It has been awhile since I’ve cried while reading a poem.
Ironically (or was it?) I have spent these past two weeks making amends with a friend. It was a friendship that was needed, but too much distance had elapsed.
That time, however, was caught up during a 3+ hour breakfast last Saturday.
Time that was crossed this week as stories and heartbreaks and successes were passed, like notes after class.
This morning I was catching up on my podcasted ‘This American Life’ episodes. I was particularly interested in the October 3 episode called, Frenemies. I (and I am confident I am not alone in this) am often frustrated by friends who hold me to an unrealistic expectation. Friends who expect something akin to perfection from my actions, when all along I know with absolute certainty I cannot deliver on that unspoken ground rule. And yet…, I simultaneously hold them to an equal standard. A maddening circle of Impossibility among two people who, at the very core, truly care for one another. Yet let-downs and disappointments are allowed to rise above that elemental basis of concern.
I don’t know who will pop into your mind as you read this poem, by David Rakoff, from the Frenemies episode. But if I know the shared tendencies of human interaction, I can probably bank on the fact that someone – some person from your past or from your not-so-distant present – will cross your mind, with some level of regret.
Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that you should not expect to be Perfect.
Nor further anticipate that they will somehow surpass your own level of incompetency.
Because in the end, our form is our function…
The scorpion was hamstrung, his tail all aquiver;
just how would he manage to get across the river?
“The water’s so deep,” he observed with a sigh,
which pricked at the ears of the tortoise nearby.
“Well why don’t you swim?” asked the slow-moving fellow,
“unless you’re afraid. I mean, what are you, yellow?”
“It isn’t a matter of fear or of whim,”
said the scorpion,
“but that i don’t know how to swim.”
“Ah, forgive me. I didn’t mean to be glib when
I said that. I figured you were an amphibian.”
“No offense taken,” the scorpion replied,
“but how about you help me to reach the far side?
You swim like a dream, and you have what I lack.
Let’s say you take me across on your back?”
“I’m really not sure that’s the best thing to do,”
said the tortoise, “now that I see that it’s you.
You’ve a less than ideal reputation preceding:
there’s talk of your victims all poisoned and bleeding.
You’re the scorpion — and how can I say this — but, well,
I just don’t feel safe with you riding my shell.”
The scorpion replied, “What would killing you prove?
We’d both drown, so tell me: how would that behoove
me to basically die at my very own hand
when all I desire is to be on dry land?”
The tortoise considered the scorpion’s defense.
When he gave it some thought, it made perfect sense.
The niggling voice in his mind he ignored,
and he swam to the bank and called out: “Climb aboard!”
But just a few moments from when they set sail,
the scorpion lashed out with his venomous tail.
The tortoise too late understood that he’d blundered
when he felt his flesh stabbed and his carapace sundered.
As he fought for his life, he said, “tell me why
you have done this! For now we will surely both die!”
“I don’t know!” cried the scorpion. “You never should trust
a creature like me because poison I must!
I’d claim some remorse or at least some compunction,
but I just can’t help it; my form is my function.
You thought I’d behave like my cousin, the crab,
but unlike him, it is but my nature to stab.”
The tortoise expired with one final quiver.
And then both of them sank, swallowed up by the river.
The tortoise was wrong to ignore all his doubts —
because in the end, friends, our natures wins out.
So: what can we learn from their watery ends?
Is there some lesson on how to be friends?
I think what it means is that central to living
a life that is good is a life that’s forgiving.
We’re creatures of contact, regardless of whether
we kiss or we wound. Still, we must come together.
Though it may spell destruction, we still ask for more —
since it beats staying dry but so lonely on shore.
So we make ourselves open while knowing full well
it’s essentially saying, “please, come pierce my shell.”