Back in 1975, when I was a freshman in high school, I enrolled in a required English Literature class led by a young teacher named Jim Kisling. There were actually two different English Literature classes, and I was horrified to learn that all of my friends were in Mr. Paxon’s class and I would be the only one in Mr. Kisling’s class. Being an introverted person and highly sensitive to any social situation, school was always difficult for me. I found security only in the fact that I usually knew someone in each class I attended. In this class, I knew absolutely no one. And to boot, I heard rumors that Mr. Kisling taught a very different class than Mr. Paxon. Mr. Paxon enjoyed the American classics. Mr. Kisling ventured into Poetry, Medieval and Renaissance Literature. I was panicked! I was no good at analyzing poetry and interpreting literary text, especially works I considered ancient and of little use to me in the 1970’s.
As it turned out, Mr. Kisling’s class was not as scary as I thought. In fact, after listening to my friends talk about Mr. Paxon’s class, I was quite thankful to be where I was. As the weeks rolled along I found that Mr. Kisling was quite open to hearing our opinions on prose. Every student’s interpretation was interesting to him. There was no wrong answer. He encouraged us to look for metaphor, figurative language, imagery, and symbolism. In this environment, I felt comfortable asking questions, and I found I liked the class.
When we studied “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” though, I was stumped and quite thankful we didn’t spend a lot of time delving into that particular piece of work. It was a morbid bit of poetry that left me with a ghastly feeling. Some bits of that poetry, however, stayed with me over the years. For the rest of my life, for instance, the albatross signified, for me, something rotting, stinking and wretched. Any time something was bothering me terribly, I referred to it as my “albatross”.
Recently, a blogger friend who is the author of “Creative Endeavors, The Home of BoxCarOkie.com“, sent me the link to an interesting movie trailer. This blogger sends me a lot of animal interest stories. But, knowing my gentle heart and love of animals and birds, he warned me about the content of this particular video. He knew I might find it disturbing. It was disturbing to watch, but the video spoke mountains to me. Let me explain a little more about those “mountains”.
I have struggled with an “albatross” around my neck for the last thirteen years. That is a long time to carry around a rotting, stinking, carcass of a problem. I was so miserable with it that it permeated every nook and cranny of my being. I reeked of the stench. Its effects on me were visible. At times, I was prone to dark moods, anger, and bouts of seclusion. I felt sorry for myself… woe is me. It was a foul and rank place to vacillate back and forth in. And then, a couple of weeks ago, I hit rock bottom. I just blew! I ripped the albatross from my neck, and hurled it out into the abyss of… well, wherever it went! I yelled the words out, “I am TIRED of HURTING”. Simple, precise words. It was not really about anything or anyone; I was simply hanging onto hurt. Hurt that had become something bigger than life. It took blurting out my deep, inner feelings before I realized what the real crux of the problem was. And beneath that albatross lurked other albatrosses… hurts from decades past and more recent hurts. Suddenly, the need to be free of the burden of hurt was paramount!
When Don forwarded the link to, “Midway – A Film by Chris Jordan“, I watched it with a different perspective of the Albatross. And by that, I don’t mean the literal message about environmental pollution, that is evident in the trailer. As I watched it time and again, I was deeply touched by my own inner pain. Pain from decades of personal hurt and abuse. Realization of my infliction of hurt and anger on others. I knew that this small video clip, documenting the plight of the Laysan Albatross, was actually a message from the albatross to all humankind. It is a metaphor of our times. It approaches the destruction and carelessness of our planet, of plant life and animal life. And it spoke to me of our careless regard for the treatment of each other.
I hope you will all find the beauty in the message the albatross offers us in this video by Chris Jordan. Unfortunately, it is easy to turn a blind eye and ignore this message. It takes courage to accept the gift nature has to offer sometimes. The lives and deaths of the albatross are not in vain, if we come to realize the message they leave us.
For me, the albatross is no longer a symbol of woe. I realize now, the morbid, ghastly poem from Mr. Kisling’s class, actually focuses on humanity’s relationship to the natural world. It calls us to recognize humankind’s insensitive and destructive relationship with nature (and each other), and the consequences that result. As I read my own words on this subject, I think, “Wow! It took 37 years for me to realize the true meaning of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Still, I believe Mr. Kisling would be happy to know I finally “got it”.
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