Monday, October 26, 2015

The Harder Road

This is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Kenneth E. Rich, a saint who 
walked among us. 
 Ken's life was taken by a drunken driver earlier this month. 

I first met Ken in the 1990's, when he was, just briefly, a teacher at the 
school I was teaching in.  Over the decades,  he took pains to remain 
in touch with me and others whom he had  met at the school.  I would 
visit a colleague in a hospital, or attend a  funeral, and Ken would be 
there.  I would post a poem, in a particularly dejected or elated mood, 
and I would get an e-mailed note from him.  And at least once a year,
before we used e-mail much, I would get a call from him.  He knew that
I was going through much.

It turns out that this was what he did, not only for those whom he had

met at our school, but also for many others whose paths he had crossed. 
This included not only members of our species, but also those who could 
neither talk nor read nor write. So they needed more than an e-mail or
a telephone call.  

When I met him once, Ken apologized because he was in a hurry.  I found 
out he needed to drive upstate in time to feed some kittens he had found 
being tended to by a hard-pressed mother cat, near to where his parents 

Whatever he did for others, Ken preferred to do unobtrusively, even 

anonymously.  For the past several years, I have received, annually by
mail, a packet of goji-berries or some other such gift.  Who has been 
sending me these yearly gifts, I still do not know. But it could well be 
Ken, for that was how he was.  
Although Ken was an MD, he believed in minimizing the use of 
pharmaceuticals, preferring natural alternatives.

These verses were not written with Ken consciously in mind. But I 
realized, afterwards, that they could have been written for him.

More, perhaps, than anyone I have known, Ken walked the harder road 
of conscience.  He was gentle, kind, caring and humble to a fault, within 
himself and to all beings he encountered.  

May such as he be blessed, wherever they are, for they are blessings to 
all of us, whose lives they chance to touch.  

Blessed be those who bore him and reared him to be who he was.

Kenneth E. Rich -- a picture posted by one of his friends
on Ken's Facebook page after his passing
The Harder Road  

There is a thing that’s known as trust.  So children, elders need
The ones they trust to do what’s right.  And friends and kin, who’re trusted,
Should know that trust is like respect—for when, in speech or deed,
These things are violated, they are then forever busted.
Yet teachers bow to orders and so let their students down.
And elders often aren’t treated with respect that’s due.
To tell the truth is difficult.  It’s easier to lie.
And yet the truth is better far, for all—and me and you.
A lie can never substitute, whatever our intent,
For truth.  By sticking to the truth, we take the harder way.
A fact might cause discomfort, but that’s better than deceit.
Humility requires the truth.  Let gods, to falsehoods, stray.
The hubris that promotes the lie, so life becomes deception,
Was practiced by the kings and priests.  The masses then were tamed.
So to this day, “God save the king!” is shouted out with fervor,
And those who so salute the brigand breed are not ashamed.

As those who questioned lies were punished, often being killed,
We humans came to tolerate the lies our masters spoke.
And in our turn, we turned to lies. We cheated and we stole.
So humans were corrupted by the lie as by the yoke.

But those who seek in mathematics and those who search in science,
Yet falsify, are looked upon with wonder and contempt.
For these are ways of seeking truth, of sorting true from false.
And in this search, no falsehood small can ever be exempt.

But in the cities we can see that falsehoods run our lives,
For people often can be fooled, and for the longest while.
Expedience and truth are rarely partners. So we see
The profiteers and politicians lie and quietly smile.

By going on the liars’ way, we are ourselves corrupted.
And so we find there’s less of trust and more and more suspicion.
The ones who lie and cheat and steal are seen to be ascendant,
And those who trust are seen as fools and treated with derision.
So marriages can fall apart, and families be torn.
So soldiers might be sent to war, to battle and to die,
By those that they have trusted, who have treated them with scorn.
And nations whole might be consumed, proceeding from a lie.

We might then hope that we would learn, from all our past mistakes—
That we would not begin a war, or violate a trust.
And yet we see that, all around, our hopes for this are dashed.
So people suffer needlessly, from punishments unjust.

The worker who is diligent, the teacher working hard,
The parent doing what is right, the soldier in the battle—
These are not the ones who’re praised, or even left alone.
The Bloombergs and the Trumps can herd, and all the rest are cattle.

Kenneth E. Rich -- another picture posted by a friend
on Ken's Facebook page after his death

So will we ever taste the truth that’s hard to take for those
Who swallow down the easy lies in sugar coated pills?
Its bitter taste might put us off, but truth has this as value—
It’s needed, if we do desire to rid ourselves of ills.

We might believe in Hindutva, the glory of Islam,
The sought-for Christian paradise or the ancient promised land,
Or not believe in anything, as skeptics often do.
There still remain the facts.  The truth is left to understand.

In mathematics and in science, it’s easier to find
What’s true and what is not.  In politics and history,
We’re sold what we are taught.  But if we bear this sale in mind,
We know that what we buy is dear.  The price is liberty.

So how can we discern the truth, and sift the facts from fictions?
We cannot visit what is past, we only know the present.
And what goes on in places far, the real reasons for a war,
Are rarely known to the soldier or the worker or the peasant…

And even those with education, lighted with degrees,
Are often in the dark themselves and even more befuddled.
And yet they often think they know, and speak as if they do.
And so the lies can propagate, as myths and facts are muddled.

We might attempt to read in books.  But books are not the truth.
We might attend to prophets. Yet the prophets might be false.
And so, in searching, we’re misled, mistaking branch for root.
The nightingale is silent, while the cuckoo loudly calls.
So in the end it’s instinct, and the opening of mind
And also of the heart—that comes from listening, in quiet.
And when we take the time to do this, slowly, we will find,
The truth is taking form, beneath the falsehoods running riot.

For others may bestir the mind, with prejudice and hate.
And they might to seek to cow us or to lead us on a dance.
But we ourselves can clear the mind, until it’s like a lake
Through which the bottom is revealed, dispelling then the trance.

To do this thing is difficult, for those who’re stressed and caught
Within the mills they’re wanted in, to endlessly “produce”.
But when we get the chance to try, we then should quietly listen.
We might regain our tie to truth, which offers no excuse.

But seeing then this truth, we can’t be serfs again to Mammon,
Or be as Pollyannas who refuse to see the evil.
So then we each can take our turns to choose the road we travel,
And take the harder one to God, or the easier to the Devil.

Let’s listen to that conscience that might speak in softer tones.
Let’s beware of easy answers and of laziness of mind.
Let’s seek what others knew or know, and let us range afar,
And yet remember still to speak the truth—and to be kind.
2015 October 25th, Sun., 4:47 pm (final eleven stanzas, after the break)
(first eleven stanzas, before the break, added Oct. 26th, Mon.)
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York


Anonymous said...

Thank you

Arjun Janah said...

Thank you, anonymous reader above, for reading this post and for your commenr.