Whenever I read this William Stafford poem, I wonder about all the imagery he provided. For me, it begins with the title, the word ritual, and flows from there. What do we mean by ritual? Is it a taken-for-granted way and habits we just in living? Do we end up stereotyping people by saying things like they are that kind of person? When we stereotype, we live in patterned ways that can end up being unbroken and we miss our star.
When we just follow the crowd, as in a parade and hold the elephant’s tail in front of us, we accept the world without being able to see it. That elephant’s butt blocks my view. What comes my way from that view?
But, there is hope. We can talk to each other and listen to each other’s stories. When we do and are present to the other, we shed a light on the path we share with one another. Roland Barth wrote a rule for living and sailing was that, regardless of how many times we hear a story, hear it one more time. It is important to the other and we may learn something new in each hearing.
If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.
And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.