The Healers

Those with the gift of empathy are all but done in, overwhelmed by entering into the suffering of others. Not too long ago I read an article that discussed the cost of empathy. We, of course, know that 45 has not a drip of empathy. Empathy is for “losers.”

What can we do who wake up helpless within the shadow of 45? Some work hard politically to change things. Some carry on serving in capacities empathic. But what of those of us who don’t have access to doing much of anything to counter “him” other than address flyers, stick stamps onto postcards that encourage electing those who want to serve, truly serve?

In the shadow of 45 and his lost souls, and his spineless cohorts, and his deceived supporters, what can we do?

Keep speaking truth to power–A patron at Tony Amato’s Red Dock Restaurant came up to him and snarled, “I bet you voted for that n____.” Tony held up two fingers, said, “Twice,” and ordered the roach to leave. We can also carry on by shifting our conversations to the lives of those in our lives who matter. We can realize that continuing dailiness, planting another flower, handing over some of our too many zucchini, saying hello to anyone, all those things that don’t change the big scene, but enrich the worlds each of us lives within.

I’m turning this into a sermon. Sorry. It’s the UCC church in me. Let’s never abandon giving our attention (a definition of love) to what and to whom we love and who love us.

When helplessness can’t be helped I recall Samuel Beckett saying, “I can’t go on, I must go on, I’ll go on.”

The Healers

My father guessed at work.
He gave me things to do.
We strangled weeds from the flower bed.
Washed the car.
Walked the dog.

My mother guessed at a mother’s love.
She went back to tucking sheets
Around me as I lay awake.
She pulled her fingers through my hair.
She turned away. She held me.

My good friend guessed at leaving town.
Se we lugged gravel, grinding gears
Up and down the western Pennsylvania hills.
We’d raise the bed and listen
To the gravel rush into a silent pile.

My preacher guessed at God.
He knew the answer, spread my sin.
Prayed, asked me to pray.
Sprinkled oil on my head.
Pronounced me of this world.

My doctor guessed at shock.
Strapped me down.
Hooked electrodes to my head.
Baptized me with volts.

I guessed at empty space
And all the breath
that I could spill to fill it up.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Three Rivers Poetry Journal
Subsequently published in The Same Ghost (Dawn Valley Press)

Good Reads
Here’s another fine, recently published collection: Invisible Fish by Susan F. Glassmeyer (Dos Madres Press). Many of you know of her project of sending out a poem and commentary each day during National Poetry Month.

And a bit ago, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer published Naked for Tea, from Able Muse Press. So many benefit from her astonishing project of sending out a new draft of a poem every single day. She’s been doing this for some ten or more years.

Again, I don’t mean to overlook any recent collections. So please let me know of any you would recommend. Lots of you have work published several months or years ago. I simply thought of this recently and had to start somewhere, so I decided to start with the past few weeks.

Fifth Annual Red Dock Reading
And now I’m nagging when YET AGAIN I say how good it would be to see you at The Red Dock on August 14 for the reading starting at 6:30 with the soul-warming presence of poet Laura Donnelly. Come early for the music that will begin a bit after 3pm. Bring your own comfortable chair. I promise that Laura’s work will settle into your heart.

And as Tony Amato, impresario of The Red Dock always says, “Peace, ta.”


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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

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Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

And, of course, click here to visit, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!



19 thoughts on “The Healers

  1. The healers also spoke to me about infallibility of humans, the difficulty of learning how to parent and not always knowing if you are doing right or not. My mother in law had many shock treatments in the late sixties which left her brain damaged, full of rages, and religiosity. But she stopped trying to kill herself and her children. She had loved her children so much that she couldn’t leave them behind if she died, so she guessed that she should take them with her.

    • Astonishing. So sorrow-filled, moving, and full of heart and soul.
      Thank you, Sandy, for sending this along, so very much.

  2. Thank you, thank you, dear Jack. The Healers helps so much. And your “sermon” found me saying amen to every line. ❤️😘 Sally & Del

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Somehow I missed this from you, and I’m sorry.
      But I am sure glad that you found that poem so helpful
      and that you shouted “AMEN” down into your valley!
      Love to you two always.
      I am still shaking my head–as I type this–that
      you were at The Red Dock. It was such a buoyant
      evening, the setting is so good for us all.
      Thank you for your abiding love and care.
      And next time you have to stay in the room of Delbert works!!!!

  3. There once was a time when the urge to fill up our little worlds, the streets that made up the neighborhoods we lived in, with our breath. With our empathy. Thanks for reminding me.

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