The Comforting

In his address to the campus community, the president of Colgate University said,

“The seas are rising. In such a time how can one sit in a quiet room and read? Our political leaders are blaring at each other on Twitter. There’s an increasing tide of nationalism and militarism across the planet. There are trade wars and border wars. Cherished institutions–the press, the courts, the universities–are under duress. Inequity increases and tears at those things that once joined us. The Amazon is on fire. At such a time, how can one think of poetry? Here is why you can and should: Because the world needs you to. The world needs those who are awed by beauty.”

And I would add that the world needs the foundation of almost all poetry, which is empathy, an empathy that extends not only to one another but also to the natural world.

Suggested reading: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and “Kindness” by Naomi Shiihab Nye

The Comforting

A few words from a neighbor, some
Duke Ellington, just the middle of the week.

Out in the yard, the anonymous robin; in
the neighbor’s garden, a spray of poppies.

The configuration of nests: why mud, leaves,
string; why paper, sticks; why stones?

The lonely smell of a wet dog, the
way water stays in the world.

Your tongue, holding to the apple, tomato,
pear, letting go without your say.

Across the street, the oat grass turning yellow.

–Jack Ridl

Published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

Five tickets left, friends… Sal and I will talk Poetry and the Spirit ON OCTOBER 24, 7-9PM, Douglas United Church of Christ, 56 Wall Street, Douglas. Here are the details and how to get your very own tickets before they are gone.

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Visit Reader’s World or Hope-Geneva Bookstore in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, the Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Jack’s page on Amazon.

Click here to subscribe to receive Jack’s poems and news in your inbox.

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

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Kindness.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Everyday Forgiveness.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Empathy.

Jack Ridl at Fetzer Institute on Suffering and Love.

Beyond Meaning with Jack Ridl, C3: West Michigan’s Spiritual Connection

8 thoughts on “The Comforting

  1. Hi Jack, hijack….that is how I feel….hijacked! In such opposite ways…..your big love and then the rest of the world story….and the phone call I just received that I have a squamous cell cancer that has to be treated and that hopefully it hasn’t invaded already! All while Turkey invades the Kurds in Syria……the world is too much with us….getting and spending or something like that. And then there is poetry, or at least the first draft pieces of it on this delicious autumnal day.

    Picking Raspberries

    with the bees sharing the ripeness of time early afternoon sun warming my back with the buzz of bees how is it that we can both be here in this long row of berries while mortars destroy other borders?

    A random train of thought upon reading your Comforting. Thanks for being there. Ginny

    yesterday’s efforts: grape/pear juice, in order of draw, left to right.


    • Ginny, I sit here stunned and caring.
      This is such an accurately overwhelming description and evocation of
      our times. These days make heroes of us all. What you write here
      also reveals what we must remain loyal to. The good needs our loyalty.
      It is not irresponsible to be as the bees and put our forms of good
      into the world: photographs, raspberries, the violin, painting, etc
      Sending care and concern. Please keep us updated.

  2. Jack, I think empathy is out there, but like your lovely poem we need to train ourselves to see it. About 15 years ago my father died. I was not close to him. He only visited this island once. But once afternoon a woman we know left a casserole on the bench in our mudroom. We are not really great friend with this woman. She certainly did not know my dad. But she heard he had died. It seemed like a remarkable moment. I told my mother and she said, “Well, that is what you do.”

    Sometimes I think that we have forgotten common courtesies that used to be taken for granted. Maybe when we lose the understanding of, “that is what you do” when those social acts that at least made us go through the motions fade away, we are all worse off for it. If I can remember correctly, a sacrament is a a symbol of a moment of grace we all hope for. So is a casserole.

    Loved your poem. The same way Lester Young tenderly blowing that saxophone on my turntable, drawing the notes out from all his pain and shaping them into beauty, your poems find my quiet center.

    Fats Waller used to cry out on sweaty Kansas City nights when his fingers ran up and down the keyboard, just this side of control, until the notes drowned out the memories of bad love and angry women, “Somebody shoot me while I’m happy.”



    • John, I hope your beautiful lyric poem of a response is read by a multitude.
      There so much earned wisdom and spiritual vision here.

      I grew up on Fats Waller. My mother’s father who died while she was pregnant with me
      loved him, as did she, then passing him on to me. And oh my Lester Young. It’s
      fascinating how often he’s forgotten, and then ya hear an “Ohhh yeah!” there’s
      a lovely loving radio documentary about him.
      Thanks, John, as always, thanks so very much.
      May comfort come when needed, always.

  3. Dear Jack,
    There is a strain in poetry, I presume. Yours, in my perception, reaches to Basho’s in “The Comforting”; the comfort lies in realizing, being touched in mind and body like from a gentle breeze, and accepting. It is as if somebody is waving a hand to us from that other kingdom, telling us that, after all, we’re safe.

    • Dear Reinhard,
      Your brilliance makes me want to step down and have
      you compose the posts. Really. Your perceptions lift
      my heart with their uncommon insight. I did study
      Zen for years and that likely led me to attend
      to being rather than the more common western
      attentiveness to meaning. The intelligent
      lyricism of this response from you–as well
      as others–is heart healing. My thanks
      are infinite.

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