30 or 40 years ago, a neighbor's neice was killed in the sandbox [in hunters' territory in Upper Michigan] by a ricochet bullet. We all had young children the same age [around 6 years old]. We were devastated. My major spiritual practice at that time was lulling myself to sleep reading Robert Frost. So it was Frost to whom I naturally went for some solace. I found "The Trial by Existence".
In a simpler language than Frost used, I offer the idea of his poem. It happens in heaven . Every morning the trumpet sounds. All the angels line up for the morning reading. God comes out and reads the next life that is to be lived on earth and asks for a volunteer. One brave soul raises a hand. Pointing straight at that angel, God sternly asks "Are you sure? You're not going to get to remember that you chose!"
I typed out the poem and gave a copy to the bereaved family. I have given copies of "The Trial" to hundreds of others over the years. One of my favorite stories about this poem happened when I was volunteering at THE CENTER FOR ATTITUDINAL HEALING in the early 80's. I lived in my VW van in Marin County for 2+ years, "adopted" by a family who shared their meals and their indoor space with me.
I biked over to THE CENTER each day. One of my favorite tasks was answering the telephone. After 2 1/2 years of California volunteering, I was finally ready to go back East. I missed my three children [who were at that time paying their own way through college]. For the return trip, I needed to clean out 2+ years' clutter. Hidden in a corner, I found a brown paper bag, labelled "IMPORTANT PAPERS". One of those important papers was an envelope. I had written an address, and in the stamp corner: "The Trial By Existence". "Oops," I said to myself. I scurried to make a copy of the poem, and I mailed it instantly.
Two days later, I was answering THE CENTER phone again, and a woman's voice spoke to me: "Thank you so much for sending me the poem. I called and talked to you A YEAR AGO, when my twin brother was killed in a drowning accident. I've been having a TERRIBLE time trying to deal with it. I was planning to commit suicide on the anniversary of his death, and then your poem came. . . . Thanks."
from Elise Harvey
Tue, 22 Feb 2000 email@example.com
The Trail by Existence
by Robert Frost
Even the bravest that are slain
Shall not dissemble their surprise
On waking to find valor reign,
Even as on earth, in paradise;
And where they sought without the sword
Wide fields of asphodel fore'er,
To find that the utmost reward
Of daring should be still to dare.
The light of heaven falls whole and white
And is not shattered into dyes,
The light forever is morning light;
The hills are verdured pasturewise;
The angel hosts with freshness go,
And seek with laughter what to brave
And binding all is the hushed snow
Of the far-distant breaking wave.
And from a cliff top is proclaimed
The gathering of the souls for birth,
The trial by existence named,
The obscuration upon earth.
And the slant spirits trooping by
In streams and cross- and counter-streams
Can but give ear to that sweet cry
For its suggestion of what dreams!
And the more loitering are turned
To view once more the sacrifice
Of those who for some good discerned
Will gladly give up paradise.
And a white shimmering concourse rolls
Toward the throne to witness there
The speeding of devoted souls
Which God makes His especial care.
And none are taken but who will,
Having first heard the life read out
That opens earthward, good and ill,
Beyond the shadow of a doubt;
And very beautifully God limns,
And tenderly, life's little dream,
But naught extenuates or dims,
Setting the thing that is supreme.
Nor is there wanting in the press
Some spirit to stand simply forth,
Heroic in its nakedness,
Against the uttermost of earth.
The tales of earth's unhonored things
Sounds nobler there than 'neath the sun;
And the mind whirls and the heart sings,
And a shout greets the daring one.
But always God speaks at the end:
"One thought in agony of strife
The bravest would have by for friend,
the memory that he chose the life;
But the pure fate to which you go
Admits no memory of choice,
Or the woe were not earthly woe
To which you give the assenting voice."
And so the choice must be again,
But the last choice is still the same;
And the awe passes wonder then,
And a hush falls for all acclaim.
And God has taken a flower of gold
And broken it, and used therefrom
The mystic link to bind and hold
Spirit to matter till death come.
'Tis of the essence of life here,
Though we choose greatly, still to lack
The lasting memory at all clear,
That life has for us on the wrack
Nothing but what we somehow chose;
Thus are we wholly stripped of pride
In the pain that has but one close,
Bearing it crushed and mystified.
Bio - ELISE HARVEY
Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1938. Catholic school with nuns, until 10 years old. 1948 moved to Hamilton, Ontario. Stepfather ran the steelmill. Gave up piano lessons for drama lessons. In 1953 moved to Delaware [another steel mill]. Choir and Drama major importance Kindergarten thru College. U Delaware, majored in Education, Drama, Philosophy, English. Married in 1959, to a Harvard grad student. Worked as Receptionist for Harvard's Personnel Office, then Sec'y for Sec'y of Grad School of Education. T.Berry Brazelton our Pediatrician. [Son LeRoy and I on cover of his first book] Moved to U Michigan Grad School. Child #2 Felix born in A2. Came to E.Lansing in 1962; husband taught American Thought & Language. Reed Baird was a good friend of ours. Third child, Emmy, born here in 1962. Worked as editor for Elizabeth Drews and Milton Rokeach [both in Psychology]. Divorced in 1968. Certified in Elementary Ed at MSU in 1969. Gave Joan Baez a backrub when she came with her husband to support the draft-card burners who camped on the MSU library steps. Helped start The Listening Ear in 1969. Then went to Woodstock. Joan Baez agreed to sing a fund-raiser for The Ear on my birthday that year. But 3 of her guitars were stolen at Woodstock, plus she was exhausted with her first pregnancy.
Moved to Providence, R.I. Substitute teacher in Public and Private schools. Editor at R.I.S.D.[Rhode Island School of Design]
Moved to New Hampshire to be a folksinger at a ski resort. Also Legal Sec'y for O.E.O. [Office of Economic Opportunity] Moved back to Providence to teach 5th Grade Language Arts. Moved to Unicorn Hill Farm in Landenburg, Pennsylvania, in 1972. Thrown off a horse in 1973, cracking my back again. Visited West Virginia. Got "stuck" there, after mistakenly plunging one arm into a vat of boiling sorghum molasses. Learned simplicity there: chopped firewood, hauled water, grew our food, loved the silence. West Virginia College of Grad Studies for Special Education. Moved to Delaware in 1974. Editor for many professors at U Delaware. 1978 met the Gesundheit Doctors at Twin Oaks Wellness conference. 1981 my first "visit" to Fellowship for Today with my son LeRoy. Then worked with Gesundheit to heal Giant Cell bone tumor in my leg. We pursued every alternative healing mode. The best one [says I] was Attitudinal Healing. So when I could walk again, I went to Tiburon to share the healing of the children with Jerry Jampolsky, at his Center for Attitudinal Healing [based on A Course in Miracles].
Camped in my VW van in Mill Valley for 2 1/2 years, adopted by a still-dear family there. Lived with and worked as Editor in Mt. Shasta for Peter Caddy of Findhorn. Came back East to help Elisabeth Kubler-Ross at her new Center in Virginia, as cook, seamstress, musician, masseuse, Tai Chi teacher. Lived also at Gesundheit Institute, teaming with Patch's partner JJ as co-counsellor. Then back in Delaware, learned to fold Origami peace cranes, to teach children at the Peace Table. This became a major "job" of my life. Then I was "given" a cabin on an Island in Maine, where I lived for 2+ years. With the children at the library, we folded 10,000 paper cranes. [They deserve a book of their own. For example, George Mitchell received one of our flocks of 1,000, in thanks for his peace-making. He hung them in his Senate office. And I wrote a peace-crane song for Samantha Smith. We sang it to her mother as we hung 1,000 paper cranes on Samantha's statue. We were invited to The Hague to teach crane folding to the justices of the World Court.] In 1988, I chose to fly to Kathmandu -- to be cured of M.S. by Ayurvedic Dr. Mana.
In 1989, learned Master Composting in Vermont. [Summers I return there -- where my daughter lives -- to teach composting.]1990 returned to Michigan to visit first grandchild, Molly. Started teaching Master Composting with MSU Extension. Joined Peace Education Center board. Reed was then at Sparrow in coma with brain tumor. Played autoharp and sang daily with Reed for 2 months. Then he went home. I then began singing with the children in Intensive Care. 7 days a week, 2 or 3 hours a day. Helped Karina write her Song. After 3 of my favorites died, I switched focus. When The KKK came to town, I joined the Mid-Michigan Unity Coalition. Still meets monthly. When the Black Churches were being burned, I talked the City of Lansing into adopting one in S.Carolina. I Developed a series of Community Conflict Resolution lectures at Urban Options and Foster Community Center. I joined with the Dialogue Circles on Racism to work with the Lansing Police Department. Don Christie of Community Police gave me a Peace office, for helping him with the Children's Garden. From that vantage point, I empowered the town of Eaton Rapids to save their Postal Burr Oak tree. ["The mightiest oak was once a little nut that held its ground"]
The Michigan Peace Team keeps me busy as a trainer and Core member. We hope to develop school programs. I established a "Voluntary Simplicity" task force of the Peace Ed Center; we met at Urban Options and Foster C C. The Department of Energy has kept me busy with their threats to transport MOX/Plutonium over our highways.
Since 1990, I've been singing folk songs and hymns at ALFA, on Valley Court. I sing with Dorothy Greene each Friday.
I've been an active member of Urban Options forever. I love to do mailings for/with them. Their energy-saving message is good. I'll be helping develop their Eco-Park ideas. I've begun transcribing Beth's meditations and lessons. I'm encouraging her to make them into a book. I would like to become part of a live-in intentional community. Sharing the values and activities expressed here.
I love story-telling, and would like to gather with others to do that. Please be in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org