) Man, to think of all you have done for millions is
      exhaustingly humbling!!
      Thank you my friend on this strange road

  4. blockquote, div.yahoo_quoted { margin-left: 0 !important; border-left:1px #715FFA solid !important; padding-left:1ex !important; background-color:white !important; } Your words, as usual, are a Godsend, Jack. I will share them with my writing pals.  Courage to us all in the coming weeks and months.  with love and admiration,Susan

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

      • Bucky, how very kind of you two write. To know you are a pal of Susan’s is a joy.
        I’m not sure these old hands are all that steady, but the care seems to be, for
        which I am grateful.
        Thank you so much.

    • Susan, to know that what I wrote matters to you and that you want to send it to writing pals means so much. As you can
      imagine, my sense of what a workshop is for is often challenged and that’s putting it euphemistically! Thank you over and again.

  5. Dearest friend to all:

    I recently dreamed of being between a great horde of frightened and angry people and somehow finding the words to make all the discord stop, and in the silence when people stopped to listen, hands joined, knees bent in gratitude for what we have here on earth. Then I realized, it is the image of Jesus that I am seeing standing between and I have just been one of the frightened horde reaching for Him.

    Loved your gift to us Jack.

    Julie George

  6. Hello, Jack.  I’ve been hungry for hope and solace these last 7 days, and so I gulped your email. Yes to “with-ness.” A group of women is coming to my house for a circle of lament and healing. With-ness. I’m going on retreat with another group of women artists, going to the dunes for the Peace of Wild Things. With-ness. I’m also reading my own book and wondering if I believe what I wrote, that the wisdom at the heart of Advent, as told to us through wild things in their winter adaptations, is that “The dark is not an end, but a door. This is the way a new beginning comes.” Yes, though the tunnel may be long.  Thank you for writing to all of us. Courage for the days ahead. gayle

    • Gayle, on you go doing the good and loving work. How I hope that there is a comforting solidarity for you
      and those you work with. We will create our own “In Country of Care.”
      Thank youuuuu!

  7. Jack,
    I never once took for granted the safety I felt in the warmth of your classes. I was never more “me” than when I was in your presence, and I am grateful to have had those experiences, especially at such a challenging point in my life.
    Thank you doesn’t seem like enough,
    Jill Pierson

    • Jill, nice going, choking me up with your words. Gulp. To know that I was at all helpful to
      dear you, well, yeah, you choked me up. That time was so overwhelming in its ache and pain.
      To know you are carrying that good soul of yours into your days is a joy.
      Love all the time

  8. Poetry (globally)and your class (intimately local) gave me with from a world of without. This can never be reversed. No elected official has access to my with. Every poem, every poet, and every student who enters my classroom to lay his/her soul bare will feed my with, grow my with, and fortify my withness.

    To Jack, with…

    Scott W. Earl

    • Scott, rascal Scott–
      that first sentence sent the existentialists scrambling to re-write their stuff.
      Thank you for this moving, heart-filled message. It’s you, man. It’s so very you.

  9. Jack, your gentleness and openness to each of us in the poetry class I took helped me start to like myself. Thank you for the lessons of caring and trusting what I believe is true. “With” must be so important in all our lives.

    • Chris, thank you. You took me back to that good place we created. Poems and our
      lives are created daily with the opportunity to create them out of care.
      Again, thank you

  10. While I’ve never had an “official” class with you I’ve been on to you since 1990 . . . I wrote this a few years back – and it’s sort of about being “with” . . .

    Jack Ridl is in My Mind

    Umph. A big sigh. Gentle
    flit of the hand before resting down
    on the arm of the couch. Slumped

    into strong but quiet talk. Snow
    rain, birds, green plants, specific
    flowers. The foul line, a sandwich

    and a clown. Don’t try too hard or
    at least don’t show it. Let the poem
    find itself, reveal, coax, wriggle,

    whatever. Let’s have some coffee
    stare out the window. Notice the
    light dust like it was bright paint

    splattered on your windshield. Your
    grandfather’s hands. Spring. Scrubs.
    Shrubs. Circus seasons, basketball
    seasons between the seasons. Notice.


    I share this to amplify that the “with”ness that you share inhabits some folks and it’s simply good stuff. We need this in all times and in these times. Thank you.

    • Mitch, Your loving poem is with and is an embodiment of with.
      And it’s among the clearest recognitions of how authentic poetry arrives and is.
      Thank you

  11. Thank you, Jack! Calming and reassuring words in bewildering times. I appreciate Reka for connecting me to them (the words) and you.

    • Hey old timer! Boy, do I ever remember you, one who stood and still stands firm
      for what matters.
      So good hearing from you. A voice from the past that is ever present.
      Hoping for kindness entering your every day

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