August 7, 2020

“A Meeting” (Wendell Berry)

A Meeting

In a dream I meet
my dead friend. He has,
I know, gone long and far,
and yet he is the same
for the dead are changeless.
They grow no older.
It is I who have changed,
grown strange to what I was.
Yet I, the changed one,
ask: “How you been?”
He grins and looks at me.
“I been eating peaches
off some mighty fine trees.”

Wendell Berry
from A Part (North Point Press, 1980)

Comments

  1. I’m shocked no one has yet commented on this. I originally wasn’t going to comment, but I fly to defend thine honor. This poem, read in conjunction with the post on grief, shook me into memory of the me’s I was at the times I attended the funerals of friends and family. It really is funny how I have changed and yet how they stay forever the same in my memory.

    I am strange indeed to who I once was. It’s interesting to consider would those who have gone before me recognize me today? And is that good or bad?

    • Thanks Brendan. Writing the post on grief made me think of family and friends who have passed, and set me searching for a simple meditation that might encourage us all to do the same. This poem makes me smile as I remember the quirky characteristics of a lot of wonderful friends who come to my memory with a grin and peach juice running down their chin.

  2. scrapiron says

    Like Brendan, I am very surprised that there have been no comments on this post. In fact, when I first looked at it this morning, there were none, so I bookmarked it so I’d remember to come back later to read what I was sure would be a boatload of comments. Maybe, like me, a lot of people don’t really get what Wendell Berry is trying to say here, so we’re waiting for others to interpret it for us.

    I’m probably way off here, but I’ll take a stab at one interpretation: I think we are prone to thinking that this mortal life is where the action is, so to speak. Heaven, we think, is an eternal rest, where we will lounge around, sing some praises, etc. and not really do anything. Perhaps, heaven will just be a rest from the hassles, the conflicts, the injustices that distract us and hinder us from enjoying who we were meant to be. The part of life that connects us to experiencing that we are beings created in God’s image and sustained by his love continues and is finally allowed to flourish, meaning that we will still be working, creating, building, tending. We get to do things like keep a grove of peach trees and learn how to make them the best trees we can without having it vandalized, without having to compete with anyone else’s grove, without worrying about losing it to the bank, etc. Maybe we’ll be able to enjoy doing our best, enjoy God’s presence and grin a lot.

    This month I’m working away from home, teaching at a program for gifted kids. My teaching assistant is a college junior in an engineering program. He’s brilliant. His parents have money and obviously cared for him a great deal as he was growing up. He had a natural interest in engineering and his parents provided every conceivable opportunity for him to have experiences that would enhance his gift and help him enjoy it more fully. He speaks four languages. He’s travelled all over the world and met hundreds of people and gained an encyclopedic knowledge of science, math, technology and economics. He has every gadget a young geek could want. He doesn’t have to worry about making his tuition payment or paying student loans.

    If this were a sermon, now would come the part where the pastor would say, ” . . . and yet there is something missing . . .” But I have no point to prove about the emptiness of this young man’s life. I’m just an observer, and what I’m seeing is that, at this point in his life, there isn’t any apparent emptiness there. He enjoys life so much that the whole world is one big laboratory to him. He experiments constantly, trying to show the students and himself the connections that build knowledge about our world. Having a conversation with him is a unique experience, because there is no small talk at all. He questions everything you say and constantly checks it against his prior knowledge to refine his understanding of the world. He only has two facial expressions–the intense focus of observation and a huge, sparkling-eyed, laughing-right-out-loud-like-a-little-kid grin when he sees the result of the observation.

    Here’s my point. I’m sure, as my TA grows up, his life will become more filled with trouble. He’ll have relationships that will try his patience and eventually mom and dad will fade into the background and he’ll have to do all the mundane stuff we all do to survive. But right now, I wonder if his life isn’t what ours will be like in heaven–no difference between work and play as we finally rest in the certainty of God’s presence and love and can, for the first time, really experience who we were meant to be.

  3. For me this poem communicates the sense that here on earth the focus is on ourselves and that the journey of life changes us – as we grow older, wiser, or more discouraged and more depressed – either extreme or somewhere in between, it does not matter. The one who has died and is with the Lord is eating the fruit of a tree we call Life. Its fruit is better than any other we have known. I dont know it is just what comes to me as I read it.

  4. “You have tasted of death now,” said the old man. “Is it good?”

    “It is good,” said Mossy. “It is better than life.”

    “No, said the old man: it is only more life…”

    -George MacDonald, The Golden Key