Every Angel is Terrifying

by Matthew Koslowski on November 11, 2009
in Anecdotes

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’
–Rainer Maria Rilke, “The First Elegy” from The Duino Elegies (Stephen Mitchell, trans.)

Saturday evening I felt overwhelmed.

My problems are not major. I have a roof over my head, food to eat, friends to pass time with, and a job. Though, in this economy, who can be sure of their job security? If this recession has done one thing, I hope that is has realigned people’s values to those things that truly matter. But my problems still distract me.

The Devil on my shoulder asks, “What have you got to complain about?” I start belittling myself and try to bury my problems. But some part of me remembers this piece of simple wisdom:

In the bottom of your shoe, even a small pebble is bigger than the whole world.

I looked through my address book for someone to call. The Devil kept whispering that I didn’t want to burden my friends with my problems, that they have real problems and that I was being whiny.

As I scrolled through my phone, each name with its own story, I thought about who I could turn to and who I could not; who were truly my friends and who were merely acquaintances.

My best friend Jenna has heard these problems all before. Although she’d have happily listened again, I wanted to turn to other friends. Besides, I had spent the afternoon with her.

I had already called another of my dearest friends, Tanya, earlier.

Other names and other stories. More memories of time spent.

Rather than calling friends, I decided instead to spend most of the night cleaning the clutter in my room. I broke down some of the towers of books I had built up. The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats formed the base of one tower. I remembered a poem in the volume that, although sad, I find great comfort in. In remembering the poem, I decided to turn to myself and to my books.

The Sad Shepherd

There was a man whom Sorrow named his friend,
And he, of his high comrade Sorrow dreaming,
Went walking with slow steps along the gleaming
And humming sands, where windy surges wend:
And he called loudly to the stars to bend
From their pale thrones and comfort him, but they
Among themselves laugh on and sing alway:
And then the man whom Sorrow named his friend
Cried out, Dim sea, hear my most piteous story!
The sea swept on and cried her old cry still,
Rolling along in dreams from hill to hill.
He fled the persecution of her glory
And, in a far-off, gentle valley stopping,
Cried all his story to the dewdrops glistening.
But naught they heard, for they are always listening,
The dewdrops, for the sound of their own dropping.
And then the man whom Sorrow named his friend
Sought once again the shore, and found a shell,
And thought, I will my heavy story tell
Till my own words, re-echoing, shall send
Their sadness through a hollow, pearly heart;
And my own tale again for me shall sing,
And my own whispering words be comforting,
And lo! my ancient burden may depart.

Then he sang softly nigh the pearly rim;
But the sad dweller by the sea-ways lone
Changed all he sang to inarticulate moan
Among her wildering whirls, forgetting him.
–William Butler Yeats

And, in reading “The Sad Shepherd”, I remember that the Devil was once an angel. Now, if only he would help me transform my sorrows into a poem such as Yeats’s.


2 Responses to “Every Angel is Terrifying”
  1. Mike Sullivan says:

    I like the part about the pebble. I am working with a friend, S.M., who needs help with a 30-year mortgage with an 18% interest rate. He later told me the payoff balance is $35,000 — thousand not hundred-thousand, just $35K. I told him that from my point of view, this is a very solvable problem. :)

    Matthew Koslowski Reply:

    I think that S.M. has more than just a pebble in his shoe! That interest rate is absolutely criminal. I think having a mortgage at 18% would seem to me bigger than the entire world.