A Compassionate Top-Heavy Game of Jenga
That which is most difficult to balance may end up being that which sustains us
Even with the pandemic removing so many responsibilities from my day-to-day life, my weekly schedule still feels like a top-heavy and unsteady game of Jenga.
Tomorrow, for example, I start MCing the 2021 Information Security Symposium, with over 700 attendees. As my UC Davis colleague Ahna Heller says, “Next week a record 700+ attendees will attend the virtual Information Security Symposium. The event will present talks, labs, and discussions on topics involving cybersecurity and privacy for UC and other higher education security and compliance professionals. The theme is ‘Adapt’ – a continuing priority as campuses adjust to changes caused by COVID-19.”
As you may know, I usually work smaller crowds than 700 (at de Vere’s Irish Pub, we have maxed out at about 200 participants), and information security was not one of my majors in graduate school. Nevertheless, I jump at opportunities to stand before a microphone, an audience, or even a Zoom camera, for I like to challenge my public speaking skills, and because I always learn something when I do. I think people hire me for such gigs because, like myself, they never know what I might say.
Last Thursday, I got to MC a more somber affair: A Celebration of Life of Mark Rivera, the great ceramic artist and top-notch human being who should have turned 50 on June 10th. About 150 of Mark’s friends and family (mostly here from Colorado) gathered in Central Park to tell stories and admire his handiwork. One can see a half-dozen of Mark’s pieces downtown, and perhaps 50 others in and around Davis on which he assisted.
When I finally saw the program Thursday morning, next to my name was written “Opening Remarks and Poem.” I had one hour to write a poem that afternoon, but as I had grown used to writing on demand for you fine people, and as I had been thinking about Mark and his artistic contributions to our city since hearing of his passing, I had something to say that was sonnet-sized:
The Work, The Art
A Poem for Mark Rivera (1971-2021)
“He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” Saint Francis of Assisi
We walk past them, the grandiloquent creations
That appear as fantastical polychromatic sentinels,
Modern gargoyles standing guard on Davis street corners,
Artworks that fill our strolls and perhaps our dreams with color.
The creations guard against complacency, against tedium,
Daring even the hurried traveler to imagine something wild.
Reminiscent of an artistic renaissance, the intricacy astounds.
Each stone, each tile, each precisely chipped luminescent pebble
Has been imagined, formulated, and then perfectly placed
By a laborer, by a craftsman, by an artist who crafted
By heart and with heart, assembling collections
That reach towards transcendence, that coalesce into wonder.
A child tries to name what he feels as he gazes upon the work:
A spirit soaring towards sublimity, and then resting upon gratitude.
I was happy to re-connect with close friends whom I have met or seen often at Pub Quiz at that event. As a participant and MC, I was reminded that the extra obligations that our communities ask of us may interrupt and strain the comfortable flow of weekly responsibilities that fill our lives, but when we look back on a lifetime of connections and accomplishments, we will realize that some of our strongest and fondest memories will result from our aspiring and stretching for others, as Mark Rivera did so heroically and artistically throughout his short life.
May he rest in peace, and may compassion and connection fill all of our days.
I’m hosting a poetry reading later this week – check out the series at http://www.poetryindavis.com. Poetry Night this Thursday will take place via Zoom (because of the heat) and will feature the poets Lucille Lang Day and Brian Dempster. Look them up to be impressed, and then plan to join us at 8 PM Pacific.
Thanks for reading, and thanks to all of you who support this enterprise via Patreon (where I share bonus trivia questions).
P.S. A bit of trivia from last week:
Countries of the World. The reservoir of Three Gorges Dam can retain an amount of water voluminous enough to slow and change the rotation of the Earth. That’s a big dam. Where is it found?
Disasters. What living actor and comedian, the winner of three acting Emmys, all but ended his career on the evening of November 17, 2006?
Science. What do we call the branch of molecular biology concerned with the structure, function, evolution, and mapping of genomes?
P.P.S. “A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.” Salvador Dali