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Readings for Reflection: May 2015
from the Committee on Ministry and Counsel

Wrestling with Angels

Madeline Strong Diehl, a professional journalist, author, editor, poet, and playwright, is also a longtime member of Ann Arbor Meeting. Madeline won the T.S. Eliot Poetry award from the University of Kent at Canterbury (England) in 1983. She recently published a book of poems and affirmations entitled Wrestling with Angels. This book deals with “the particular kind of love that requires letting go,” addressing love and healing. Some of the poems were published previously in international Quaker journals; two of them are printed below.

I have long been inspired by Madeline’s messages in meeting and her use of metaphor to explain human experiences. It is special to be able to feature a member of Meeting in our monthly “Reflections” and we encourage submissions from other members and attenders.  ~ Catherine McClary

The Lightness of the Human Condition

The theologians say, “Pain is part of the human condition.”
Well, that seems to be a very pat answer,
Especially when we are in very great pain.

I learned something important about pain.
I realized I had invested my ego in my pain.
For years I sat in a corner with my pain
and people offered to help.

And mostly I said: No. Go away.
My pain’s too complicated;
you can’t understand.

But what I was really saying was:
“My pain is more important than yours.”
“My pain’s more interesting than yours.”
I worked and worked on my pain like an artist,
trying to make it beautiful.
And my favorite hiding place was:
“My pain is more painful than yours.”

And I realized we have a choice about pain.
If we look up, we can see that everyone has it.
Pain is in everyone’s eyes.
And if we offer to help another person carry their pain
We have to set our own down.
And when we start to carry their pain we realize:
It’s the same pain.
And pretty soon there are 10 people, 20 people, 50, 100, 1000 people
all carrying the same pain, and it's getting lighter and lighter.
It’s all the same pain.

And after we carry it a while down the road together, we realize
it’s not pain anymore;
It’s turned into love.


We didn’t have a choice of days;
this was the one we were given,
and it was raining.

I’m so lucky to have a daughter like me
who likes taking photographs and writing.
We spent hours in the fields getting muddy
taking close-ups of raindropped cowslip and primrose,
while the earthy brew of manure mixed
with the smell of clover greening.

The cattle tracks finally lead us into the village of Vesancy.
We captured every window frame, cat, and red rooftop
on our safari. A thick mist painted
leopard spots on our lenses,
making it hard to focus.

An old man was sweeping winter from his doorway.
I said in French: “It’s a beautiful day!”
And he replied that it would be more beautiful
if it wasn’t raining. We nodded politely,
but I couldn’t imagine anything more beautiful
than being with you this afternoon, in this moment
in the year you are fourteen.

Poems reprinted from the collection Wrestling with Angels, © 2013, with permission of the author.

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