Adding Up to Something

Adding Up to Something

Photo Credit: AND STILL I SING – Doclands

I’ve just emerged from a four-day binge of the DocLands film festival, so the wisdom of today’s post resides mostly in the poem below: What You Missed that Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade. 

Some of you may remember, my favorite film genre is “triumph over adversity on behalf of a noble cause.” And documentaries are essential to my maintaining a “truth sense” of what makes sense in this world and what doesn’t. From Deep Rising about the perils of deep sea-bed mining to extract the minerals needed for electric car batteries, to No Legs, All Heart, the 12-day, 3082 mile bicycle Race Across America by double amputee Andre Kajlich, to And Still I Sing, the story of Afghani pop star and activist Aryana Sayeed as the Taliban returns to power. 

These poignant, inspiring films travel the rounds of film festivals, filmmakers dedicating years to research and produce these essential windows on our world. Many of these films will never get commercial distribution or make it to streaming. I treasure the opportunity to learn from and honor so much resilience and courage and compassion in so many, many fellow human beings.

And as I get my bearings again in my day-to-day world, this poem by Brad Aaron Mildon also speaks to that deeper “truth sense” in an utterly delightful way.

What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade

Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen

to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,

how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took

questions on how not to feel lost in the dark.

After lunch she distributed worksheets

that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s

voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep

without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—

something important—and how to believe

the house you wake in is your home. This prompted

Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing

how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,

and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts

are all you hear; also, that you have enough.

The English lesson was that I am

is a complete sentence.

And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,

and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking

for whatever it was you lost, and one person

add up to something.

– Brad Aaron Mildon